ABOUT half of all Australians use them but alternative therapies are still being dismissed as ''useless'' and ''unethical'' by one of Australia's leading medical professors.
In this month's Medical Journal of Australia, the University of NSW emeritus professor of medicine John Dwyer argues it is unethical for doctors to prescribe alternative therapies in most situations.
''We don't need to wait to warn the public in the strongest terms that many alternative strategies are already known to be useless,'' he wrote.
But at least a third of general practitioners were advertising themselves as integrative doctors, said Professor Kerryn Phelps, who is president of the Australasian Integrative Medicine Association and a former president of the Australian Medical Association (AMA).
She said Dr Dwyer's comments misrepresented integrative medicine which ''does strive for excellence and does strive for a scientific base''.
''There are a huge number of doctors interested in this and who want and need more knowledge.''
Many complementary therapies had been safely used for thousands of years and had proven benefits, she said.
A new course in integrative medicine - the blending of traditional and alternative therapies - could add weight to the argument for complementary medicine because of the involvement of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners in developing it. The course, if approved by the college board, would teach doctors how to incorporate complementary medicine into their practice.
Complementary therapies include massage and nutrition but also refer to aromatherapy, homeopathy and even prayer.
The National Institute of Integrative Medicine, which is developing the course with the college, is seeking accreditation for courses in integrative musculoskeletal medicine, integrative oncology, and nutritional and environmental medicine. It wants to offer them within the next year.
The AMA president, Dr Steve Hambleton, said so-called ''alternative'' therapies that had been proved over many years were accepted in conventional medicine.
''The extract from the Chinese herb qinghao is used to treat malaria but that is not an unconventional medicine because it has been proven and tested,'' he said.
But he said he would be concerned by a postgraduate course that promoted any unconventional therapies. ''The AMA has got to stay scientific.''