Background: The potential contribution of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) modalities to promote and support critical health literacy has not received substantial attention within either the health promotion or the CAM literature. This paper explores the potential of one CAM modality, shiatsu, in promoting well-being and critical health literacy.
Methods: Data are drawn from a longitudinal, 6 months observational, pragmatic study of the effects and experience of shiatsu within three European countries (Austria, Spain and the UK). Client postal questionnaires included: advice received, changes made 6 months later, clients 'hopes' from having shiatsu and features of the client-practitioner relationship.
Result: At baseline, three-quarters of clients (n = 633) received advice, on exercise, diet, posture, points to work on at home or other ways of self-care. At 6 months follow-up, about four-fifths reported making changes to their lifestyle 'as a result of having shiatsu treatment', including taking more rest and relaxation or exercise, changing their diet, reducing time at work and other changes such as increased body/mind awareness and levels of confidence and resolve. Building on the findings, an explanatory model of possible ways that a CAM therapy could contribute to health promotion is presented to guide future research, both within and beyond CAM.
Conclusion: Supporting individuals to take control of their self-care requires advice-giving within a supportive treatment context and practitioner relationship, with clients who are open to change and committed to maintaining their health. CAM modalities may have an important role to play in this endeavour.