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Letters to the Editor Issue 47

by Letters(more info)

listed in letters to the editor, originally published in issue 47 - December 1999

Acupuncture: West borrows from East?

I feel I must reply to the article 'Acupuncture: East Meets West' (Positive Health Issue 44, September 1999), which might be better titled 'A doctor explains away 4,000 years of wisdom' or 'West borrows from East'.

I should say I am a traditional Chinese acupuncturist with three years acupuncture training and fourteen years practice. The article is appalling because while it pretends to be a meeting of East and West the only credits shown at the end of the article are the BMAS, a body of Western doctors. No mention is made of the British Acupuncture Council which represents traditional acupuncturists in this country. I request, in the interests of fairness and balance that you print this.

My point of view is this. Some Western doctors could see what a good thing traditional acupuncture is. Some became involved but were generally too overintellectualised (and proud of it) to be able to grasp the Chinese philosophy. Meanwhile thousands of other Westerners put their preconceptions aside and slogged for three years to try to grasp the essential theories. (Western modules of physiology and anatomy are only a small part of traditional acupuncture courses.)

Doctors who are impressed-by-acupuncture-but-can't-learn-the-philosophy discover that "putting needles in" works sometimes. (Surely this is directly analogous to traditional acupuncturists who find prescribing Prozac to depressed clients sometimes works.)

Said doctors invent and test Western models to explain acupuncture effects – have some success, though of course more tests are needed.

The BMAC is born which then belittles and misinforms about traditional acupuncture. At this point in the story your article is written.

The truth is only traditional acupuncture represents a coherent, holistic, tried and tested over centuries, approach to using needles.

Secondly the whole idea that acupuncture of any type can be thoroughly verified by strict Western scientific method is decades away, and incidentally millions of pounds, euros, dollars away. Most current studies lack statistical power. However, centuries of case histories collected in China (and continually published) do exist which support (though not statistically) TCM.

Richard Lamb
63 Jeddo Road, London, W12 9HQ

Dr Richard Halvorsen Replies to Richard Lamb

The purpose of my article was to highlight the differing opinions of those committed to practising acupuncture solely within its traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) context compared to acupuncturists using techniques that fit more easily into western scientific practice. Richard Lamb's letter exemplifies very well the attitudes of some of the former.

I have no arguments against TCM for which I have the greatest respect. I do, however, challenge the notion that what has been done for longest is necessarily the best. All open-minded practitioners of any therapy should constantly question what they do and be prepared to adapt their practices in line with the best available evidence, whether this be the many case histories accumulated over the years by the Chinese or scientific controlled trials.

The truth is that at present we do not know which of TCM acupuncture or 'Western' acupuncture is more effective; maybe they are equally effective, or alternatively, perhaps one works better in certain patients or illnesses than the other. This is what I, as an inquisitive practitioner, who has both TCM and western acupuncture training, am interested to find out so that I can offer my patients the treatment that is best for them. If this approach has aroused the wrath of certain practitioners of TCM I make no apology.

One purpose of the BMAS, far from wishing to 'belittle and misinform' about traditional acupuncture, is to objectively and critically evaluate different acupuncture methods, including TCM, so that acupuncture can most effectively be used in this country alongside conventional medicine.

The British Medical Acupuncture Society and The British Acupuncture Council are the two largest and most important acupuncture bodies in the UK. If Richard Lamb would care to look again he will notice that details of both appeared at the end of my article.

Dr Richard Halvorsen

The Editor Further Comments

The above letters illustrating a spat between traditional and medical acupuncturists are a sad reflection of how therapists are using their energy to quarrel among themselves, rather than pushing forward the clinical applications of their therapy. Their reading ought to be compulsory for all complementary practitioners, as similar battles are being waged between various factions of several disciplines, a few notable examples being aromatherapy, craniosacral and cranial osteopathy and homoeopathy. While it may be of benefit for practitioners to vent their spleen arguing over which practitioners have the best technique or the correct philosophy, it is of little benefit to their clients suffering from a number of perhaps serious health problems.

A short perusal of merely one internet search engine turned up over 2600 sites using the keywords acupuncture AND stroke! The majority of these sites were reporting about international research about acupuncture for stroke or of clinics specialising in the use of acupuncture for stroke. This is merely one health condition – stroke; clearly acupuncture is used to treat a wide variety of ailments. Imagine how much acupuncture treatment is being used. To my mind, letters regarding this would be much more interesting than ones slagging off professional colleagues.

Sandra Goodman, Ph.D., Editor

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