The research is studying women in south-east England who are suffering from distress – either as a primary complaint, or associated with another condition – who are seeking the services of a herbalist who practices western herbal medicine (WHM). The study is utilising semi-structured interviews at two time points to elicit patient narratives. Thematic analysis is being used to consider how distressed women experience their distress, their experience of using WHM, and what contribution they perceive the consultation and treatment with WHM may or may not make to their wellbeing. It is hoped the research will be able to inform herbal practice, and add to the knowledge of women’s self-care strategies.
In the UK, common mental health disorders account for one in five of all work days lost and cost UK employers £25bn each year; whilst conditions associated with distress, such as depression and anxiety, can have a profoundly negative impact on an individual’s well-being. However, herbal medicine has been shown to potentially be of use for these conditions; and in 2008, 35% of British adults surveyed claimed to have used herbal medicine at some stage, the majority of who were women. In spite of its popularity, there is little research into how the users of WHM experience the practice of herbal medicine.
On-going analysis has started to reveal a number of initial themes. Distress is not only isolating, but can also be perceived by sufferers as being socially unacceptable. The participants generally see WHM as beneficial, but whilst they are convinced of the potential benefits of herbal medicine, a satisfactory encounter with a herbalist requires more than simply taking the herbs. In particular, practitioner accessibility, having their story heard, feeling supported, and being given back some control are all important. Failure to achieve these can result in an unsatisfactory experience, even if the herbal treatment is seen as successful.