Although the goals of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and allopathic medicine are the same, their ideas of etiology of disease, disease itself and the process used to regain health are decidedly different. The allopathic physician learns that disease must be cured by prescribing medicine which kills bacteria or renders a virus ineffective; at times surgical intervention is a necessity.
There is nothing inherently wrong with this approach. It often works. The question worth exploring is why TCM succeeds when allopathic medicine fails? What is the mechanism of action of acupuncture and herbal medicine which results in palliation or cure that is not manifest in biomedicine? It is through this exploration that the unique nature of TCM avails itself.
Though the goal of TCM is to cure a patient, the doctor of TCM attempts to do this not by treating the disease but rather by treating the whole person which takes into account the various attributes of an individual which, when combined, account for an individual being sick or healthy. A person, according to the tenets of TCM is more than their pathology. To treat just the pathology may yield impressive though temporary results.
People are not, according to TCM, represented solely by their illness, but by the accumulation of every human interaction engaged in from the moment of birth including the values of and the culture from which the individual develops. The emotional experiences, eating habits, work habits, work and living environment, personal habits and the social milieu are considerations which are important to fully comprehend for the deleterious effects they may have on the individual.
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Though the Western methodology of research of Chinese medicine has not, to date, been arrived at by the Western scientific community, the veracity and efficaciousness of this medical modality is nonetheless proved by its long history of continued success. More than a quarter of the world’s population regularly uses TCM as part of their health care regimen. Chinese medicine is the only form of classical medicine which is regularly and continuously used outside of its country of origin.
TCM is part science, empirical as that may be and part art. It’s practice is, to a greater or lesser degree interpreted and performed by based not only on the facts but also on the experience of the treating doctor.
The experienced doctor must utilize his or her own interpretive skills, taking into consideration not only what the patient tells and shows, but also what they reveal without meaning too and, what they don’t express during the intake process. The empty spaces can contain more important information than the filled ones. The tone of the voice, the complexion, the condition of the eyes, the facial expression, the overall demeanor, how one walks, sits, and stands are all observed and utilized by the doctor of Chinese medicine as part of the information required to arrive at a differential diagnosis. In other words, even before the first words are spoken by the patient, the doctor already has some idea of who this person is.
The doctor must be able to note and sense inconsistencies in an individual that are expressed by the patient even without the patient being cognizant of the chasms which exist between what they verbally express and what their spiritual presentation divulges.
A great doctor is one who can process a mix of factual knowledge of medicine with a personal sensitivity based on experience. The doctor of TCM specializes not just in inserting needles or prescribing herbal formulae but in being able to divine ‘hidden’ or subtle pathology which may not been seen or understood by practitioners of other types of medicine. In fact, a patient’s main complaint may be only one of several pathologies which are present though the patient herself is only aware of the one which is most important to her at the time of examination. This ability of divination though quite difficult to master is ascertained without the benefit of modern technology; we rely on the ‘Four Examinations’.
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This method of diagnosis dates back over three thousand years. Observing, Listening and Smelling, Questioning and Palpating make up the ‘Four Examinations’. Listening and Smelling are considered to be one of the Four Examinations. This method of diagnosis, though seemingly quite simple, is far from simplistic. It allows the astute practitioner to arrive at a differential diagnosis. With the advent of technology, as amazing, necessary and beneficial as it is in relation to medical intervention, there seems to be a direct correlation between advancement in technological wonders with an increasing decrease in doctor sensitivity to the patient. It is important to always remember that a patient is a person first!
Proper treatment in TCM is more than the elimination of pathological processes. In addition to attacking the pathological factor(s), it is the responsibility of the TCM doctor to support the individual in his or her goal of achieving overall total health which includes the physical-psycho-emotional and spiritual aspects of health. This paradigmatic approach is an inexorable part of the process of healing. Without it, we are merely chasing the sickness and forgetting about the patient who, though a patient they may be must also be recognized first as a whole person, not just an embodiment of illness.
Pathologies are guests (and we hope temporary ones!) in a home which serves as a gracious host – our physical, emotional and spiritual selves. TCM first is concerned with strengthening the immune function which includes homeostasis of the physical, emotional and spiritual attributes of the patient, so as to be able to assist the patient in his or her endeavor to do battle and destroy the enemy at the gates (or inside them).