A few years ago, I treated a woman who came to see me for severe lower back pain. However, she had been suffering from many other ailments as well, such as diabetes, hypotension, hypothyroidism, fibromyalgia, sciatica, anemia, and insomnia, for between 10 and 40 years. She had had her gall bladder and uterus removed 20 years prior. She also had occasional headaches and indigestion. Because of all of this, she had to take more than 20 kinds of medications daily, including antibiotics, hormone drugs, multivitamins, etc. I asked her how she was able to take so many medications for such a long period of time, and I still remember her wry smile as she replied, “How can I not take them?”
Treatment is the process of helping the body to gradually need less medication, with complete freedom from medication or any artificial substitutes as the final goal. If a person has to continue taking medication for the duration of his or her life, that is not actually treatment but rather management. Of course, that is important and necessary as well.
The first characteristic of treatment in Eastern medicine is its well-developed and holistic approach to disease/symptom interpretation and treatment. Its focus on treatment (as opposed to management) is supported by a deep understanding of the complex interrelationships between many different diseases/symptoms and their root causes, as well as amongst the various systems of the body. In Western medicine, diseases are dealt with individually, so if a new disease appears then a new medication is added. This approach tends to miss the big picture perspective which could explain all presenting diseases and symptoms together with one interpretation and involve a singular course of treatment. For example, if someone suffers from both rhinitis and constipation, they may be prescribed two different drugs under Western medical care. Yet in such a case, Eastern medicine would be aware of the relationship between the lungs and the large intestines, and would focus on treating one underlying and dominant cause.
Secondly, Eastern medicine focuses more on the state of the patient’s own energy which is allowing the illness to attack, rather than focusing exclusively on getting rid of the apparent physical cause. The idea of restoring the “right qi” (right and essential energy) is actually a broader concept than Western Medicine’s idea of “boosting the immune system”, and it is the most important consideration throughout the whole course of treatment. Therefore, we don’t use drugs which could overpower a person’s own “right qi”. For example, when using acupuncture, we don’t use needles merely to address the related symptoms, but add a few extra needles to strengthen the person’s original qi (energy). Consequently, there are far fewer side effects occurring in Eastern medicine.
We can see from even these few examples that Eastern medicine has the characteristics of being both organic and holistic.