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Acupuncture Today – November, 2015, Vol. 16, Issue 11

Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine in the West

By John Scott, DOM, Golden Flower Chinese Herbs

We know acupuncture and Oriental medicine as the indigenous medicine of East Asia; in particular China, Korea and Japan are the countries of origin of this wonderful healing system. In recent decades, what is referred to as Traditional Chinese Medicine, and other East Asian-based systems have spread to every continent and nearly every part of the world.

In the United States, we know that acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine have been practiced and available in Chinese communities since significant Chinese immigration to this country started in the mid-19th century. However, the knowledge of this healing system was not known in the larger mainstream American culture. In most places, acupuncture was illegal as the practice of medicine and was practiced discreetly in Asian communities.

This changed as a result of a report written by the journalist James Reston. James Reston was part of the Nixon delegation to the People's Republic of China during the summer of 1971. He received acupuncture to help with post-operative pain following an emergency appendectomy. In 1971, there was no legal status for the practice of acupuncture in the U.S. In many places, it was illegal as the practice of medicine with the exception of medical doctors. Acupuncture needles were considered experimental devices by the U.S. FDA. This report inspired curious Americans and other Westerners to travel to China to study the principles and the practice of acupuncture and then other aspects of Oriental medicine. Some of these Americans returned with certain Chinese teachers like Dr. James Tin Yau So and started schools to train Americans in the practice of acupuncture. From the first basic acupuncture training programs there are now 84 educational institutions either accredited or in candidacy status with ACAOM, the Accreditation Commission of Acupuncture & Oriental Medicine.

In other western countries the entry of acupuncture and Asian medicine happened in various ways and different times. For instances, in particular European countries, it reflected colonial or trade relationships with the Asian countries.

The first Western organization for the study of acupuncture that I am aware of is the Arbeitsgemeinschaft Fur Klassische Akupunktur und Traditonelle Chinesische Medizin. This name translates as the Working Community for Classical Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine. This international association was founded in 1954 and has been an important partner for the technical and political conversations on traditional and modern aspects of Chinese medicine.

The AGTCM ( has been staging meetings called the TCM Kongress in the historic medieval town of Rothenberg, Germany since 1968. The TCM Kongress has become the most successful and widely attended event related to TCM in the West. Even in the early days, there was a great diversity of speakers that included Dr Van Buren, Jack Worsley, Nguyen van Nghi and Manfred Porkert. At the recent Kongress, speakers came from Asia, North America, Australia, and all over Europe. The attendance has grown from 20 to 30 in the beginning to well over 1200 in recent years.

For more than thirty years, I have been personally attending conferences, conventions, symposiums and gatherings providing AOM/TCM education. I have benefited enormously from studying with great teachers and being acquainted with practitioners from all over the world who are knowledgeable and passionate about AOM/TCM. I attended the TCM Kongress for the first time in 1998. I have greatly enjoyed my conversations with practitioners from all over Europe and around the world.

In my conversations with some of my European friends, and in particular Gerd Ohmstede president of the TCM Kongress, I have found that we have a great many practice and professional challenges in common. This caused me to reflect on how our challenges differ from practitioners in Asia. In the Asian countries, AOM is the indigenous medicine and western allopathic medicine is something in addition to their native cultural understanding of how medicine works and how humans interact with the environment and the cosmos. In the West, AOM is a practice that comes from outside of the conventional medical mainstream. In contrast, many places in the West including governments and related agencies do not recognize AOM as a legitimate medical practice. There is sometimes hostility from conventional medical interests. Most reimbursement schemes in the West do not recognize AOM. And most patients in the West are not aware of the benefits of AOM therapy.

My conclusion from these conversations is that, as Western practitioners of AOM, we in North America and Europe can learn from each other and hopefully cooperate in the common goal of helping AOM achieve greater acceptance by consumers, governments, and entities that pay for medical services. How do we proceed?

I joined with Gerd Ohmstede, President of TCM Kongress, and Tom Verhaeghe, Vice President of the ETCMA (European Traditional Chinese Medicine Association), to organize a meeting between the two of them, as well as interested leaders in the AOM profession in the U.S.

The European Traditional Chinese Medicine Association (ETCMA), is an umbrella organization for professional associations that represents different organizations within Traditional Chinese Medicine. Their main purpose is to promote the wider recognition and acceptance of TCM therapies by European governments and the public. The ETCMA represents TCM organizations from more than 16 European countries.

We were able to meet in Houston Texas at the WFAS (World Federation Acupuncture-Moxibustion Societies) October 31 – November 2, 2014. The Americans in attendance were Kory Ward-Cook, CEO, NCCAOM, Eugene London, Commissioner, NCCAOM, David Miller CSA, Marilyn Allen, Christine Chang and I. Each of the individuals gave short presentations about the organization that they work with or for. The consensus of the room was, that yes indeed the AOM/TCM practitioner communities in Europe and North American have many common challenges and we can benefit from communication and cooperation between ourselves.

It was agreed to meet in Rothenberg at the TCM Kongress in May of this year in order to further explore the potentials of our possible relationships. That meeting was called the EU/US/CANADA TCM/OM MEETING. The following people were present Eugene London, Christine Chang, Mel Hopper Koppelman, Kath Berry, Jane Cheung, Gerd Ohmstede, Nick Pahl, Charlie Buck, Jiri Bilek, Carla Fuhlrott, Caoimhe Mc Glinchey, Jasmine Uddin Weixiang Wang, Christian Yehoash, Erick Van der Louw, Ceclie Brewer, Erik Nygaard. These individuals represented 8 countries plus the U.S.

The agenda items discussed included political experiences, achievements and difficulties; public education strategy; shared solutions about political, organizational problems (on local and government level); and strategic development for the future of Chinese herbal medicine in the West.

The minutes of the meeting reflect a very productive first session. It was agreed to have the next meeting at the next TCM Kongress in Rothenberg during the week of May 3-7, 2016. At this date, there does not seem to be an appropriate venue in North America to bring this group together. I am looking forward to seeing how we can work together to bring the wonderful benefits to more of our friends and neighbors in North America and Europe!

John Scott is a doctor of Oriental medicine currently in practice in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He has been in private practice since 1982. He is the founder and president of Golden Flower Chinese Herbs Inc. John has been active in promoting oriental medicine on a local, state, national and international level. He has taught classes in the field and has been active in research. His particular passion for Chinese herbal medicine has guided his writing and teaching. He has continued to combine acupuncture with Chinese herbal medicine in his private practice. He was also awarded "Acupuncturist of The Year" by the American Association of Oriental Medicine in 1997.

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