A Sign of the Times

In the YouTube video, a middle-aged woman, recently graduated from an Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine program, explains how her clinic delivers personalized care. Depending on the particulars of the patient and the complaint, she draws from what she refers to as her bag of tricks—containing, among other things, Richard Tan’s Balancing Method, Trigger Point Acupuncture, Chinese herbal medicine, nutritional supplements, diet and lifestyle counseling, and Traditional Chinese Medicine. Not unlike Amazon, this clinic boasts the convenience of one-stop shopping

Not so long ago, acupuncture choices were limited, and Chinese medicine was a treasured lineage rather than a convenient option. Some who wandered off the beaten path of Traditional Chinese Medicine ended up at places like as Worsley Classical Five Element Acupuncture or Toyohari, but all of these models ultimately claimed the common ancestor of Chinese medicine. More recently, as the research studies demonstrating the efficacy of acupuncture have multiplied, there is a perception that the benefits of acupuncture treatment derive primarily from the modality itself, with the theory of Chinese medicine, consciously or unconsciously, relegated to the status of window dressing.

The shift is revolutionary. For decades, acupuncture derived its credibility from lengthy clinical experience; today, however, many acupuncturists are more likely to reference modern research as proof that acupuncture works. Vaguely scientific reasoning—no Western physiological theories adequately describe the effects of acupuncture—is, however, not just affecting how acupuncture is described to the public. Western research models are also eroding professional confidence in traditional Chinese medical thinking. The end result is a pragmatic approach to care where any approach that affords patients temporary relief is tossed into the haphazard mix of daily practice.

In the rush towards greater success in business and more prestige in the field of healthcare, we risk forgetting that the real value of Traditional Chinese Medicine lies not in its methods of treatment but in its capacity to solve problems and its deeply perceptive insight into human health and illness. As remarkable as the effects of ST-36 or LI-4 may be, the advantages of these acupuncture points do not provide an understanding of the causes, development, and progression of disease. Estranged from theory, the overemphasis on treatments can only deliver palliative care, demoting the Chinese doctor from the status of healer, committed to patient health and vitality, to a technician selling a quick fix.