5.3.4 What is Traditional Chinese Medicine?

From Suzanne E. Sky, L.Ac.

Traditional Chinese Medicine is a phrase used to describe a complex system of medicine developed in China that has now spread around the world in its various forms. This system is over 3,500 years old. Its fundamental basis is a philosophy which views humans as a microcosm of the universe and inherently connected to it, to Nature and to all Life.

Chinese Medicine is actually a part of what is called Oriental Medicine, because there are many different styles practiced, with the same origins and medical foundation, in China, Japan, Korea and other Asian countries. This medicine spread to America and Europe as practitioners migrated and settled in different countries. Now Oriental Medicine is practiced and taught all around the world.

I. History & current use

The history of Chinese Medicine is very long, complicated, and fascinating. There have always been many different styles of practice and theories of medicine in China. The early Communist leaders destroyed much of the old information but finally decided that Chinese Medicine was a valuable method. The principles were simplified and began to be taught in colleges. Before this, Chinese Medicine was passed down through generations of families, through apprenticeship and training that began at a young age. Now there are several well established Colleges in China that train Chinese Medicine practitioners. Westerners can study there as well. In Chinese hospitals, Chinese Medicine is practiced alongside modern Western Medicine. For example, cancer patients in China receive radiation treatment or chemotherapy, and they also receive Chinese herbal medicine to ameliorate the side effects.

II. What modalities do Chinese medicinal practitioners use?

Chinese Medicine is a large area of study and practice. Some of the modalities it includes are:

  • Herbal Medicine: An advanced and effective system of herbal medicine.
  • Acupuncture & Acupressure: Use finger pressure or special fine needles to harmonize and activate the body's own healing ability.
  • Moxibustion (moxa): Special therapeutic warming techniques.
  • Diet & Nutrition: A unique and effective system which teaches the energetic qualities of food and how it effects us.
  • Chi Kung and Tai Chi: Systems of movement and breathing that promotes health. Chi Kung is also an ancient healing method.
  • Tui Na: Chinese medical massage

Practitioners are trained in several or many of these modalities and specialize in one to a few areas of expertise.

III. Schooling and practice

Many schools in America and Europe are fully accredited and confer Master's Degrees in Oriental Medicine. Schooling takes 4 to 6 years. The requirements include Western science and medical courses along with about 2,000 hours in Chinese Medical Theory, techniques and practice. This includes in-depth study of Acupuncture, Chinese Herbal Medicine, and other modalities. In addition, anywhere from 800 to 1,200 hours of clinical observation and internship are required in an acupuncture clinic. The traditional way of learning, apprenticeship, is still in existence, but is less common today. In America about 20 states certify or license Acupuncturists for practice, through an examination process. There are over 30 schools in America and many schools and practitioners in Europe.

IV. Acupuncture is recognized by the World Health Organization

The World Health Organization (WHO) recognizes over 250 illnesses successfully treated by acupuncture and the list continues to grow. Among these are included: PMS (pre-menstrual syndrome), gynecological disorders, anxiety, depression, arthritis and joint problems, colds, flus, sinusitis, cough, bronchitis, headaches, numbness and poor circulation, stress, fatigue, recovery from injuries.

V. Questions to ask your acupuncturist

  • How and where (or with whom) did they study? (School or apprenticeship)
  • How long was their training? Currently some health professionals can attend what amounts to a weekend class and then practice acupuncture under their medical license. They may know where to stick a few needles, but they are not trained in Oriental Medicine.
  • What modalities do they use?
  • How long have they been practicing?

VI. Internet resources

A great Acupuncture page with lots of resources: http://www.gancao.net
Foundation for Traditional Chinese Medicine: http://www.ftcm.org.uk