An interview with Christine Lee, Chinese Medicine practitioner and Acupuncturist at TNC



Could you describe TCM in one sentence? Could you describe Chinese Medicine in one sentence?

Sorry I can't, here is my best attempt in 3 sentences. Chinese Medicine is based on a philosophy of Yin & Yang. It is a style of medicine that emerged from understanding and seeking to activate our own mechanisms of healing and return to homeostasis. At its most basic, it is focused on the function of fluid metabolism and temperature regulation.

((((-- As a separate note outside of this Q&A, but might be relevant to your branding exercise: I don't really practice TCM anymore. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is a systematised version of many versions of Chinese Medicine. It was constructed in the 1960s, in an attempt to bring Chinese Medicine into the modern ages. TCM is what is taught at universities in China and Australia, so I understand why people are familiar with it.

Recently there is a movement towards re-discovering the separate lineages that existed before TCM. Mostly because the amalgamation of separate lineages resulted in alot of contradictions and gray areas. There are many distinct lineages that work perfectly well within their own framework, but are not properly addressed in a united TCM theory. Eg. scalp acupuncture, or other systems of distal needling (Tan's Balance method, Master's Tung's distal needling) or the very precise and specific herbal knowledge that was written in the Shang Han Lun, 300AD.

Generally, the most exciting results coming out of Chinese Medicine is no longer coming from TCM. )))

To help our readers understand more of what you do, could you list some conditions that you really like to work with? And also list some things that people at dinner parties are surprised that you can help with? In general I like working with people where getting a result in the main complaint is only part of the picture. The satisfaction is when patients understand why something is happening, and have more control to manage their own health.

For example:

Skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis - tends to involve getting more blood to the skin and assisting the mechanisms to remove unwanted fluids and inflammation. There is a big focus on understanding the root of the problem, or the trigger - we don't inherit skin problems, we inherit a tendency towards skin problems. Usually we are looking at diet issues, environmental or emotional stresses. Skin problems are often also associated with disruptions with sleep and emotional health. So it's great to work with people, because the bigger picture changes which increases self-awareness and self-care. It confirms how everything is connected inside and expressed outside.

Women's fatigue - There are so many women who say that they were never the same again after having children, or after menopause. Sleep changes, ability to cope with temperature changes, emotional resilience and then there's the fatigue. When these cases are severe, women can fall into autoimmune diagnoses, but that doesn't necessarily provide an effective treatment or good prognosis. I enjoy working with these women, because Chinese medicine provides a heavily detailed understanding of those changes.

Fertility, or women's health - After ten years of practice in women's health, I'm still surprised at what women put up with. In Chinese medicine, painful periods and irregular periods are considered unhealthy. That is, they are more than inconvenient and definitely worth the time and effort to address. An irregular period, painful period, missing period or flooding period is considered with the same gravity as incorrect blood sugar levels, cholesterol levels or blood pressure. It is a sign that the entire body is in dysfunction and precursor to larger problems. Attention should be paid and the problem needs to be rectified. Working with women's health doesn't just increase pregnancy numbers, it is really about improving people's lives. (And as a feminist, listening to women, giving them more options and higher expectations).

Some conditions that acupuncture is oddly helpful with:

  • labour induction

  • frozen shoulder

  • tennis elbow (or other tendinitis)

  • vertigo (including Menniere's disease)

  • constipation

  • insomnia

This is more for my own interest but I’d like to know more about how TCM works with the contemporary medical system/philosophy? Or if it doesn’t, why so? There is a terrible tension between Chinese medicine and regular medicine (only noticed by Chinese med practitioners, no-one else cares). In terms of evidence-based medicine, acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine returns similar rates of efficacy as talking therapies and many orthopaedic surgeries. They are notoriously difficult to measure in random double-blind controlled studies. Studies are also difficult to design, as Chinese medicine operates on a different set of diagnoses and diseases. For example, my recent article discusses the fact that depression in Chinese medicine is low mood resulting from and expressing in 5 different diseases. The problem is that there is little common language. Contemporary medicine isn't really able to consider the concepts of Qi, Yin & Yang, five elements. It is too metaphysical and cannot be mapped, tested or measured to any satisfaction. In many ways, it directly contradicts the established understandings that contemporary medicine is built from.

So even though, the results of applying acupuncture or Chinese herbal medicine can be tested, the reasoning behind it is completely "irrational". Applying some protocols of acupuncture for knee osteoarthritis may well have the same 12-24 month result as arthoscopy or even knee replacement surgery; but it doesn't make sense. So even if it is cost-effective, I am not highly confident it will receive funding as a useful therapy. Chinese medicine is also quite rigid and old-fashioned. It places high value on the classical literature and frameworks, and there is not alot of emphasis in progress and developing a common-ground with contemporary medicine (beside results-based evidence).

For example, there is a current theory describing how acupuncture may be working along fascial planes. All the major meridians sit along lines that can be drawn along deep fascial grooves. Collagen has semiconductor properties that may transmit messages/interventions introduced with an acupuncture needle. However, because this theory would contradict the teachings of some highly esteemed classical teachings, it is considered incomplete and incorrect. The people who are enquiring into this correlation are not really respected by the Chinese medicine profession. As an individual, small-time practitioner (as this stage in my career) I have to say I'm more interested in the classics. All my clinical experience up till now is heavily suggesting that I will get better results if I stop trying to explain what I'm doing in a biomedical terms and concentrate on patient outcomes. Moving past medical chat, if you weren’t a Chinese Medicine doctor what would you be doing?

Haha, maybe an actuary? I find an odd sense of peace with a page full of numbers. No seriously, I'm actually quite interested in epidemiology and public health. I spent a few years running Melbourne's only non-profit, social enterprise acupuncture clinic for people with disadvantaged backgrounds. Unfortunately, Chinese medicine is difficult to apply at high volume and low detail. I'd love to have another crack at working on the bigger picture. I love knowing the inspirations that people draw on. Do you have any academic/arts/film/authors/family members that are your heroes? My teacher Susan Robidoux is an amazing human. Not only is she an incredible source of all things ancient in Chinese medicine, she embodies the teachings of living well and with heart. I love the magical works of Haruki Murakami & Salman Rushdie. And adore most anything from Leigh Sales, Annabel Crabbe and Lee Lin Chin. Monitor your sleep & your bowels. If anything is wrong, take it seriously and fix it before it develops into anything serious. Otherwise, eat fresh vegetables and make time to laugh.

#acupuncture #traditionalchinesemedicine

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