Acupuncture Today – July, 2010, Vol. 11, Issue 07

Are We Too Western?

By Lawrence Howard, LAc, MSAc

I periodically check my alumni forum, and one heated debate often arises; the medical doctor issue. The general sentiment seems to be "We don't want medical doctors regulating or controlling our profession, and we especially don't want medical doctors encroaching on our territory via abbreviated training or no training at all. It sounds fair, but consider the following:

I looked at my TCM school curriculum and I noticed that about half the classes are dedicated to OM and the other half to Western medical classes. Tai chi, qi gong and massage classes were included, as well as an internship where patients are treated. I added up the Oriental medicine credits and found that the total was about 250-300 hours of class time. Coincidently, MDs' abbreviated training consists of about 250-300 hours of OM training. Thus, the argument that medical doctors' training is insufficient is not as strong as I had thought. Medical doctors' may not have an internship but it's fair to consider that they are able to apply their intake and diagnostic skills to TCM fairly easily.

TCM practitioners like to use Western medicine diagnosis when talking amongst themselves. I don't recall reading an entry where someone referred to a medical diagnosis accompanied by a TCM diagnosis. A Western diagnosis may serve as a convenient method to refer to a grouping of symptoms but TCM practitioners treat TCM diagnoses. Without at least including a TCM diagnosis in discussion, the TCM practitioner is unwittingly encroaching on MD territory.

TCM practitioners sometimes call for action and unity in response to a perceived Western medical encroachment on TCM. There is sometimes the sentiment that the medical industry is so large and powerful that we have little power. There are OM organizations with lobbyists right now to fight that battle. They desperately need the help. A small effective group can have great power.

Some complain that TCM does not have a clear national purpose or agenda. However, the behavior I observed on the alumni forum and my own interactions do suggest a general direction. TCM practitioners want to understand Western medicine in greater detail because that is what is most familiar to the average patient. They want to administer treatments based on (classic) textbook protocols and standard formulas. They want to understand OM theory from a Western scientific perspective. They want to interact with medical doctors on equal terms using medical diagnosis. These tendencies suggest that TCM practitioners want to act like MDs but treat using OM modalities that may be influenced or improved by Western technology. It seems like TCM practitioners are spending quite a bit of time and effort in the MDs' and scientists' territory, and not enough in OM. These observations lead me to some worrisome thoughts.

If TCM practitioners get significantly more formal training in Western medicine without a balance of OM training, they risk sacrificing their own roots. It promotes further imbalance away from OM. As practitioners turn to more and more Western concepts to bridge gaps in their understanding of OM, their appreciation becomes more theoretical and less real. As a student, I recall a common response to detailed questions was "When you're in practice ,you will understand better." Questions linger about what occurs during treatment, but practitioners may find the classic texts seem incomplete and therefore turn to Western scientific research. This further dilutes their understanding of OM.

The conclusion I have drawn makes me concerned. Traditional Chinese medicine and Western medicine may one day merge. TCM will become more like Western medicine by adopting more and more Western pathologies and ideologies. This shifting of percentages of knowledge may cause TCM to become unrecognizable. As TCM practitioners integrate more Western science into their profession and focus on patterns and protocols, they will turn themselves into technicians. Medical doctors will simply accept them as another source of income.

As for me, I focus my efforts on developing qi perception to understand its dynamic. Simply stated, I strive to use qi perception to validate, understand and expand TCM and OM theories. My assumption is that someone, somewhere in the past understood OM through physical experience and recorded it (at least partially) for us. In order to have a strong future, we need to have a strong foundation in qi.

Lawrence Howard, LAc, MSAc is a New York State licensed acupuncturist and reiki practitioner working throughout the Five Boroughs of New York and Long Island.


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