Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Professor William Shaffir


This thesis focuses on Canadians who use alternative therapies. Using a symbolic interactionist perspective, which emphasizes individuals' own understandings of reality as a basis for their actions and in-depth, qualitative interviews, I explored how and why people come to use alternative medicine, the ideology that informs the alternative models of health and healing they espouse, and the impact this ideology has on them. I found that the twenty-one people who participated in this research sought out alternative therapies in order to solve problems for which they found little or no redress in allopathic medicine. They began using alternative therapies through a variety of different points of entrée including encounters with friends, family members, and the media, among others. Once involved in using these therapies they developed ever-expanding networks of alternative health care composed of alternative practitioners and others who use alternative therapies. In participating in alternative health care, and in interaction with others who use it, these people began to take on alternative ideologies of health and healing. These ideologies can impact on individual identity in two important ways. Some of the people who took part in this research became so enamoured with alternative approaches to health care that they began the process of becoming alternative healers themselves. For others the impact was more pervasive. For these informants, the ideology contained within the alternative model of health and healing became a mechanism through which they transformed themselves, creating a sense of themselves as healthy. This thesis contributes to knowledge by adding to the relatively sparse literature on individuals who use alternative approaches to health and health care, as well as the hitherto under-developed area of the impact use of these therapies has on individuals' subjective perceptions of self.

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Sociology Commons