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Integrating Eastern and Western Techniques Into Everyday Medicine

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When applied to healthcare, the term integration often implies an interdisciplinary approach: collaboration amongst physicians and healthcare professionals who communicate with each other to decide upon the optimal treatment protocol of a patient. The goal may be to treat a particular disease or set of issues, or it may be to attain and maintain a state of overall good health. It also implies the use of various treatments by a practitioner to bring a patient back to balance mentally, emotionally, and physically rather than focusing solely on the chief complaint.

No doubt, we would all agree that being in a state of good or, better yet, perfect health is the desired goal. As complex beings, good health means not only being disease-free, but also implies excellent functioning of the biological, emotional, and social systems, which are interdependent and interrelated. What happens in any one of those systems has ramifications in the other systems—just as the ripple effect of putting a drop of red paint into a bucket of white paint, or putting a teaspoon of salt into a pot of boiling water affects or influences a change in one area it spreads throughout the whole.

While we could all agree that integration is a good idea, we must also recognize that we have choices about the types of treatments that we select to integrate. For instance, one paradigm would be a group clinic of Western-trained specialists consulting and working together in treating a patient. The consulting providers might involve internists, radiologists, social workers or psychologists, oncologists, and surgeons. Each practitioner would have input based upon their expertise using the tools in their armamentarium with an emphasis on medications and hi-tech diagnostic procedures. Each physician or service provider would be highly skilled and focused on treating one aspect of the patient’s disorder.

An Eastern approach based on traditional Chinese medicine would involve the integration of ancient proven techniques such as: acupuncture, acupressure, herbs and natural supplements, diet, exercise—all of which are designed to create, restore, and maintain a state of balance and harmony within the body and mind. Such practices are natural and noninvasive. Eastern-trained clinicians are generally educated and trained in other complimentary and innovative techniques that are integrated into a patient’s treatment plan. The focus is to modulate, release, and redirect the body’s own energy to seek and maintain its natural state of homeostasis.

The concept of working on the energy system of the body is one of the most trying concepts in bringing about a true amalgamation of Western and Eastern medicine. I would like here to present a perspective that brings us to the ultimate. Imagine you are with a patient who is dying. First he is alive and two seconds later he is dead. What is the difference between the first state and the second? Two seconds after death, the blood is still there; hormones are still there; neurotransmitters are still there; the nervous system is intact. There is no life force making any of those processes do what they did two seconds before. This is the energy that we are talking about when we talk about energy from an Eastern perspective. It is what heals us and keeps us functioning optimally so that we can go through the full range of human experience without having our attention drawn to our elbow, our anxiety, or our allergies. Certainly we can measure with modern lab tests that there are changes in physiology when specific acupuncture points are stimulated. We can demonstrate that WBC, RBC, cytokine, and hormone balance are altered after acupuncture. However, it is not acting directly on the blood, gland, or thymus that elicits these changes, but rather the underlying energy system that drives every aspect of our physiology.

Whereas both the integrated Western approach and the integrated Eastern approach address the resolution of symptoms, the integrated Eastern approach addresses the whole system to find out the underlying reasons for the chemical imbalance in the brain necessitating the use of SSRIs or the underlying reason that someone is having a hormonal imbalance that necessitates the use of HRT. Western medicine often seems quicker, as in the removal of a tumor, which takes care of the offending issue. Eastern medicine seems slower as it requires differentiating and observing changes of patterns over a period of time, as in acupuncture and practicing Tai Chi to regulate the flow of blood and Qi.

Healthcare is not just a matter of choice, i.e., plan A or plan B as in an insurance plan. Education, experience, and insights are the key factors. This applies not only to the patient but also to the healthcare practitioner(s) from whom the treatments are provided. In order to achieve optimum health and obtain excellent care, it is required that the patient take responsibility for his/her own body and life, and works with a knowledgeable doctor who is committed to treating the person who has the problem, and not simply treating the problem that the person has. It is a collaborative effort. The patient’s attitude is as important as the training and experience of his/her doctors.

It is fortuitous that healthcare has become such a popular and public topic. People are open minded in sharing information and learning how to live up to their natural birthright in staying healthy and happy as high functioning members of the society.

In expanding the concept of microcosm to macrocosm…what happens for one happens for all. A Chinese philosopher stated, “A change in one person can affect the course of a nation and change history.” The healthier each one of us strives to be, the stronger we can become personally, as a society, and even as a global community.

Credentialed in both Eastern and Western modalities of medicine, Iva Lim Peck is a co-founder of the Integrated Center for Oriental Medicine in Plano.

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