Acupuncture Today – March, 2009, Vol. 10, Issue 03 >> Herbs/ Teas & Homeopathy

Teaching Our Patients to Fish

By Matthew J. Robinson, MAc

My experience has shown that the positive and lasting results that patients achieve are often directly proportional to the level of participation throughout their course of treatment. This observation seems more true, the more complex the case. Since many of the patients I see come to Chinese medicine as a last resort, they are often discouraged, and desperate to find relief from problems that Western medicine could not solve. I often tell such patients that they can expect the best outcome if we work together in a collaborative fashion. I suggest that they see our work as a partnership and that they cannot expect lasting change to come solely from something that someone outside can do for them.

What I suggest is a radical paradigm shift that runs contrary to the attitudes and unconscious beliefs lying at the core of the health care system that most of us have grown up with. Far too often, our medical system cultivates a sense of helplessness and dependency in those seeking relief from health-related issues. A vast divide often separates patients with questions about how they might improve their lives from the doctors perceived as having the answers. Perpetuating this unequal relationship may have benefits for those in positions of power. However, for people suffering from today's spiritual, emotional and physical maladies, this all too often leads them further from discovering their innate abilities for creating lasting wellness in their lives.

I believe our biggest challenge in helping people with Chinese medicine is to find ways to engage them in their own healing process. Through support and education, we can help them develop a sense of empowerment so they can mobilize the untapped healing potential that lies within. One of the greatest insights offered by Chinese medicine is the ability to see how the part relates to the whole. By understanding this relationship better, the patient can develop awareness of the extent to which their lifestyle and emotions are impacting their health.

The thinking I propose reflects the wisdom of the ancient proverb: "Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime." The work we do and the relationships we develop with our patients must ultimately serve to empower them in such a way that through greater awareness, they learn to cultivate the skills necessary to promote a healthy, sustainable lifestyle. If they understand how the constellation of forces in their life works to create their current state of being, they can gradually learn to modulate those forces and take on the responsibility of actualizing their own destiny.

For years, I have searched for new ways to encourage greater participation from patients and find practices that enhance the healing process, especially during the intervals between office visits. The method I have found most helpful is acupuncture point warming, which when done safely, may be the greatest untapped resource in Chinese medicine today. In Japan, direct point warming is carried out in the following fashion. The acupuncturist or moxibustion master treats the patient and then the patient or a family member continues this process at home on a daily basis. Knowing which points to treat is easy, since they just continue to burn moxa on the blisters left from the initial treatment. For obvious reason, this protocol has not been widely embraced in the West. However, by using modern technology, we can now apply heat directly to acupuncture points in a safe and controlled fashion. It is therefore possible for this time-honored tradition to take its rightful place once again as the other half of acupuncture.

Through the practice of self-treatment, the patient can develop an understanding of how to directly influence their own healing process. This process begins with the practitioner performing a differential diagnosis and determining an appropriate point prescription. The patient can then be taught to warm the essential points that will support and extend the benefits achieved during office visits. This can be the answer to seeing improvements in those difficult patients who get significantly better after a treatment, only to decline as the week goes on. It has been my experience that even a little attention to treating points, when applied consistently over time, creates profound changes in the human body.

Matthew J. Robinson is in private practice in Waltham, Mass. He can be contacted at


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