Recently, I was reminiscing about my teacher Dr. Cao. There are many reasons to love and admire him but one day he said something that made me admire him just a smidge more. He told a group of us that America was perfectly situated halfway between the East and the West (Asia and Europe) and therefore received (and made use of) the ideas of both. I LOVED this observation for all sorts of reasons! One result of this phenomenon that most often sticks in my mind is how it positively impacts Americans and the variety of health care they can choose.
As acupuncturists we are selling a service: the traditional Asian medicine idea and way of health care/ good health maintenance. Where does this idea/way come from? And why does it often differ from what Western, allopathic medicine “sells”?
Both medicines are the on-going results of two very different “thinking systems”. It is often said that Western medicine’s thinking system is based upon the philosophy of Rene Descartes. In this system the body is viewed mechanically: a human is like a car. Just as there are different parts in a car, there are different parts to the human body therefore different kinds of doctors treat the different systems. For example, a psychologist addresses the mind part of a person, an oncologist is concerned if there is cancer in the body and so on. Divide, specify and specialize are the wonderful tools of Western medicine. In contrast, Eastern medicine, in this case traditional Asian medicine, takes on the endless fascinating puzzle of the human condition from the opposite direction: all things in the body are connected and so all are treated when one thing is treated. Traditional Asian medicine’s thinking system is based upon Taoism. Taoism sees the body more as a garden where each organism’s good health is dependent upon all the other garden dwellers’ good health. Confusing right? Well, a very practical way of explaining this often comes up in discussions with patients. When something happens to a patient (whatever their chief concern is: a car accident or depression or GI issues to name a few) it can happen to (start in) the physical body or it can be something emotional or both. Once something starts however, it often grows to include other areas.The thinking system of traditional Asian medicine organizes things in such a way that when acupuncturists treat, the treatment addresses both the physical and emotional aspects of a chief concern.
Ultimately, what does this mean for the person purchasing healthcare? Choice! And the best of both worlds! There are times when one or the other type of medicine is a no-brainer choice: if you have a big, bleeding wound don’t see your acupuncturist first. See them after you are stitched up and need help with healing. Conversely, if you have lower back pain consider acupuncture before surgery when appropriate.
Isn’t choice good?