One of the first things I learned as I began studying Chinese medicine was that I should not try to think of Chinese medicine in Western terms, and for good reason. Both systems of healing have their benefits and drawbacks, but they are otherwise nothing alike.
Western medicine is based on scientific study, and is a century or two old. It is generally best for the treatment of acute conditions, and uses drugs or surgery as the first line of defense against disease. Western medicine treats symptoms very well, but in many cases does not cure the illness. If the symptoms of an illness go away after a Western treatment, it is often a temporary fix, or other symptoms will arise at some future point.
For example, the use of antidepressant medications has increased dramatically over the past several decades and can be effective in reducing the symptoms of depression. However, the patients I have seen at Acupuncture in the Park who take these drugs generally don’t like the side effects and want to stop taking these medications. Unfortunately, they find that their depression returns when they decrease their dosage or stop taking the medication altogether. For them, it seems to be a tradeoff between being depressed or having unwanted drug side effects. To me, this is not a cure.
Chinese medicine is based on observation, and is three to five thousand years old. It tends to be a better choice in treating some chronic illnesses, using a variety of healing techniques. It treats the underlying cause of an illness, and in doing so also treats the symptoms. In addition, Chinese medicine treats the whole person, taking into account not only the physical aspects of a patient, but also the emotional and spiritual.
Treatments in the Western medical model usually work very quickly, but either tend to have side effects from prescription drugs or problems resulting from surgery. In contrast, Chinese medical treatments tend not to have any side effects and are generally considered to be safe. The downside of Chinese medicine is that because it balances the body to promote self-healing, it can take time to be effective.
One of the most frequent questions we get from patients is when to use acupuncture and Chinese medicine, and when to go the Western route. The bottom line is that there is a time and a place for both Chinese and Western medicine. In addition, the two systems, while completely unlike each other, are not mutually exclusive. They can work as complementary systems of healing, which means that they can work well together, depending on the circumstances. Sometimes Western medicine may be a better choice for care, and at other times Chinese medicine will be more appropriate and effective.