East Meets West | The development of traditional Chinese medicine in the west


Image by  Will Luo on flickr


China, unsurprisingly as the name suggests, is the birthplace of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). It has been used for thousands of years there, and is now practiced side by side with conventional western medicine. Despite its long legacy, TCM was in decline at the beginning of the 20th century and it wasn’t until the Cultural Revolution when TCM was rediscovered and regained its popularity (due to its relative low cost compared with western medicine). TCM in the West on the other hand, has a much shorter history, and has not been in the mainstream’s conscience until quite recently (in the grand scheme of things). Is there a perception then, that TCM practitioners in China are better equipped at dealing and treating patients than their western colleagues?

Logically, this should be true. China is still the only place that has truly integrated TCM and western medicine. TCM hospitals there abound with the hustle and bustle of doctors, herbalists and patients. The sheer number of patients mean that the likelihood of seeing varied types of illnesses treatable with TCM must be higher. Also the very idea that the principles of TCM (diet, lifestyle, various forms of exercise like taichi) are embedded in the Chinese society should make it a much easier for TCM to be practiced and bettered in China.

However, it could just be possible that practitioners in the west might have their own advantages. Most TCM practices here are private and small. There are very few actual TCM clinics that can rival those in China. This offers TCM practitioners the chance to have more time with the patients, both in treatment and in subsequent consultations. Compare this even to the multi-bed clinics (also known as community acupuncture) where there are more than one patient at a time: the atmosphere is a lot calmer in the western clinics. Practitoners in the west also understand the importance of talking therapies, and whether it be a time concession or an attribute of society, TCM practitioners in China just don’t encourage talking support as well as their western counterparts.


Obviously the quality of training and the practitioner’s actual skill plays a huge role. Counter in the fact that in China it is common for patients to have daily sessions rather than weekly ones, and yes perhaps the success of treatment in China is still higher. Nonetheless, TCM in the west had developed immensely in the past few decades and it should not be looked upon as the inferior cousin. What are your views? 


Other posts you may be interested in:

Integrating Western Medicine with Complementary Therapies: the importance of East meets West for healthcare 

How to find a good acupuncture practitioner | Three questions to ask when choosing an acupuncturist



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