Environmental therapy is a large and diverse field of alternative medicine. At its core is the idea that a great deal of illness and poor health in the contemporary world results from environmental toxins. The techniques of environmental therapy, short of simply moving a patient to a different location, involve both detoxifying the body internally and cleaning up the environment externally.
Many people in today's world have medical conditions associated by some with the modern environment itself. People who study environmental medicine identify these conditions as often resulting from an amorphous complex of toxins, allergens, stress, processed food, and other types of stimuli for which evolution has not prepared the human body. They attribute things like chronic allergies, chronic fatigue, asthma, fibromyalgia, and, unsurprisingly, sick building syndrome to these environmental factors rather than to a specific genetic deficit or parasite.
The primary means by which environmental therapy attempts to treat these conditions is detoxification. Different kinds of environmental therapists have different techniques for detoxification, some of which are more scientifically justified than others. A common type of approach involves clearing out the gastrointestinal tract with laxatives, enemas, and special diets intended to purify the body. It is acknowledged that these techniques can have side effects, including aches and fatigue.
The type of environmental therapy people receive depends in large part on the practitioner responsible for their treatment. There are some institutions, such as the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine and the National institute of Environmental Health Sciences, which are closely associated with the mainstream medical and scientific fields. The New York University School of Medicine has had a Department of Environmental Medicine since 1947. It is also possible to receive environmental therapy from people who separate themselves from mainstream scientific and academic practice. Traditional Chinese medicine and homeopathy fall under the umbrella of environmental medicine.
Environmental therapy thus straddles the boundary between mainstream and alternative medicine. Unlike diseases produced by relatively obvious genetic causes, diseases resulting from environmental factors are extremely difficult to understand in a rigorously scientific way. The process of controlling experiments or collecting large data sets is thwarted by the particularity and diffuseness of the situations to which environmental therapy responds.