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About Chinese Medicine

With over 2500 years of clinical practice and academic study, Chinese Medicine is the oldest continuously practiced, literate, professional medical system in the world. The knowledge and methods of Chinese Medicine have been developed by more than a hundred generations of clinical and scholarly research and development. What is known today as Traditional Chinese Medicine, or TCM, is the distillation of centuries of study, research and clinical practice.

Classical learning has been highly developed within the Chinese culture for hundreds of years, and medicine has been at the center of scholarly learning from the beginning. The first Imperial colleges of medicine in China were set up over 1000 years ago. The philosophical study of medicine in China has resulted in the production of thousands of academic texts covering all aspects of medicine and healthcare, including mental, physical, and spiritual well-being. This classical study and philosophical perspective bring an eloquence to the theoretical underpinnings of Chinese Medicine.

In addition, China has a long history of government and private hospitals and clinics, and it is here that the theories and concepts that were developed academically were put into application, in the clinic, with real patients. As a result, throughout history, there have been thousands of clinical manuals documenting the various treatment methods, resulting in a plethora of clinical resource material.

The academic study of medicine was constantly challenged and modified by clinical experience. Consequently, there has been a long history of collaboration and adversity between study and practice. This has led to a rigorous process of seeking out that which truly works. As the basic human condition has remained constant, these classical texts and clinical manuals continue to be used today in the study and practice of Chinese Medicine.

Throughout history, China has faced many different challenges regarding the issues of healthcare. More travel and increased migration between different lands and cultures brought the rise of new epidemics. As society changed and grew and more people were living in larger and larger cities, people’s lifestyles changed as well. These changes led to new diseases. Therefore, throughout history, the medical system had to change and adapt in order to meet the needs of a changing society.

The Chinese are keen observers of nature, and it is through this observation of nature and humanity that Chinese Medicine developed. Chinese Medical theory and practice evolved through the observation and study of disease symptoms and manifestations. The ancient physicians studied symptoms which were actually manifesting in an individual patient; fever, nausea, mental depression etc., and how to bring balance back to the body and restore health. The Chinese, through observation of the human condition, in different situations and over many generations, were able to categorize a very broad spectrum of the signs and symptoms that people manifest when they are ill.

Chinese Medical treatment was developed to address signs and symptoms of disease and disharmony, and to restore health and balance to the person. Chinese Medicine focuses on what the person needs to restore health and harmony, rather than focusing on disease and pathology. This is what makes Chinese Medicine so effective for chronic conditions. For these reasons Chinese Medicine is very effective in treating such conditions as hot flashes and night sweats, nausea and vomiting, whether due to pregnancy, menopause, or chemotherapy. This is also why Chinese Medicine can be effective for conditions in which modern conventional medicine is ineffective and/or has little or no understanding.

In other words, Chinese Medicine has studied what happens within a person, rather than studying the disease. Chinese Medicine is based on getting a detailed picture or pattern of each individual’s condition. Treatment is then based on what and how to bring balance and health to this individual. This can be compared to the process of tuning fine musical instruments. Each case is infinitely different and requires different treatment.

Here is an example to illustrate this concept: I once treated a middle aged female patient, she was in general good health. However, for many years she had had a condition in which she would experience shortness of breath, heart palpitations and her heart would race. This would happen to her as often as several times a week. Over the years she had undergone many medical tests. The doctors tested her heart and her respiratory system many times. The test showed no negative pathology. However, this condition was a very real and disturbing experience for this woman. Because the medical tests were unable to find anything wrong, the doctors had nothing to offer. (Often, antidepressants are prescribed in these cases.) In Chinese Medicine this was a textbook case of “Liver Qi Depression”. After six weekly treatments, her symptoms resolved. I treated this woman four more times to solidify the effects of the treatment, and 3 years later, other than mild occasions due to increased stress, there is NO recurrence of the original symptoms.

The overall pattern is what is essential in Chinese Medicine. When a person presents with stomach upset, palpitations and headache, these are not three distinct conditions that need three different treatments. There is always an underlying pattern of imbalance that is the cause of the symptoms that the person is experiencing. It is this underlying pattern of imbalance that Chinese Medicine addresses. Through detailed inquiry, and special diagnostic techniques, the Chinese Medical practitioner will seek the underlying pattern that is manifesting in this person as stomach upset, palpitations and headache. By correcting the underlying imbalance, all of the symptoms will be improved simultaneously. Chinese Medicine normalizes bodily functions, and treats the underlying pattern of disharmony. Restoring harmony and balance to the core systems of the body-mind, will improve whatever symptoms are manifesting.

