Someone asked me the other day what a typical day is like for an Acupuncturist, and the answer is that it varies – sometimes a lot. For example, I looked at my diary for this time last year and this is a flavour of what I was treating: a young woman with severe neurological pain in the abdomen following removal of polyps in the bowel; a young woman suffering from sciatica; an 11 year old child with acute back pain; an office worker with chronic posture-related neck and shoulder tension; a young woman with severe colitis; a couple with fertility issues preparing for IVF; a man with severe anxiety; a woman experiencing unexplained miscarriages; a woman suffering from stress and insomnia following divorce; a man with (his second) frozen shoulder; and, a young man suffering poor digestive health, low energy and low mood.
As you can see, my patients are mostly women and the conditions usually fall into the categories of: pain, women’s health, digestive health, and stress and anxiety.
But if you look at a wider time frame you will see that seasonal changes bring in specific conditions like sinusitis, throat and chest infections between autumn and spring, and hay fever in late spring and early summer. And sometimes there will be a ‘run’ of particular conditions, such as crohn’s and colitis, because one sufferer refers another, or just by coincidence.
This overview of my work brings me to two important points: firstly, treating a wide range of conditions helps a practitioner like myself to hone their diagnostic and treatment skills, and secondly, the whole point of Chinese Medicine is that it takes a holistic, rather than segmentalised, view of human health. And the reason I make these two points is because there is a trend for western marketing gurus to urge practitioners of alternative medicine to find a niche and specialise, be it ‘Fertility’, ‘Cancer’, ‘Depression’, ‘Pain’, ‘Paediatrics’ or whatever. I can understand their reasoning – the idea of a ‘specialist’ is very appealing to people because it suggests depth of knowledge and experience on the subjects that matter most to people. But such an approach, if pursued too rigidly, could potentially cause us to lose skills which we need, indeed must have, if we are to practice Chinese medicine as it was originally conceived and use it to its full potential.
Take for example the subject of fertility. The use of Chinese medicine to help conception is now so widely publicised in magazines, or on the internet, radio and television, that most young women will have heard about it, and if they are anxious about conceiving themselves they may well look for a ‘specialist’. However, not every women who seeks treatment to assist conception actually has a fertility problem per se, although they may have other conditions which are undermining their general health and wellbeing, and indirectly affecting their chances of conception. For example, if you suffer from recurrent sinusitis and chest infections, you may ‘miss the boat’ one out of every three or four months because you feel so rotten!
Now, all that being said, it would be impossible for me to treat women’s health issues without a high level of knowledge from both a Chinese and western perspective, but without the wider experience of treating more ‘ordinary’ conditions, such as sinusitis, chest infections, stress, anxiety, pain and digestive health, I know I would be less well able to help women to fully optimise their reproductive chances. And when it comes to assisting conception for those who do have serious problems, there are – in my opinion – some fine margins. By which I mean, if a client is undergoing IVF the difference between success and failure could depend on the state of their general health.
So that is why my diary will continue to have the diversity it does – I’m basically a generalist because I want to be a better specialist!