Should I choose a TCM or a Five Element Acupuncturist?

TCM & Five ElementPeople often ask me how to find a good acupuncturist in their area.

And my answer is, ask around.  Find a good recommendation from someone you trust, which describes a practitioner who you think will be a good fit for you.  Have a look at their website and give them a call.   Find someone who feels right to you.

Does the style of acupuncture matter?

And the question which often follows, is which kind of acupuncturist you should visit.  Does the style of acupuncture matter?

And one answer is is definitely no – I’ve had wonderful experiences myself as a patient with acupuncturists from a number of different traditions.  My experience is that finding a great practitioner is more important than the style they are practising.

But, like every practitioner, I have a fondness for the style that I use myself.  ‘TCM’ (see below) is the dominant style of acupuncture in the West, so that is not hard to find.  And, when I choose a practitioner for myself, I try to find one whose practise includes Five Element Constitutional Acupuncture.

Why?  Because constitutional treatment makes me feel great.  And because of the times, as a practitioner, that I’ve re-evaluated someone’s constitution after a few treatments and suddenly seen them blossom across the board.  Beautiful.

The diverse traditional medicines of East Asia

I trained at the wonderful College of Integrated Chinese Medicine to use both TCM and Five Element Constitutional Acupuncture, in an integrated way.  By choice, as a patient, I’d also choose someone who has both of these amazing systems at their fingertips.

Each of these are subsets of the full wisdom and heritage of traditional East Asian medicine, which is an extremely rich and diverse body of knowledge.

Historically in China, Korea, Japan, Vietnam and beyond, a multitude of doctors practised a wide range of traditional oriental medicine.  These caches of invaluable medical knowledge were usually closely guarded, and often passed down through the generations of a family of doctors.

What we mean by TCM

The thing now known as TCM, which stands for Traditional Chinese Medicine,  is a codification of a part of these traditions, put together under Chairman Mao in the 1950s.  It’s a fantastic, practical approach to medicine, and to getting you back on your feet when you’re under par.

But, it’s not the case that TCM is ‘everything there is to know about traditional East Asian medicine’ or even that it’s ‘everything there is to know about traditional Chinese medicine’.

What we mean by Five Element Acupuncture

Five Element Constitutional Acupuncture is the legacy of other strands within the traditions, carried down through lineages of practitioners, and first taught in the West by an acupuncturist called JR Worsley.

Five Element Acupuncture looks at you more at your core.  In the terrain of your wellbeing, what is coming from circumstances, and what is coming from who you are and how you were born?  Approaching you on this level can be very powerful.

Do they really practise Five Elements?

One source of confusion is that if you ask a TCM practitioner whether they practice Five Elements, they may say, of course they do.  And it will be true.

To the extent that the Five Elements framework is a lens for looking at the body and health and medicine, then of course a TCM practitioner is considering and treating the health of your Wood organs (liver and gall bladder) as well as your Water organs (kidneys and bladder), and so on.

The word which is more distinctive of the style of acupuncture I’m talking about here is ‘constitutional’.  Do they practice Five Element Constitutional Acupuncture?  Are they working to diagnose and treat your primary constitutional resonance.  In the jargon, are they looking for, and working on, your CF or Constitutional Factor.

A good practitioner is a good practitioner

But the main thing, is to find a great practitioner for you.

I feel much more concerned for all the people who never get the chance to see, or never think to explore, the amazing things that traditional East Asian medicine may be able to do for them.

They are the ones who are really missing something special.

For inspiration on how to nourish all of your Elements, do buy my lovely reference cards, and subscribe to my newsletter.