Finding the Right Help

Tips for seeking out complementary therapy providers in your hometown

image of a yoga pose

How to Find a Credentialed Complementary Therapy Practitioner

Look for professionals who are licensed, board certified or registered.
Accreditation indicates that a practitioner has trained in a particular field and is held to a code of professional ethics.
Here are links to the national accrediting organizations.

You're curious about art therapy, but you live too far away from the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center to try a session. Or maybe that group session of guided imagery just won't fit into your schedule. That's why we've put together tips for finding complementary therapy practitioners inyour hometown.

Complementary therapies -- such as art therapy or massage therapy -- have been shown to be beneficial to people with cancer. The Society of Integrative Oncology published a report stating that "Mind-body modalities are recommended as part of a multidisciplinary approach to reduce anxiety, mood disturbance, (and) chronic pain and (to) improve quality of life." In 2014, researchers at the U-M Comprehensive Cancer Center, together with colleagues from leading institutions across the country, analyzed which integrative treatments appear to be most effective and safe for patients with breast cancer. These findings helped create guidelines published by Society for Integrative Oncology.

"Complementary therapies can be a powerful tool in helping to maintain a sense of wellbeing during cancer treatment," said Donna Murphy, director of Complementary Therapies at the U-M Cancer Center. "Many options are available to people who would like to take a comprehensive, mind-body approach to their care. Our goal is to connect our patients with these resources so that they can experience some relief of symptoms and learn coping techniques that will be helpful to them throughout their lives."

Here are some tips for finding a complementary therapist:

  • Ask for a referral.
    Talk to your primary care doctor or call a local hospital to ask for recommendations to a practitioner. Often, if you attend a group session in your area, you may find an instructor or other like-minded people who can offer suggestions for one-on-one assistance.
  • Seek out practitioners who specialize in legitimate fields.
    Evidence based research, such as what is published in peer-reviewed journals like the Journal of the American Medical Association, are the best way to predict the potential impact of a particular therapy. Services the Cancer Center recognizes as having benefit to patients include art therapy, music therapy, massage therapy, guided imagery, yoga and creative writing.
  • Look for professionals who are licensed, board certified or registered.
    Accreditation indicates that a practitioner has trained in a particular field and is held to a code of professional ethics. Accredited art therapists may use the letters “ATR-BC” after their names; accredited music therapists use “MT-BC.” If you’re seeking out a massage therapist, make sure the person is certified specifically in oncology massage. Certified oncology massage therapists have had special training to ensure they do not put patients at further risk for lymphedema.
  • Interview prospective practitioners.
    Here are a few questions you should ask:
    • Where did you get your training?
    • How long have you been practicing?
    • What type of experience have you had?
    • Have you worked with people with cancer before?
    • What evidence do you point to that your practice is effective?
  • Talk about money up front.
    Make sure you understand the practitioner’s fee structure and when payment will be due. Ask if the practice will bill third-party insurance companies. Although it’s very rare, some insurance plans will cover guided imagery or meditation if it’s coded as “biofeedback.”
  • Ask about any spiritual content in a provider's practice.
    Some practitioners, particularly those who offer guided imagery or meditation, may have a strong religious orientation. Make sure you are comfortable with the practitioner's viewpoint before proceeding.
  • Look for red flags.
    Don't go to anyone who is trying to sell you products, such as CD's or vitamins. Also, avoid someone who wants to jump into treatment without first doing an assessment to learn about you, what you're experiencing and what you're hoping to get out of the therapy. If someone starts your first visit by saying, "Oh, I've treated cancer patients before and I know just what to do," walk out the door.

Continue learning about complementary therapy

this article was updated 11.12.2014

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Thrive Issue: 
Winter, 2010