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The future of Chinese Medicine in America


To start things off on our new forum, I’m interested in practitioners views of the future of Chinese Medicine here in the states? Do we need/want better integration with western medicine? Do we need more/better representation on a national/political level? What are your concerns as practitioners for the future of our field?


As a profession we are sorely lacking political representation. But that is slowly changing. In Florida for example several lobbyists have been hired to promote and “represent” the interests of the acupuncture profession at the state level.

I think there is tremendous potential in integrating Chinese medicine with western hospital care. Many of the more serious conditions/diseases that acupuncture can assist with are never seen in typical clinics. Take stroke for example. Many government commissioned studies from China purport incredible success treating and often reversing acute stroke with acupuncture. Acupuncture can be applied to reduce recovery times, reduce the amount of pain medications required, etc. While the integration of acupuncture with more ‘traditional’ western treatment methods is taken for granted in China and other Asian countries it is still struggling to take hold here in the US. But there is hope. Some of the Veteran’s Affairs hospitals in Florida have started bringing in acupuncturists. Acupuncture is commonly used in rehab clinics across the country. So there is some integration but clearly there is plenty of room to expand.

Acupuncture as an auxiliary treatment can be extremely useful for treating the various side effects of chemotherapy. In fact acupuncture to treat chemo induced nausea is one of the few conditions approved for treatment by the major insurance companies.


I am concerned that the tests, hoops, and hurdles that we cross to become an acupuncturist is fair and logical. It is important that it represents solid experience in healing with the art. Integration is coming because many of the doctors want it. They are studying to think outside of the box and over time that is having a good effect. It is coming because patients demand it. We could use a popular show that showcases modern treatments with alternative methods. We have any number of great examples in America that could become a show. Like the clinic in New York that specializes in infertility and has simply gone of the charts with the number of patients they treat.


I think it’s ironic that we see responses like this always advocating for acupuncture, acupuncture, acupuncture. Acupuncture is only a small fraction of what TCM is. If we are to truly consider the entirety of our supposed integral (and not technical) practice into the traditional Western medical practice we have to ask ourselves what framework will this conglomerated practice adhere to? It will put us into strange territories of defining Qi deficiency and blood heat for example. I highly doubt Western medicine has room for this; it needs to deduce its findings and compartmentalize its protocols.

I see Western medical science as highly technical. Why do specialists exist? Are there specialists in our field for treating only external cold pathogens or resolving damp phlegm heat in the lungs? When you think of it this way, one can appreciate how different TCM is from the Dutch tradition, and perhaps even find that integration may be a bad idea since the soul and framework of TCM as a functional form are preserved–not just the technical applications of it. Conventional medicine in the US has so far only been interested in “TCM” (read: acupuncture) as a supplementary and technical application only (not a true integration). Functional medicine is totally different–and as we should know, since we practice the world’s first organized healing profession.


Acupuncture in the west came a long way already, I first stated it back in the 90s then abandoned it for years because there wasn’t really a school for it, just learned the basics from a martial arts master. Back then on the needle boxes you could read: ‘For experimental purposes only’. It meant the medical community did not take acupuncture seriously at all and if you talked to pretty much any MD they looked at you as voodoo practitioner. Now you have to be licensed to practice and from our accredited local acupuncture school the interns are actually sent to hospitals where they help patients with many conditions such as stroke, MS and of course pain and other motor conditions. This is further advancement as now acupuncture is approved even in hospitals.

The problem is still however it is pretty much the only branch of TCM that is allowed at all, they don’t want to hear about herbs, moxibustion or anything else.

A few months ago I also attended a seminar by the acupuncturist who is on the board for finalizing ICD 10 and she said she was very surprised how much trust they had in her for coding treatments with acupuncture for ICD 10, they never questioned any of her codes. Again, a great advancement towards integration and showing that acupuncture is taken seriously by the medical community as well as with insurance companies.

It will just take time and more and more of it will be accepted into main stream medicine, we just need to keep up with providing proofs and explaining things from their point of view. I believe that’s really the key to advancing further.


Those are definitely positives from an idealistic point of view–but I just have to ask you: do you still have any respect (or hope) for conventional medicine?

The interesting thing is that acupuncture isn’t a “branch” of TCM; TCM is either whole or not in practice. The issue is that a lot of folks don’t take the time to learn Chinese language, culture, or history to get a correct perspective on what it is they’re apparently practicing.

Personally, I could care less whether or not TCM is accepted into mainstream medicine or not. In fact, I prefer it isn’t so as to preserve the millennia of wisdom and understanding. I feel there’s a lack of respect for that in a post-industrialized world that globalizes Western culture at every nook and cranny it can. It has a habit of covering up some of the best human achievements throughout the world in the past few thousand years. TCM is one of those human achievements.

I for one believe that conventional medicine is on its way out because it’s no longer a healing practice; it’s an institutional monster. As more people (especially in the West) are becoming ill with really complex and scary diseases as the result of genetic modification, pollution, and a complete disconnect with nature, spirituality, and consciousness all of the medicine that has historically worked will be in resurgence (and we’re already seeing the tip of this iceberg in the last five years alone).


Don’t forget the values of Western medicine especially when it comes to emergency situation. A nitro shot can save a patient with heart attack while as acupuncturists we can do very little as immediate help. I don’t deny the value of conventional medicine while I agree pills do more harm then good but still in emergency situations they are life savers. Also some conditions respond better to conventional treatments than do to acupuncture or herbs.

As for just the word “branch” I guess it depends how we look at it, I could have used the phrase ‘a part of’ TCM. TCM is the integration of different traditional healing modalities.

There are several reason why it is important that mainstream medicine accepts TCM. 1) insurance purposes. One of the biggest obstacles acupuncture has is no coverage from insurance companies and many patients are not able to cover all the expenses that a full course of treatment requires. 2) regulation. Even today there are many ‘woodoo’ acupuncturists who have NO idea how to treat conditions, they learned a few techniques here and there and with that practice openly not achieving any results with their patients therefore giving acupuncture a bad name. I am only a student (advanced) but hear practitioners practicing for years without a license yet only having basic understandings and applying methods that don’t work. Some of them are so bad I don’t even want to mention because nobody would believe what they are doing. So from the regulation point of view it is important to be legitimate and accredited. 3) with an integration we get patients referred to us from doctors and in my opinion it is another great step in going forward. In our school we have to take many western courses and this helps us by speaking their language, giving them more confidence and believing in us that we can help our and their patients as well, especially when their treatments fail … so we get more referrals. It is also important the other way around as well. I would not want to treat for example a cancer patient without first properly diagnosed by a western doctor and this also happened during one of my clinical observations when the TCM doctor (from China with a Ph.D. and years of experience working at hospitals) refused to treat a patient with a possible reoccurring tumor without proper diagnosis first.

So in my opinion working along with conventional practitioners is important, no matter how much we don’t believe in synthetic treatments. We can offer and demonstrate that we can help and in many ways help more than they can.


I agree in many ways we over emphasize that aspect. In truth, I try to use the least harmful first if at all possible. Food, exercise, tui na, cupping, gua sha, and many other methods often come first as they should. I have my favorite routine on the face which is done with Q-tips because the muscles on the face are so delicate and usually respond immediately to a little prodding here or there.

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