How does Chinese Medicine do this? The “mind/body split” that happened in European science and medicine never took place in Chinese philosophy or medical thinking. Therefore Chinese Medicine has a very different view of the human being and disease than that of modern western medicine. Chinese Medicine is grounded in the understanding that all of the body’s physiological systems; organs, tissues, cells, etc, must work together in harmony. In this way, the body is able to produce the substances needed for nourishment and to promote the functional activities of our body, mind, emotions, and spirit. Chinese Medicine works to balance, tune, and harmonize the various individual parts, as well as the whole system so that the body-mind will function at a more optimum state. Consequently, the body which is brought into a state of optimal health, will be able to discern on its own, just what it needs and when it is needed. Rather than forcing the body to react, Chinese Medicine stimulates the natural and inherent healing qualities within, to re-establish health and well being.

This process can be compared to a well-organized symphonic orchestra. When the orchestra is well tuned and conducted, it will manifest beautiful music. If there is disharmony in any component of the orchestra, the whole sound will be negatively affected. Even one string, or one moment of distraction by a musician, can disrupt the whole orchestra. By tuning the various aspects of the orchestra to their optimum potential, you achieve a magnificence that is greater than the sum of the parts. And, this is the same with our human body, mind, and spirit. It is this holistic view that differentiates Chinese Medicine from modern western medicine.

In addition, Chinese Medicine perceives a "Life Force Energy" that flows throughout our bodies. This energy fills the physical organs, tissues and structures of our body, mind and spirit. When this Life Force Energy is vital, we are healthy, and, when this vitality is compromised, we become ill. Chinese Medicine focuses on returning and/or maintaining the balance and vitality of this Life Force Energy in the body, mind and spirit.

Of course, there are acute situations in which the primary focus must be the disease, and Chinese Medicine recognizes this. For these cases Chinese Medicine has very effective antiviral and antibiotic medications, as well as treatment for acute pain, nausea, etc. After addressing the acute situation, Chinese Medicine then focuses on the deeper, holistic healing of the patient, and how to prevent reoccurrence.

Chinese Medicine is unique in that there is an unbroken evolution of thought and methodology from prehistory until modern times. As the civilization of China evolved, so did the medical thinking. The shamanic ways of pre-history gave way to early scientific thought. And, as scientific thinking evolved, so did the medicine. Some of the most ancient archeological findings in China contain evidence of healing practices that are similar to contemporary treatments. This system of medicine has continuously developed and improved as medical science in China progressed. Today in China, ancient theories and techniques are being updated with the use of modern research methods. Today in China, it is common to find herbal medicine and acupuncture used alongside modern technologies like CAT scans and blood tests. Traditional Chinese Medicine is even combined with standard modern medical care in the treatment of severe conditions like cancer and chronic heart failure. The research in China over the past several years shows that the combination of Traditional Chinese Medicine and modern medicine is much more effective than either system on its own.

Today, Chinese Medicine is the one of fastest growing systems of alternative healthcare in the USA. Currently Acupuncture is the only aspect of Chinese Medicine that is licensed. However, Acupuncture is only one aspect of Chinese Medicine. Chinese Medicine also includes Herbal Medicine, Tui Na (Chinese Medical Massage), Qi Gong (Chinese Medical Movement Therapy), and Dietary Therapy. In addition, Chinese Medical practitioners often give counsel on those aspects of ones lifestyle that affect health and well-being.

In North Carolina, Acupuncturists are licensed by the North Carolina Acupuncture Licensing Board, which is governed by the same medical board as all other medical professions in this state. To become a Licensed Acupuncturist, one must graduate from a nationally accredited school of Acupuncture. The basic education consist of a 3-4 year graduate level training. In addition, Licensed Acupuncturists in North Carolina must complete continuing education requirements in order to renew their license every two years.

Though developed in ancient times, this medical system is neither folk healing, nor is it beneficial only for people of the Chinese culture. This medicine is practiced by thousands of medical professionals, not only in Asia, but all over the world. In China, this system of medicine is a highly developed profession, with universities, hospitals and clinics, specializing in the clinical, academic, and scientific development of Chinese Medicine. Both the United States National Institutes of Health, and the United Nations World Health Organization endorse Chinese Medicine as an effective and cost efficient system of healthcare.

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