Explaining Chinese Medicine to Laypersons


Once people find out I’m a licensed Chinese medicine doctor/Acupuncturist, I’m asked the same question over and over:

“So how do you treat [disorder/disease]…?”

My standard reply (met with a look of impatience and disappointment at the lack of specificity):

“It depends.”

Let me explain:

Your question is in a western format, since that’s what you know. You demand a precise (linear) answer, since that is what a western doctor would provide.

Here’s the major problem with the black-and-white/all-or-none western style of medicine:

It doesn’t work with Chinese medicine.

The either/or approach is typical of western medicine because it’s a linear medicine. It’s either this or that and there are no gray areas. Either they “see” it or they don’t (under a microscope, in test results, etc., referred to as “evidence-based” medicine).

Chinese medicine, however, is an abstract (or more like Gestaltist)style of medicine that excels where western medicine does not (in oh, so many ways). Chinese medicine doctors are trained to pay attention to the subtleties of the human via a complex diagnostic process*. We understand that humans are layered (physical, emotional, spiritual) like an onion.  Over time, treatments reveal those layers and allow us to better understand the individual and how disharmonies manifest uniquely in each person – since the individual constitution dictates this process. In western medicine, however, multiple health problems are seen as unrelated and operating independently within a constitution of smaller systems (cardiovascular, respiratory, digestive, etc.).

Chinese medicine doctors, on the other hand, see how multiple disharmonies are related and connected (this is actually a domino effect, where the chain is only as strong as its weakest link, causing other links to weaken in turn = indirect cause/effect relationship). Western medicine adopts the practice of treating each condition separately and with different medications (all which bring about nasty side effects), now popular as polypharmacy (which has its own set of issues, believe me).

With Chinese medical herbology, for example, Chinese medicine doctors are trained to design herbal formulations (which in and of themselves have a traditional and specific design process) from scratch that can treat multiple issues at one time: primary, secondary, and tertiary diagnoses. And, unlike western medicine, as symptoms dissipate or disappear altogether, the formula is augmented in one of two ways: 1) use of a new and different formula or 2) augment the original formula to treat the remaining symptoms until it is time to use a different formula.

*Next time: discussion on Chinese medical diagnostics vs. Western diagnostics

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