As usual this piece on Sara Calabro’s blog (you know to click on the brown text to get to the article?) hits the spot in helping readers to understand – this time about the various labels and categories that acupuncture is given. Read David Simpson’s piece if you’ve been confused by the terms you read. Hopefully it will start a useful conversation about how acupuncture can support your overall health and wellbeing as well as target specific ailments and conditions for treatment.
Growing interest in acupuncture has led to several unfortunate attempts to label it. Complementary and Alternative Medicine, Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine, Traditional Chinese Medicine… Acupuncture gets tossed willy nilly among these different rubrics.
Not only is this inconsistency confusing for patients, but all of these names present a number of difficulties in accuracy, cultural respect, and sensitivity.
The argument against CAM, biomedicine’s preferred name, has to do with its dismissive connotations. Patients often expect CAM treatments to be free—indeed, “complementary” sounds a lot like complimentary. As for “alternative,” acupuncture critics jump on this as an opportunity to accuse acupuncturists of influencing unsafe medical decisions. While some people opt for acupuncture in lieu of certain routine medications (to avoid debilitating side effects), I have never met an acupuncturist who touts his offerings as a cure for cancer.
AOM, despite the acupuncture professional community’s warm embrace of it, is inappropriate for its pejorative reference to “Oriental.” The term belittles not only the acupuncture profession but also nearly half the planet.
“The Trouble with ‘TCM’
Within this tyranny of language it has been posited that acupuncturists rally around Traditional Chinese Medicine, or TCM. It’s true that acupuncture is thousands of years old, has origins in China, and is a form of medicine. However, TCM is merely a subset of acupuncture theory, making it too an inadequate moniker.
From 1940 to 1976, under Mao Zedong’s leadership, China experienced its Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution. China was revamped completely in order to compete with Western civilization. As part of this movement, Mao created the Ministry of Public Health, facilitating the elimination of a centuries-old lineage-based model of acupuncture. He supplanted it with a nationally standardized version—TCM.
TCM is an appropriated term and model, representing an amalgamation of theories to better interface with Western medicine. The benefit is that it gives previously disparate practitioners a common language with which to discuss patients.”