Major reasons for the growth in the use of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), in Australia and elsewhere, are general societal changes rather than specific reasons internal to medicine. There are problems of definition of CAM, as well as the extent to which CAM modalities can be considered a unified paradigm. The general changes examined include the consumer and green movements, as well as postmodernism. The movement surrounding evidence-based healthcare may provide some answers, but will not settle the issue of compatibility. CAM is here to stay and will continue to present challenges for conventional medicine on how to respond.