Understanding the Utility of Complementary Alternative Medicine in the Promotion of Women’s Psychological Wellbeing

Kristina Marisa Volgenau

Advisor: Leah M Adams, PhD, Department of Psychology

Committee Members: Sarah Fischer, Jerome Short

Online Location, Online
May 02, 2023, 02:00 PM to 03:00 PM


This dissertation is a two-part study that focuses on identifying accessible, affordable, and culturally inclusive strategies to promote women’s psychological well-being across their lifespans. Research has demonstrated that Complementary and Alternative Medicines (CAM), defined as non-traditional modalities of care, often with origins outside of Western practice, that can be used together, with, or in place of formal medical or psychological treatment are becoming increasingly popular, especially among women. Despite growing popularity, empirical evidence is limited regarding the effectiveness of these strategies for improving psychological well-being. An understanding of how CAM may uniquely support the psychological well-being (PWB) of women from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds is particularly limited. Therefore, Study 1 leveraged a nationally representative sample of 1,395 women going through menopause to explicitly examine how CAM may support Black, Asian, and White women's psychological well-being during this transitional time of life. A psychological network analysis was employed to provide insight into similarities and differences in the interrelationships between CAM use and well-being across the different groups. Results highlight a stronger relationship between Psychological Methods of CAM, such as meditation, mental imagery, and relaxation techniques, and PWB among menopausal women, with less evidence for associations between other forms of CAM (i.e., herbal remedies, physical methods, nutritional supplements) and PWB.  Networks varied across the women, suggesting that these relationships between CAM use and PWB differ across racial groups. Study 2 examined the impact of CAM on well-being in the context of college women’s daily lives. Women (n = 352) completed a baseline assessment including demographic information, attitudes and practices regarding CAM use, and indicators of well-being. A subset (n = 40) of women who endorsed active CAM use completed eight days of daily assessments of their CAM use and well-being. In the full sample, results replicated previous literature by identifying that positive philosophical orientation towards CAM, higher distrust for traditional medication, background knowledge of CAM, and having a family member or friend who uses CAM were all associated with CAM use. Retrospective reports of CAM use in the sample were related to facets of positive mental health (i.e., higher gratitude, satisfaction with life, and meaning in life), a novel finding that extends beyond previous examinations of CAM use and symptoms of poor mental health (e.g., depression, anxiety). In the daily diary sample, same-day multilevel analyses demonstrated that higher frequency and duration of CAM use were associated with higher negative affect while lagged analysis showed that using CAM on a given day was related to higher levels of gratitude that night and higher levels of positive affect and gratitude the subsequent day, highlighting the dynamic relationships between CAM and PWB. Future directions, along with clinical and methodological considerations of the findings are discussed.