Story: Alternative health therapies

Alternative health therapies are increasingly popular in New Zealand in the early 21st century. Many people have turned to treatments that would once have been considered exotic, including acupuncture, Chinese herbs, homeopathy and spiritual healing.

Story by Kerryn Pollock
Main image: Massage treatment, Queenstown Chiropractic Clinic

Story summary

All images & media in this story

What are alternative health therapies?

Alternative health therapies include a range of practices and products. Rather than using drugs and surgery, most treatments are intended to help the body heal itself or improve wellbeing. Because some of these therapies have not been scientifically verified, some people argue that they do not work.

People may choose alternative treatment because they are dissatisfied with conventional medicine, or they prefer not to take drugs. The 2006/07 New Zealand Health Survey found that almost one in five adults had visited an alternative health practitioner in the previous year.

Recognition and regulation

There is some scientific evidence for the value of acupuncture, chiropractic and osteopathy, and these treatments are sometimes used in the conventional health system.

Most alternative health practices are unregulated – anyone can practise them, whether they are trained or not. However, there are organisations that monitor practitioners. Some doctors also use alternative treatments.

Chiropractic, osteopathy and massage

  • Chiropractors adjust the spine to correct problems, which they believe allows the body to heal itself.
  • Osteopaths gently manipulate the body to correct imbalances between different parts.
  • Massage is used to help people relax or to fix aches and strains.


Homeopathy is a system of alternative health treatment based on the idea that like cures like – a substance that causes symptoms in a healthy person can treat those symptoms in a sick person. Remedies are made by diluting substances such as plants and minerals.

Naturopathy and rongoā

Naturopathy can include herbal medicines, vitamins, homeopathy, massage and other natural treatments. Rongoā – traditional Māori medicine – was used again in the 21st century.


Hypnotherapy uses hypnosis to put the patient into a very relaxed state in which they are receptive to suggestions, such as sleeping better or getting over depression.

Traditional Chinese medicine

Traditional Chinese medicine heals people using herbal medicine, acupuncture (where fine needles are inserted into points on the body) and exercises. Some doctors – and even some vets – also use it.

Spiritual healing

Spiritual healing uses faith in religion for healing purposes. It can involve prayers, commands and physical acts like the laying on of hands. Meditation involves calming and controlling the mind. Yoga involves breathing exercises, postures and physical exercises.

How to cite this page:

Kerryn Pollock, 'Alternative health therapies', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 25 June 2024)

Story by Kerryn Pollock, published 5 May 2011, reviewed & revised 6 April 2018