Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and Biomedicine have a rich and beneficial history that follows very different approaches to achieve similar results. Using a mass of information that dates back nearly 2 millennia, TCM treats the whole person via the interrelationships between the body, the mind and the external environment. Biomedicine, which is a relatively younger science, examines the smaller parts and processes that give us our body such as tissues, cells, atoms and their physiological and chemical processes. A presentation of the patient’s complaints and his/her history come first, regardless of whether TCM or biomedicine is used. TCM rises to the top when confronted by chronic problems and preventative medicine, while Biomedicine excels at treating acute conditions. Both have advanced in many ways to the modalities that we recognize now.
In TCM, Qi (type of energy) is the basis for all physical, emotional and mental processes. Attention is directed to the complete physiological and psychological individual, or “whole person,” to ensure the smooth flow of qi. Rather than using expensive equipment, assessments are conducted through questions and observations that begin at first glance. Observations that are mentally noted include posture, skin color, eye health, and overall alertness. Upon meeting, the practitioner will ask questions ranging from emotional status, sleep patterns and dreams, to food cravings and bowel health. Adding to the aforementioned questions and observations, the patient’s tongue will be examined and pulse will be palpated, as well as any tender spots he/she may mention. These specific assessment and observation techniques are used to paint a picture that will guide the practitioner in using techniques that will help restore balance to the patient’s qi. In mental health, anxiety and depression are treated as liver, kidney or heart disharmonies and sometimes summarized as shen disorders.
Biomedicine is considered to be evidence-based medicine that creates specific standardized protocols that all doctors should follow. It combines knowledge, theory and research to provide a deeper understanding of organic life and how to improve on it. It treats parts of a bigger whole as opposed to treating the whole person. Assessments are obtained using highly sophisticated equipment and specific tests. A patient may not actually see his/her doctor for up to an hour as a nurse walks them from blood pressure cuff to blood test to EKG. All of this information will be relayed to the doctor via specific forms which he will examine closely.
Although their methodologies are different, both Biomedicine and TCM seek to help the patient. A western doctor may diagnose a person with Parkinson’s disease and use an MRI to back up their hypothesis. An Eastern physician would know that the tremors are due to wind, confirming this with a tongue and pulse assessment. Similarly, an arthritis patient in a doctor’s office will be run through a series of blood tests; yet may seek relief from a Tui Na practitioner using massage techniques and liniments for Bi syndrome. A Western doctor measures and influences bioelectrical energy with machines, while an Eastern practitioner manipulates qi through meditative practices and the use of needles. When dealing with schizophrenia, depression or any other mental problem, drugs and psychotherapy are the answer, with the latter being used less often. In Eastern medicine, Qi Gong may be advised, as well as the use of certain herbs in conjunction with acupuncture treatments and/or massage.
Prior to the last few decades, the Western world viewed TCM as an ancient philosophy with somewhat outdated esoteric methods of healing. Today the West is beginning to accept Eastern medicine as an effective method of treating contemporary health concerns including infertility, headaches and autoimmune disorders. By continuing to integrate each of these modalities, the future of modern medicine in both worlds seems much brighter.
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