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3 Reasons Why We Don’t Need Research In Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and 3 Reasons Why We Do


Which camp are you in? Camp No: You don’t think we need research to prove our medicine works, right? After all, we’ve been around and working for over 3,000 years—that’s the best evidence yet! Camp Yes: We do need research to explain and justify our medicine in quantifiable and biomedical terms people are familiar with in the West. I’m going to tell you I am in both camps and why you should camp with me in both areas!

3 Reasons Why We Don’t Need Research In Acupuncture and TCM

One: We have 3,000 years of history with documented clinical evidence on conditions and effective treatments.

If the medicine didn’t work, it wouldn’t still be around now in effective use with over one-third of the world’s population. Enough said.

Two: We use a different language than Biomedicine to look at the body and its operations.

As a result, it is not possible to translate everything accurately in Biomedical terms. In fact, it doesn’t do it justice because we would be missing parts and pieces that are lost in translation, and then we are not looking at TCM and Acupuncture as a whole. By trying to translate we would lose the ability to fully understanding the medicine because things are lost in translation. Furthermore, in trying to explain our medicine using biomedical language, we would miss many pieces of the pie on how this dynamic system works as a whole. It is best to understand each paradigm in its complete whole on its own, rather than breaking it down into parts that will not give us the whole picture. In addition, the modern scientific method is based on a biomedical model of understanding the body as parts and separately functioning systems, which doesn’t necessarily fit the TCM and Acupuncture method of a dynamic interrelated medicine model. They are simply two different paradigms, two different languages addressing the body, and are understood best separately.

Three: There is relevance in Phenomenology, and using the experiences and results of the patient is evidence enough of its own, and valid.

What exactly is Phenomenology? Phenomenology is studied in the sociology world and, in a nutshell, refers to studying the enigma of the living body through the accounts of what was experienced, and by doing so, we experience what Nature “really” is (Rehorick, 1986). Furthermore, Phenomenology can restore, affect, influence and change persons—it transforms and shifts lives—and these transformations are more than mere influence (Rehorick, 2008). When we allow experiences with the unfamiliar, it brings us closer to the idea of a “pure” experience, and in fact, this should be taken into account into any empirical research (Rehorick, 2008). The phenomenologist Zaner argues that failure to acknowledge uncanny experiences is an obstacle to the arousal of self-awareness (Zaner, 1981). We fail to acknowledge phenomenon because the unfamiliar fractures our world. In our normal world, we are dominated by vision and sound. To experience a vibrational energy such as an earthquake or a “De Qi” response, is an alteration of our conventional perception of our world. Our world is now altered. Examples of shielding actions we take to protect ourselves from “perceiving and experiencing” the uncanny, in order to maintain “stability and integrity” in our perceived lifeworld are (A) Shielding using scientific explanation—using the finite paradigm of scientific meaning to serve as a bridge between the unfamiliar and the reality everyday life (Shutz, 1971); (B) Shielding by typification—using common sense or past experiences of the familiar to make sense of the unknown (Rehorick, 1986); and (C) Shielding through possibilizing—using what “could have been” to restore one’s balance and “reground” oneself, searching for the possibilities within the limits of the actual to resolve one’s imbalance (Rehorick, 1986). All of the above have the potential for the individual to make assessment errors. If we continue to attend to the parts of perception rather than looking and perceiving as a whole full experience, we will continue to make experience errors (Merleau- Potny, 1962). Phenomenology is simply allowing the perception and experience of the unfamiliar to be a whole and complete experience, without any need for explanation (e.g. shielding) or gathering information and facts from a distance. By embodying a direct, full experience as a source of knowledge, we are accepting the pureness of the experience as valid, and by doing so, we are closer to what true “Nature” of the living body really is. Moreover, by allowing and accepting a full experience and all experiences—yes that means “anecdotal”—we have more accurate “data” from which science can draw, and the more experiential “data” we have, the more “science” can draw from. So in fact, phenomenology is necessary - and where it ends, science begins - and it is the bridge to empirical research. Furthermore, a doctor is not doing their job if they do not listen to all of a patient’s experience.

3 Reasons Why We Do Need Research In Acupuncture and TCM

One: We need to modernize our medicine.

We have new ways in modern biomedicine to be able to explain evidence. Did you know there is a new “sham” acupuncture needle used in some clinical trials that actually feels like a needle is inserted but no needle punctures the skin? What about looking at lab analyses done with herbal medicine examining the active ingredient to help explain its efficacy? We should embrace new technology and analysis measures because these methods of explanation in the scientific method are the more commonly accepted in today’s society and help enhance and deepen our understanding.

Two: It can quantify our results in ways we can’t quantify in the TCM paradigm, and by doing so, provides us another lens into supportive evidence in our medicine.

There are ways we can quantify qualitative data (Tan, 2016). There are also ways we can quantify TCM data in Biomedicine data. Yes, it may still be looking at a piece of our medicine, however, it is more information for that piece. The more information we have, the more likely it will connect with someone who can relate to that information, because that’s the kind of information they understand. If you cannot help them understand, you cannot connect with them at their level. If you cannot connect with them at their level, they are not accepting or engaged in the medicine. If they are not accepting or engaged in the medicine, they will not be supportive of it, or if it’s a patient, they will not continue to invest their time in using TCM and Acupuncture to restore their health.

Three: It helps us bridge the gap between TCM and Western biomedicine.

We can use these pieces of evidence in the biomedical language, to help reach out and connect with a doctor or a patient who only understands biomedical language. By providing them with context and language that they understand, we are possiblizing, in Phenomenology terms, which means we are restoring balance to a world that is unfamiliar to them with the familiar. This creates understanding and further acceptance in their world that would otherwise be unbalanced because of this uncanny “phenomenological experience” that does not make sense not them. Making sense to them makes them feel safer about it and more open and accepting to it. This also relates to point two above. When we now connect with a biomedicine thinker by making them feel safe and accepting of TCM and Acupuncture, they become supportive of it and are willing to invest their time in our medicine to restore health. The door to TCM and Acupuncture has been opened, wider.

Why Be a Proponent of Both Camps?

I believe our medicine is a stand-alone outstanding system. Everyday I am amazed by the magic of this complex and dynamic time-tested medicine. I also believe that in order for us to spread the magic of TCM and Acupuncture more widely, it is important learn the language of biomedicine more effectively, in particular, learn to explain it in their terms. I’m sure some of you are saying, why don’t they learn our language? And some do. However, the vast majority of the North American and European culture operates now in a Biomedicine paradigm. Why fight the giant? Why not work with it? Then you can open the minds and eyes of biomedical health practitioners and patients, and not only bridge the gap of understanding and open the doors to an alternative viable option, but also begin to spread the power of this medicine further into this world. When we cast our net wider, we can help more people.

Join me in being a leader and a voice in both the valid phenomenology of our medicine and the quantifiable research evidence, and pass it on. Start to bridge your own internal gap, and then pass it on to your patients and fellow healthcare colleagues. Open those doors. Open more doors. Spread the magic of Acupuncture and TCM even wider. Widen your net, help even more people restore health, and be part of a ripple effect. After all, that is what we are here for.

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