The Alternative Therapies in my Newsfeed: A side-effect

There are a lot of things that appear in my news and social feeds that would maybe surprise the people that know me. At first glance, they’d wonder why so much pseudoscience cluttered my socials. Alternative therapies up the wazoo. They’d think “Whoooooo, is their targeting way off! No way is she buying a salt lamp or a crystal water bottle or a bunch of oils!”


The thing is, when you write about stuff like that, it seems internet algorithms don’t much care if you’re writing about it because it’s woo you want to warn people against. You googled it, you clicked links, you found Facebook and twitter pages. Therefore, you wanna see it! So, for the last little while, I’ve been seeing a petition shared around, asking people to sign to block changes to health fund rebates for alternative therapies. Mainly from alternative therapists, annoyed that their services will no longer be covered.

A Bunch of Alternative Therapies Will No Longer Be Eligible for a Rebate

A new reform just passed the senate. From April, 2019, Australians will no longer be able to claim certain alternative therapies from health funds. I admit, a couple of these,  I had to look up because I’d never even heard of them! Here they are:

  • Alexander technique– this is a therapy based on improved posture and movement. It’s essentially a way of mindfully exercising and moving. Not harmful. Also not supported by a great deal of evidence for managing serious health conditions, despite some claims.
  • Aromatherapy– using oils extracted from plants for everything from relaxation to medicinal purposes. Further confounded, in my opinion, by MLM companies and sellers pushing aromatherapy in place of conventional medicine.
  • Bowen therapy– a type of massage named after Australian man Thomas Ambrose Bowen, who died in 1982. He developed a massage technique with absolutely no training and died in 1982 without documenting said technique. The Bowen therapy practiced today is all down to personal interpretations of the original Bowen’s work. Interpretations aside, there’s not much evidence to show it works.
    via GIPHY
  • Buteyko– this is a breathing exercise essentially based on the belief that many medical conditions are actually caused by hyperventilation.
  • Feldenkrais– an alternative style of exercise that claims to repair impaired connections between the motor cortex and the body. It’s not dangerous, but not especially effective either. Some claim it helps people living with MS or autism.
  • Herbalism– this is the use of herbs for medical treatment. It sounds benign but the reality is, there is a distinct lack of regulation for practitioners and products. This means that it’s difficult to say whether a herbal product is safe or effective.  Unscrupulous practitioners may make false claims or sell inferior products due to the lack of regulation. There is also a lack of consistent, high quality research into herbalism.
  • Homeopathy– water or sugar pills. Debunked a million times over. Not just “not enough evidence to support” but “actually does not work”. Totally fine if it’s a placebo you’re looking for.
  • Iridology– another thoroughly debunked practice. This one relies on examining colours and patterns in the iris of the patient’s eye, as if it is a map or chart of their overall health. Consistently negative results in studies.
  • Kinesiology– applied kinesiology relies on the idea that the way your muscles respond to pressure, like being gently pushed, tells the practitioner what you’re suffering from. Shockingly, this is about as accurate as a random guess.
  • Naturopathy– this is based on vitalism and folk remedies rather than evidence based medicine.
  • Pilates- often billed as a way to help lower back pain and improve balance, this system of exercise falls flat on those claims. It’s not a reliable treatment for anything. But it’s a decent work out.
    via GIPHY
  • Reflexology– pressing on certain parts of the hand or foot to help heal other, somehow corresponding, body parts. I had a reflexology foot massage once. Felt nice. Cured nothing. Pretty much in line with what the evidence suggests.
  • Rolfing– this sounded like a colourful description of my 14 year old stepson when confronted with a large pizza. What it actually is is a type of deep, sometimes painful, massage and movements, invented by Ida Rolf, that aims to align your energies with the earth’s gravitation field.
  • Shiatsu– a Japanese form of massage, manipulation and stretching. Might feel good. Won’t cure anything.
  • Tai chi– this is a martial art and a form of exercise. Not a medical treatment, so to speak.
  • Yoga– I am a big fan of yoga as exercise. There are associated meditative practices and spiritual practices which are totally fine, if that’s your flavour. But it’s not a therapy.

Health funds

While looking into health funds and gym membership coverage, I found that many funds who offered such cover lumped gym membership in with alternative therapies. I am morally and ethically opposed to paying for health fund cover for therapies that I won’t use because they aren’t proven to be safe and/or effective treatments. Health funds offering cover for alternative therapies seems like a really bad idea. Being able to claim back the visit to the iridologist and the expensive tiny glass bottle of water homeopathy drops gives those things a kind of legitimacy they don’t deserve.


It’s also interesting to note that some forms of exercise are currently covered, but others are not. Yoga is great for building strength and flexibility, but if that is covered, why not Body Attack class or Spin Cycling? It would seem that perhaps the exercise techniques listed were somehow elevated to therapeutic status, either by health funds or maybe even by super enthusiastic practitioners.

So, why are health funds no longer covering these alternative therapies?

Chatting online to my old mate Stephen, from the health fund comparison place, about the gym situation, he was obviously sympathetic when I explained that I wanted to get fit without paying for woo. Stephen knew it was all pseudo-scientific claptrap but said they were probably just meeting demand. After all, their business is in selling insurance, not evidence.


The decision to stop rebates was actually the result of a review of evidence, cost effectiveness and safety undertaken by the National Health and Medical Research Council. This was done as part of the Australian Government’s Natural Therapies Review. Guess what? The review found “no clear evidence demonstrating the efficacy of the listed natural therapies” which is good enough for me. This ensurers that public money isn’t spent on therapies that don’t work. Yes, your TAX DOLLARS! The flow-on effect being hopefully a reduced cost to consumers as well.

“But, but, my freedom of…whatever”

I’ve seen this one a bit.


Don’t worry; it hasn’t. If you don’t care about the evidence, have a preference, know a really compelling anecdote or just desperately believe that the wavy line in your left eye indicates some terrible health problem that only your iridologist can treat, it’s okay. You can still go and see your alternative therapist. You just can’t claim cash back for it.

I kind of hope that leads you to a good GP for the serious stuff, to be honest!

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