In-Depth Interview Pg. 4/4

How can Western Medicine compliment Eastern philosophies?

Now that's a doozy of a question.

I must choose my words very carefully, as I am legally bound by certain restrictions in what I can and cannot say about other modalities.  Specifically, I will not comment on the comparative effectiveness of one or the other for various conditions.  The World Health Organization acknowledges acupuncture to be effective for over 300 conditions, mind you.

So, let me tell you a story from my own life.

When I was 12, I was having a hard time with something in my life and I became terribly depressed.  After several months of this, my health started to deteriorate.  Treatment with diet and supplements did not turn my situation around, and I became gravely ill.  One day I started having minor seizures and my parents, quite alarmed, took me to the hospital.  It turns out I was close to death!  The doctors immediately put me on serious medications and I was air-ambulanced the next day to Children's Hospital, where I stayed for a month. 

The Western Medicine treatment there saved my life.  Afterwards, I was always a bit sick and required consistent medication.  Years later, I started seeing Dr. Michael Smith the Chinese Medicine practitioner.  As we got to know each other, I told him the story.  He analyzed it and made the connection between what was going on for me emotionally and what happened with my body.  It made a lot of sense.  Working from that basis, within several months my health improved to the state where I stopped using medication.

Thus, I always respect Western Medicine because I would be dead without it.  However, and I don't think I'll get in trouble for saying this, Western Medicine is focused primarily on the physical body and does not give much attention to the possible interaction of the mind and the physical form.  Chinese medicine is fundamentally holistic, so can work on that level.  Chinese Medicine, however, is a comparatively slow form of medicine and in emergency situations is not effective to save a person's life.  In the old days, there was emergency medicine in China, but it has been surpassed by Western techniques and we don't learn it.

Have you seen any good examples of how “Modern” medicine and other eastern medicines have worked well side by side?

Yes… though it really depends on what you mean with “side by side”.  If you mean working cooperatively with mutual consultation between practitioners, then no.  Such a dynamic does not exist in our part of the world.  It’s getting better, but we’re pretty much at the stage where Conventional Western Medicine has said (sometimes), “okay, acupuncture is not just bullshit witchcraft.  It has some validity”.  In order for active cooperation to occur, Western MDs will have to be trained in Chinese Medicine theory so they can actually talk with us.  As it stands, MDs have no idea what “Kidney Yin Deficiency” means, and I am legally prohibited from commenting on a person’s pharmaceutical use.
There is an exception to this: MDs who on their own initiative learn Chinese medicine.  I know of three such people in my region, and by all accounts their work is extraordinary.

If by “side by side” you mean that patients use each to assist their healing with their own guidance, then yes.  I have a number of clients who start seeing me while on pharmaceuticals and then gradually wean off of them and transition to using acupuncture to maintain their health.  I also have clients with chronic conditions who keep a prescription on hand simply to ease anxiety about the impact of a sudden deterioration.  One very interesting case is an HIV-positive client who sees me to alleviate the side-effects of the drugs he will always be taking.  We have had very good results.  In all of these situations, however, it is the client who guides the use of the two modalities- I have never spoken with their MD.

I am excited for Conventional Medicine to accept our system to the point that we can actively work together.

How is the standard form of Acupuncture different from your style?  Is there any benefits in the standard model?

 There’s an old saying in China, “The Tree of Medicine has 1000 branches”, meaning that there are myriad styles of acupuncture and all of them are valid. 

The standard form of Acupuncture is called “TCM Acupuncture”, and it was developed in the 1970’s under the direction of the Chinese Communist Party within the context of the Cultural Revolution.  It is what we learn in Chinese Medicine College, and it is what the licensing exam is based on.

TCM is materialistic (as in, it doesn’t pay much attention to energy or spirit), pathology-focused, and very systematic.  Beautifully and brilliantly systematic.  If you learn it properly, you can reliably come up with a treatment in every situation.  It was designed such that it could be taught to a great number of people in a short period of time, and those people did not need any particular qualities other than reasonable intelligence.

Treatment wise, TCM is similar to conventional Western Medicine in that it goes Symptom->Diagnosis->Prescription.  Very logical.  TCM views patients as collections of signs and symptoms, not as unique individuals with life stories and worldviews.  Again, it is very communist.  It’s about restoring function so people can get back and be productive members of the proletariat.  And it’s often quite effective for that. 

If students do not pursue further education in other styles of acupuncture, or come to Chinese Medicine from a background of experiencing other styles, then that’s automatically what they will practice.  Therefore, many acupuncturists have TCM as their style.

I think you can infer from the content of many of my earlier answers the ways that my approach differs from the standard.  Frankly, if I were practicing in China during the Cultural Revolution, I probably would have had to flee the country.  Many doctors from the more spiritual traditions did, Dr. Smith's teacher among them.  You may also be aware of the “Five Element” school of acupuncture; it was likewise created by exiled doctors.

How do you see the future of Acupuncture and Eastern Medicine in the Western World?

Well, this is certainly an interesting question to ponder.  There is no doubt in my mind that the future will bring a greater acceptance of Eastern Medicine- all trends point that way.  In April of 2010 the Provincial Government started offering minor coverage for acupuncture for people on Medical Premium Assistance, and my clients keep getting more money in their insurance plans for acupuncture.  I see two scenarios as likely:

1.    We will be recognized as a fundamentally distinct yet equally valid approach to healing and will be supported by the Public Healthcare System but left to practice in our own unique ways.

2.    Chinese Medicine will become increasingly standardized and materialistic (see TCM above) and we will be assimilated into the healthcare system, vastly increasing our presence and influence but losing our autonomy and compromising much of the creativity and spirit that makes this medicine what it is.

I, unsurprisingly, hope for the former.  It all depends on how our society evolves, which is a huge question mark.  Are we become more programmed and regimented, or are we becoming more creative and open?  There is ample evidence for both, in my view.  Only the future will tell.  In any event, my commitment is to providing my clients with the most effective treatment and support that I am able to provide, and to carrying on the lineages of my teachers, regardless of the external situation.  When I was born, Chinese Medicine was illegal in Canada.  Now it is flourishing, and people from all walks of life are discovering its benefits.  This is reflective of a profound shift in public consciousness.  I look forward to the future very much because regardless of which way it goes, an enhanced role for this beautiful medicine is certain.

Do you have any books or particular resources such as Audios/Radio shows/Blogs that you like and could pass on to my readers for more information about what you do or why it works? 

I’m not so much of an internet person, but here are some good books:

For a good overview of the Chinese perspective on health and the foundations of Chinese medicine, I suggest The Web that Has No Weaver by Ted Kaptchuk or Between Heaven and Earth by Harriet Beinfield and Efrem Korngold.  For books that speak more to the spiritual aspects of Chinese Medicine, I recommend The Five Spirits by Lorie Eve Dechar and Nourishing Destiny by Lonny Jarret.  All of these are great reads.  More practically, Building a Jade Screen by Hong Zhen Zhu is a very good self-care manual, and Healing with Whole Foods by Paul Pitchford is an extraordinary resource for diet therapy with a Chinese Medicine foundation.

Thank you so much for reading; I hope it was informative and maybe even a bit enjoyable.  I welcome feedback and questions about this interview, you can use the Contact Page for this.