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Acupuncture Today
February, 2007, Vol. 08, Issue 02
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In Defense of TCM

By Tymothy Smith

Those of you who have read "Student Corner" in the past know that this column has tended to focus on what a TCM practitioner should be, or more importantly, what a TCM practitioner could be.

This month's article takes this idea and steps into the "real world:" How do we defend ourselves against those forces that do not have our best interests in mind?

Any reader of Acupuncture Today knows we face a terrific battle as a profession and much of this seems to simply go over our heads as students. It seems there is more than enough to focus on and more than enough to memorize and categorize in our pursuit of academia. But, the fact is that we as a profession are vulnerable, and we as students are even more so.

When we leave the nest of our comfortable schools and enter into the dark and foreboding reality of self-employment, what will we find? What is unfortunate for us is that we walk into a professional climate that was essentially made for us, much like the global environmental issues we have to face; we simply have to deal with what is left us. The fact remains that as a profession we are not a single, unified force. From the top down, disparate entities grapple over self-interests.

What to do? Are we to stay comfortable with the inherent lack of strength we are birthed into, or should we become proactive now, putting energy and spirit into areas of lack and deficiency? Well, the answer is obvious, but the methods might be more complex than we realize. Initially, yes, we must support those who support us  our state organizations (if there is one) and most certainly our national organizations as well. But should we end there? Is that enough? I think not, and I would like to explain why doing what we need to ensure our future is so imperative.

There is a concept of shao yang in TCM. Many of us blithely use this phrase to mean anything that is in between. This applies to acupuncture as it is practiced in the U.S. as well. We are not trained as our forebears, or as the physicians of this day. We are trained to have our doors open at 9 a.m. and close at 5 p.m., simple as that. This is in direct contrast to the physician who is trained to wake to the phone call at 4 a.m., ready to do whatever is needed for his or her patient.

The philosophy and pragmatic difference underscores the paradigm of our medicine: we are practitioners. From our first semester onward, we are taught that anything beyond our scope (and this is a large arena to be sure) should go to "them"  the other guy with training that meets these most serious requirements. This philosophically puts us in a state of lack. We are continually forced to realize that although our medicine, in many ways, is superior to so-called "Western medicine" (though more biomedicine research comes from the "East" than anywhere in the world), in the end, they are the ones with power. We are not.

This defines much of what our profession is facing politically as well. Though little has limited TCM (in contrast to homeopathy), there still is a limiting factor in the world of medicine, as defined by the American Medical Association. What this says is, "We will allow you to practice as long as you don't hurt anyone and just so long as you don't infringe upon our market." Though the former agreement has been met, the latter is becoming more and more of an issue. It's from here that we face the battles that loom on the horizon. As students, the future calls us to be the harbingers that our forbearers have not been.

At the very least, we must rise to meet what life will bring us, whether that is in the clinic or on the congressional floor. It's all the same. Standing tall, coming not from a sense of being less than, but offering value and precision, must be the heart of our medicine. It's unfortunate that we must potentially fight these fights, but as all who have faced such times, it's not for us to decide.

As Helen Keller said, "Life is a daring adventure or nothing." So it is with us. Think how exciting it is, the possibilities and probabilities of truly helping people; not merely treating them with continual administration of chemicals, but truly helping them to heal. This alone gives us power, gives us strength. American students have access to more information than we can possibly absorb and more avenues of healing, both "Eastern" and "Western." How many health practitioners have had this chance to do so much in recorded history? This is our strength; just as we can meet our patients with sincere confidence, so can we meet our political destiny as well.

Perhaps we need a better lobby, more state organizations and more individuals to stop thinking that someone else is going to take care of it. Apathy is the only thing standing in our way. This spring, may the wood element spark in us the potential for unification, both within and without. How tremendously exciting!

Any student who has treated patients knows that most of those who come to us have tried everything available and we do our best, don't we? We try to help them with everything we've got, so to speak. But imagine if there were nothing else. Imagine, for instance, if back pain patients were offered only narcotics; if dymennorhea patients were only offered estrogen.

Advocacy is what it means to be a complementary or "alternative" practitioner. To stand and represent those who cannot speak for themselves this, too, is our lot. As Goethe said, "There is nothing worse than active ignorance." However, I would say there is nothing better than securing our profession, not only for ourselves, but also for all of our future patients. This is my vision.

Click here for previous articles by Tymothy Smith.


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