When Healing is Medicine
Many questions surround the role energy-based practices play in medicine. Among them is the question whether energy-based practices are medicine. What is the difference between a healing art and medicine? Could healing arts such as Reiki or aromatherapy be considered medicine? I began to ask myself these questions after a patient inquired the manner in which to categorize acupuncture. Is acupuncture a healing art or is it medicine?
Evidenced vs Empirically Based
The gold standard in medicine is the adoption of evidenced-based practices. Innovation in healthcare is driven by the evidence that supports it and anything less would be unacceptable. Afterall, our health and our lives depend on this. Acupuncture is an evidenced-based practice supported by high-quality research studies, however, what makes acupuncture an effective treatment modality lies in the fact that it is an ancient practice with thousands of years of empirical evidence. For this reason, acupuncture has a foot in both worlds and straddles the divide between evidenced-based medicine and empirically supported practices.
One example of acupuncture being both evidenced-based while having its roots in empirically based knowledge is the money allocated toward acupuncture research by the Department of Defense in search of a more effective way to address acute pain due to injuries sustained in the line of duty without the use of opiods. Battlefield acupuncture, a five-needle auricular protocol using semi-permanent needles, was developed in 2001 as a result of this research and is currently being adopted by the Veterans Health Administration. This innovation in delivery of acupuncture would not have occurred if it were not for the dedication of researchers and volunteers to test the effectiveness of this combination of points. What is simple and beautiful about the Battlefield Acupuncture protocol is that the acupuncture points being used are not newly discovered points. The locations of the acupuncture points and their actions and effects were mapped out on the body thousands of years ago thanks to empirical data. The basic principle of acupuncture as therapy to direct the flow of Qi allowing the body to reach a state of homeostasis remains unchanged in the thousands of years since its inception. What we are discovering now through research is that acupuncture is shown to be beneficial in the treatment of many conditions stemming from modern life-styles.
The Difference Between Energy Medicine and Bio-Medicine
Bio-medicine is grounded in a bio-physiological understanding of health and as discussed earlier, is advanced by research. The effects of bio-medicine on the body are measurable in predictable ways and rely heavily on calculations of time, weight, severity of condition, age of patient, etc. Energy medicine is more difficult to measure, affects the patient in surprising ways, and is administered by a practitioner guided by energetic cues that the practitioner senses through palpation, kinesio testing, use of a dowsing tool, or some other means.
Patients who seek help through energy medicine report subtle shifts in a condition. The reason these shifts are perceived as being subtle is because it is the patient’s body that is doing the work, not the therapeutic modality. The work that the practitioner does is to open areas of blocked energy or Qi to allow the body to heal itself. One of the best compliments a patient can give me is to report a change in their main complaint followed by the statement, “I don’t know if it’s due to the acupuncture or something else.” When I hear this, I know that the treatment strategy worked because it was perceived as a natural progression of the body healing itself and not a suppression of symptoms.
The Integrative Approach
Healing modalities such as Reiki, yoga, aromatherapy, acupuncture, and Qi Gong are being integrated into increasing numbers of hospitals around the country in an effort to bring holistic approaches that encourage adopting lifestyle changes. While doing the clinical placement required for my doctorate, I attended a healthy cooking class at Boston Medical Center in Boston, attended pain rounds at Tufts School of Medicine and integrative medicine rounds at Osher Center for Integrative Medicine at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital. The most valuable experience I received in integrative medicine was when I learned Battlefield Acupuncture at the VA Hospital in Bedford, MA. I was the only acupuncturist learning this technique among the students who were MD’s, NP’s and mental-health practitioners. The VA is leading the way in integrating standard medical care with complementary approaches and Battlefield Acupuncture is a shining example.
There is also the Whole Health Now initiative which is the VA’s attempt to empower the veteran population and their family members by offering group sessions in a variety of healing art classes as a way to reduce dependency on prescriptive pain medications. As a VA Community Care Provider, I have heard directly from veterans who are embracing the VA’s new philosophy on pain care; to offer an integrative approach. As far as these patients are concerned, feeling good equals good medicine.
Jessica Peck-Lindsey is a Doctor of Acupuncture and Integrative Health and owner of Peck’s Family Acupuncture, LLC. in Waterboro, ME. Dr. Peck-Lindsey holds a Masters of Science in Pain Research, Education, and Policy from Tufts School of Medicine and is Certified in Traumatic Stress Studies from the Trauma Center at Justice Resource Institute. With the aim of being able to better provide for patients living with pain and traumatic stress, Dr. Peck-Lindsey opened the Wellness Center at Peck’s Family Acupuncture integrating therapeutic movement, trauma-informed yoga, Reiki, Emotion Code, Tai Chi, Qi Gong, and wellness coaching along with individualized acupuncture and massage therapy sessions. Dr. Peck-Lindsey can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.