Practicing Chinese Medicine: Are they Qualified?
Chinese medicine is a 4 year program just like any other medical school whether it be naturopathic or allopathic. However, 4 years spent in Chinese medicine earns you a Master’s degree and not a Doctorate degree. To earn a doctorate degree in Chinese medicine you need to attend 6 years. Despite the lengthy time that is required to become a licensed acupuncturist, there are medical providers who are able to practice acupuncture without any training. To my knowledge, it is the only profession that is able to be practiced without any training.
Unfortunately, there is poor regulation of Chinese medicine in America. The American Medical Association allows M.D.’s and D.O’s to practice acupuncture with virtually no didactic or clinical experience. Suffice to say, this is extreme medical negligence. Furthermore, it illustrates the fallacy of laws regarding the practice of medicine which are purported to protect the public. Fact is, many laws in medicine are made to protect financial interests.
M.D’s and D.O.’s in many states do not require any training in acupuncture to administer it; however, an acupuncturist needs to attend 4 years of schooling and pass medical board examinations to practice. The law is not made to protect the public, if this was the case, then as with any profession or trade, the person providing the service would need to have proper training. It is rather incredulous that medical practitioners with absolutely no training can perform acupuncture. The big story currently is not between the acupuncture profession and that of the M.D.’s or D.O.’s, but it is between the acupuncture and physical therapy profession. In fact, the acupuncture Board of Medicine in North Carolina has a legal lawsuit in the works against the physical therapy Board of Medicine citing that they are practicing a form of medicine that they are not deemed qualified to practice. Whether it is an M.D., a D.O., or a physical therapist, a person without formal training in acupuncture can and sometimes does lead to complications.
There is much confusion in the community with regards to what Chinese medicine entails. It is much more than sticking needles in the body and hoping for the best. It is also much more than attending a weekend seminar on “dry needling” and then sticking in needles and allowing the patient to believe that it is similar to acupuncture but it’s different because it is called “dry needling.” It’s acupuncture. “Dry needling” uses acupuncture needles to penetrate the skin and is being inserted into a trigger point or whatever they deem necessary. Furthermore, the package of needles being used in “dry needling” says acupuncture needles. You can’t just take out one small aspect of Chinese medicine and then claim that it’s not acupuncture because it’s dressed with a different name. Excising a mole is drastically different than performing gastrointestinal surgery where part of the bowel is removed; however, both use a scalpel and are still considered surgical procedures.
When it comes to practice of Chinese medicine, there are a plethora of ways to treat a person. As stated previously, acupuncture is more than just sticking in needles based on a protocol and hoping for the best. Take for example a person with back pain. There are many different ways which you can treat this problem. Let’s define some of the various systems one can use to treat back pain in Chinese medicine.
Approaches to back pain:
• Point energetics
• Zang-Fu theory
• 5 phase system
• Channel theory
• Tung Acupuncture
• French Barrier Technique
• Auricular acupuncture
• Korean hand technique
• Battlefield acupuncture
• Scalp acupuncture
Outside of acupuncture, there is gua-sha, cupping, tuina, and moxibustion, all of which can treat back pain in and by themselves or be adjuncts to acupuncture.
As you can see, there is a multitude of ways to address problems. What is most commonly known by the public, knowingly or unknowingly, is point energetics. Most acupuncturist use this system. First, it should be mentioned that this system is actually rooted in Chinese herbal medicine and was not the basis for how acupuncture was practiced in ancient times. Does it still work? Yes. Is it the best approach to help patients? Debatable. In my opinion based on my own clinical experience and that of others, no. That said, I will sometimes do 2 treatments in one session if I don’t get the results I’m looking for and will utilize the point energetics approach. One of the main differences in the channel based theory and point energetics is that the results with channel theory are seen within minutes, and that’s a great thing.
If you don’t have proper training in Chinese medicine, then you have no understanding of not only the art, but the countless ways in which you can treat someone. However, even properly trained individuals may only practice point energetics, or maybe they practice one other type of style predominantly. They may keep trying various points or point combinations that have been shown to work for back pain, but after one or more treatments their approach yield unsatisfactory results. And this isn’t belittling to anyone because unsatisfactory results happens to every practitioner at some point. The point being made here is that if you are knowledgeable of other methods and use them to the point to where you have confidence in them, then you can expand your treatment. The main issue with people practicing acupuncture that are not fully qualified aside from patient safety is that it yields sub-optimal results which leads the patient to believe the medicine doesn’t work when in fact it works very well. Even in the best hands of a skilled practitioner, results are not always immediate and sometimes may take weeks to see the benefit. Some cases may take longer. But the large majority of patients can usually expect to see results in 1-6 treatment sessions. This can be further broken down into what types of patients fall into what end of the spectrum. In short, patients in pain see results in fewer treatments whereas patients with endocrine (hormone) related problems will take longer.
Despite acupuncture being known for its applicability for pain relief, it is a stand-alone medicine. It is phenomenal at treating pain, can normalize menstrual cycles, eradicate fibroids, reduce stress, heal past traumas, balance the mental-emotional state, help guide the spiritual aspect of self, and improve many other imbalances.
The shortcoming I find with Chinese medicine is in its ability to pull toxins from the cell. In ancient times, there was not the environmental toxicity that we have now. Fact is, most everyone is loaded with toxins whether they wish to believe this or not. And it is for this reason that I combine Chinese medicine with natural therapeutics such as Biotherapeutic drainage. The combination of these two therapeutics is very powerful approach to move people towards a better state of wellness both physically and emotionally.
Written by: Dr. Chris Fucci