A patient, who is interested in Chinese Medicine was speaking to me as I was putting in the needles to treat her the other day, and said something about how intuitive Chinese Medicine seems to be. Further she said that it seems like a good healer should be able to read a person better than others.
Now I should mention, I really do not like the word "intuitive" used to describe what I do, either in massage therapy, or in Chinese medicine. I think it is a word that promotes laziness of thought in the practitioners of these professions and discredits the amount of education that they are required to receive.
Intuition is defined 2 ways.
the ability to understand something immediately, without the need for conscious reasoning.
a thing that one knows or considers likely from instinctive feeling rather than conscious reasoning.
I tend to like the first one, but I usually consider the second definition the one people use in speech. It usually goes like this, “Paul is such a gifted healer, he seems to know what my problems are by intuition.” Let me be the first to say, I am not using any hunches or gut feeling to diagnose anyone, I am using a system of reasoning that has been refined for at least a thousand years before I started using it. I am just not talking it through out loud.
Chinese medicine, of which acupuncture is a branch, uses 4 methods to collect data on a patient. They are: observation, listening and smelling, interrogation (questioning) and palpation. These are the ways, the only ways, we may collect data to use in our differentiation of a patient’s disease mechanism. So, we can look at you and assess an area that is a problem. We can also look for clues like looking at your tongue or at your eyes. We can listen to the sound of your voice (and smell it for that matter) and other sounds your body makes. We can ask you questions (this is the one you are most involved in!) and we can palpate your tissue or your pulse in order to figure out what is wrong with you. And we don’t just dump it all into a spreadsheet and out pops the answer either, but it is close to that.
Here is the neat thing. Say a patient comes in with a headache. Without asking any questions, I can come up with a treatment protocol, as the Chinese disease category of headaches has a basic set of points that apply to all headaches. This may not be the best treatment to give but it will help and it will form the basis of any treatment that I do give. Now, it helps to know that there are about 11 different physiological mechanisms that can cause a headache. I start asking questions, like where does the headache exist in the head, how long has it been there, how often the do they occur, is there any tie with the menstrual cycle, does it affect sleep or digestion and how, are there any other symptoms that seem related or are existing at the same time. With this information, I am crossing possible disease mechanisms off my list of possibilities. And I usually stop questioning when I have eliminated most of the possibilities. Then I usually feel the pulse and look at the tongue to confirm my hypothesis.
Based on the cause of the headaches, the mechanisms that cause it, I create a treatment statement. It is a treatment statement based on the mechanism of disease at work. If there is a blood stagnation, I may have to break up stagnation and circulate the blood. If the headache is because of a flaring up of Liver Wind, I must extinguish Liver Wind and course the Liver. If it is because of a vacuity of Qi, I must supplement the Qi. Remember, this is all Chinese medicine physiology and theory, when I say Liver, I don’t mean the liver you learned about in high school biology. I am speaking about the Liver in terms of Chinese medicine. And they are different concepts. All the points I use, in addition to the points for the disease category of headache must treat the disease mechanism as described by the treatment plan. Same thing with herbal medicine, as long as the intent of the formula is the same as my treatment plan, the treatment should work well.
Now you can see why I like definition # 1 over definition # 2. I haven’t guessed at anything, there are no hunches or gut feelings involved. But it sure is a logical method, and I do consciously go through it for each patient. I have to, I haven’t been doing this long enough for me to be able to unconsciously do it yet. As with everything, that time will come. Until then, please refer to us as well educated and proficient.