Traditional Chinese Medicine or TCM is an ancient form of medicine that seeks to balance the body (ying and yang) as well as treat ailments that are the result of an unbalance in the body. I started getting acupuncture treatments and taking herbs six years ago while living in Toronto. During various periods of my life I make appointments regularly and at other times I go for a tune up.
Dr. Eran Even is a TCM doctor with a practice outside of Vancouver, BC who recently published a
handbook for practitioners. Fluent in both English and Mandarin Dr. Even also writes a
blog where he translates case studies into English. He has been kind enough to answer a few questions intended to demystify or enlighten the practice of TCM
What might one expect from a first appointment or first acupuncture session?
Usually the initial consult takes anywhere from 1 -1 ½ hours. In this first meeting we discuss the patients’ chief complaint and also undergo a detailed history looking at all aspects of the persons’ life, from their digestive system to their emotional health to their menstrual cycle. Even if a patient comes in for chronic shoulder pain, I would still inquire about their digestive system in order to try and uncover the underlying pattern which could be either contributing to their pain or preventing them from making a full recovery. Essentially no preparation is needed on the part of the patient for the initial consult, only a readiness to discuss their entire medical history and associated and non-associated symptoms. It is quite common for patients receiving Acupuncture for the first time to be quite nervous on their first visit. Part of this is due to a common misconception that we use massive hypodermic needles. In reality, the needles are very fine and insertion is rarely even felt. Most people are extremely relaxed after treatment and some of my patients have described this sensation as ‘a floating feeling’; an Acupuncture buzz if you will.
What is the training process to become a TCM doctor?
The training to become a Doctor of Chinese medicine takes 5 years of full time intensive studies at an accredited Chinese medical college. Subjects covered include; Acupuncture, Chinese Herbal medicine, Chinese massage therapy (called Tui Na), Chinese medical theory, pathology and physiology, and also includes western medical sciences such as anatomy, physiology, pathology, microbiology, pharmacology, etc. Currently most Chinese medical colleges offer degrees at the post graduate level, so an undergraduate degree is usually required. Now this only covers the theoretical and clinical requirements to sit for provincial or state board exams, this certainly does not cover the time needed to become adept at practicing the art. Personally, I believe that 5 years is not enough time to truly grasp this vast medical system, and one needs to engage in several years of apprenticeship or clinical mentorship to learn how to apply the treatments effectively and to hone and develop their own skills. I would also say that integral to the study of Chinese medicine, would be the study of the Chinese language as well. Currently, western practitioners only have access to at best 5% of the literature available to their Chinese speaking counterparts. This includes classical literature from two thousand years ago to modern research being published in one of the dozens of Chinese medical journals weekly. Without being able to read Chinese you are left with English versions, where lots of info is lost in translation, as they say. The purpose of my blog is to provide access to various case studies to the non-Chinese reading practitioners.
Are you finding more mainstream patients are seeking TCM treatments for such things as infertility, anxiety, depression and pain management?
In addition to the above ailments, I also see a lot of digestive issues, allergies and skin conditions. I believe that patients seeking treatment for the above conditions have already tried western medicine, and have found that the treatment is not effective. Many patients are seeking out more holistic or all-encompassing treatment options, rather than just treating the symptoms that usually re-emerge after medications are stopped. Aside from offering Acupuncture and/or herbal medicines to control the symptoms and treat the underlying pattern, we discuss and recommend lifestyle and dietary changes in order to contribute to the patients’ overall sense of well being.
TCM is largely based on treating the whole person not just the symptoms- can you elaborate on this?
The basic premise of TCM is to find the patients underlying pattern and treat accordingly. When a TCM doctor examines a patient, they look for many signs and symptoms, find a pattern within those symptoms, and come up with a diagnosis. These signs and symptoms may mean nothing on their own, but acquire meaning in relationship to each other. In order for a TCM doctor to identify a patients specific pattern we use a system called pattern identification, which is essentially a process by which information is gathered through four examinations (inspection, listening, inquiry, and palpation). These four examination processes are unique in that each one focuses on a different way of recognizing signs in a patient. We take the information gathered from the four examinations and identify a specific pattern (which has been determined over the last few thousand years, by a specific set or constellation of signs and symptoms) and treat accordingly. Because every patient is unique in how they will manifest a specific complaint, usually no two patients are treated equally. I can have ten patients coming in for migraines in a week, and the chances of me writing the same herbal formula or using the same set of acupuncture points is slim to none. The best way to sum it up is “we treat the person, not the disease”.
There is certainly a great deal of info on the Internet these days, but of course we have to take some of these sites with a grain of salt, as the Internet is not always the best avenue for seeking medical info. One book that I can recommend for the layperson would be the very same book that sparked my initial interest in Chinese medicine. It’s called The Web That Has No Weaver written by Ted Kaptchuk, a Chinese medical doctor who is now a professor at Harvard. This book is truly a marvellous glimpse into the theory of TCM and the clinical reasoning of a TCM doc.
What is the best way to find a TCM doc in your area- is there a national database?
The best way to find a practitioner in your area would be to find the website or info for the licensing college of your state or province, which will usually have a comprehensive database of licensed practitioners. Always seek out a fully licensed practitioner, and specifically one that has been trained in Traditional Chinese medicine.
Thank you! To visit Dr. Even's blog