Chinese medicine practitioners will source the internal reasons and try to cure diseases at the root of the problem while Western medicine is only about getting rid of the external syndromes.
Report – By Song Jingli
“If you want to get better, you can – but you need to be motivated,” says Marie Gielen, a New Zealander who has been suffering from a health disorder for years and has stopped working.
But a traditional Chinese medicine practitioner has eased her health problem and helped her get government funding for biweekly acupuncture treatments and herbs.
Jing Yanping, a registered acupuncturist and herbalist in New Zealand, says most of her patients are still Chinese immigrants and knowledge of TCM (traditional Chinese medicine) and affordability are two main factors that have hampered acceptance of the practice in Auckland.
“I do have some Kiwi patients and they have something in common – they had gained some knowledge about TCM in Europe or in Australia or somewhere else before they came to my clinic,” says Jing, who set up the Lotus Chinese Herbal and Acupuncture Treatment Center with her husband in Auckland seven years ago.
Gielen says she is a Tibetan Buddhist and she knows Chinese culture and Chinese people.
“I was interested in food therapy when I worked as a gardener and then I began to know more about Chinese culture.
“When I got an injury in my knee after practising yoga, I went to a Chinese acupuncturist right across the street where I lived and the acupuncture did help,” she says.
However, when she finally turned to Jing because of her health disorder, Jing’s advice surprised her a lot.
“I was a gardener and I grew top organic vegetables, but I was told ‘no vegetables’.”
“I love yoga and was told ‘no yoga anymore’.”
Jing, who have treated Gielen for more than three years, says everyone is unique and his or her disease has its internal reasons, some of which are deep-rooted and date back to years earlier.
Chinese medicine practitioners will dig out and find the internal reasons and try to cure diseases in the root while Western medicine is only about getting rid of the external syndromes, Jing adds.
“It’s really hard to explain these differences to patients as Western medicine is the mainstream and it’s almost habitual for people here to see a GP, other than a TCM doctor.”
“It is only when patients cannot get any actual help from Western medicine that TCM may become an alternative for them but it still takes quite a long time to gain full trust,” says Jing.
Some may worry about the fees and some listen more to their own judgment, other than a TCM doctor’s advice, Jing explains.
“Medical care in New Zealand is free but TCM is not in the ‘system’,” says Jing.
“A TCM clinic is treated as a business and is legal as long as you pay the tax.
Many may want to try TCM but may give up this idea as they are not willing to pay the extra.
“It’s easier for patients to get a refund from the government or from insurance companies if they receive acupuncture than they have herbs,” she says.
“So most of her Kiwi patients prefer acupuncture while most of her Chinese patients prefer herbs,” Jing adds.
However, Chinese medicine adopts a holistic approach, which may combine many treatments, such as food therapy, acupuncture and herbs, says Jing.
Many may come and say I want a massage or I want acupuncture without sitting down and getting a full consultation to know what they really want, she adds.
Gielen says her acceptance of Jing is also progressive and she believes Jing is “a really good doctor”.
Gielen says both Jing and her specialist wrote “very good letters” to the government explaining that she really needs the TCM treatment and last week, her weekly allowance from the government rose by $ 17 to $79, which is designated for covering acupuncture and herbs.
Jing explained her specialist has realised Gielen is getting better and she fares best among similar patients and is thus willing to write letters to the government.
However, Gielen’s case is really rare, said Jing. Many people do not know about TCM, she says.
Deanna Trow, a first-year New Zealand student learning visual art at AUT University, says she does not know much about TCM but she knows that TCM is mainly about herbs and uses natural resources, while Western medicine is about “scientifically-manufactured” elements.
However, for another New Zealander, Topaz Stewart, who was born in Tauranga and is now a second-year graphic major, TCM is something she has never heard of and she has not noticed there are some TCM clinics in Auckland.
It is the same with Tomokazu Minamino, an AUT graduate who was born in Japan and has lived in New Zealand for eight years.
Jing says she had been a doctor for 12 years in a provincial public hospital in northeast China’s Heilongjiang province and at that time she used both Western medicine and Chinese medicine to treat patients.
It was only after years of practising that she realised Western medicine’s development has reached a “bottleneck” and has begun to show respect to the wisdom of Chinese ancestors who developed Chinese medicine.
It will be very difficult for an average person to know the benefits of TCM, she says.
Small clinics scattered in Auckland are not enough to spread the TCM culture, she says.
“Maybe a landmark TCM hospital will help, but I cannot tell when that will be possible,” Jing says.
”When I first arrived in Auckland in 2005 I heard people saying the government may allow a TCM branch to be set up within a hospital in Auckland but it’s 2012 now and seven years has passed and I do not see any progress.”
Gielen says: “Top clinic should be a hospital.”
However, the NZ School of Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine – oldest TCM training provider in New Zealand – still claims on its website:
”The school is at the forefront of influencing the government’s policy change to move the TCM professionals’ current marginal role in the voluntary-regulated private health care to stronger roles within mainstream public health care.”