Approaches used to treat medical disorders and mental health problems in conventional Western medicine (i.e., 'biomedicine') and complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) can be thought of as belonging to one of five categories depending on their respective mechanisms of action:

Biological treatments have beneficial effects on the body because they act on a biological mechanism of action at the molecular or cellular level (examples include conventional prescription medications, vitamins, minerals, medicinal herbs, amino acids, and omega-3 fatty acids).

Somatic therapies improve general well-being and affect the body as a whole but do not rely on a single discrete (i.e., molecular or cellular) biological mechanism of action (examples include exercise, massage, and dance therapy).

Mind–body and mindfulness practices use a particular mental technique or combine a mental technique with physical training with the goal of optimizing mental or mind–body functioning and alleviating symptoms (examples include yoga and mindfulness-based stress reduction [MBSR]).

Scientifically validated forms of energy have been confirmed by science. Examples include electromagnetic fields, bright light, dim light, microcurrent electrical stimulation, high-density negative ions, music, binaural sound, and biofeedback. Particular therapeutic applications of such energetic treatments use different durations, frequencies, and power characteristics to achieve beneficial effects.

Postulated forms of energy that have not been validated by science but are theorized to be the mechanisms underlying subtle “energy” healing approaches including Reiki, qigong, prayer, Healing Touch, Therapeutic Touch, and energy psychology.

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