Treatments without Borders
TREATMENTS WITHOUT BORDERS:
These days, who is doing what, is “up for grabs.” Ten years ago, a Beijing woman told me she preferred Prozac to acupuncture. The pill worked more quickly. During my India sound healing training, a physician proudly explained, “I don’t do Ayureveda, only proper Western Medicine in our hospital.” As we look to other traditions for new approaches, others are looking to what we do. No one has all the answers.
“Getting better,” meaning improving ones functional as opposed to laboratory-test health can require more than one point of view, one kind of doctor and one kind of medicine. Especially with chronic conditions.
Western Medicine is “practical” for today’s treadmill lifestyle. Pharmaceuticals often provide faster relief with less effort. (Taking pills is easier than changing one’s habits.) Convenience has become a priority, but sometimes to our detriment. That is, we can too easily rely on treatments that should be short-term solutions. After all, relief is different from healing. (In the same way that borrowing money to pay a bill is different from having it in savings.) Those who have chronic conditions know that feeling better is not necessarily doing better, if it’s at the expense of increased medications. (Like borrowed money, the “abundance” is temporary and the consequences more long term.)
Critics of Western medicine have likened medications to “bandaids.” They make someone more comfortable and prevent further damage. But bandaids also put the problem out-of-sight. Sometimes that’s what is needed, protecting the body while it heals itself. Medications can provide comfort and stability while someone takes steps to improve his health. (For example, without analgesics, people in severe pain cannot do the movement needed to maintain good circulation). People with chronic illnesses may get into trouble when they rely only on medications, without change in diet, and so on. They may discover that their need for pills increase while what they are able to do becomes more limited.
My view is that there is usually no absolute “best” when it comes to medical treatments and traditions. There is what’s most effective for you, depending on the illness, your physical and emotional make-up, the pracitioner with whom you are working, and your emotional and physical environment. Ambitious in its scope, the current “Evidence-Based” Medical approach attempts to evaluate the efficacy of different treatments from different cultures. While this method of comparison may suggest preferences for Drug A and Drug B, it doesn’t “work” as easily for Drug A and Sound Healing, for example. Generally this kind of comparison breaks down because our definition of an illness, our understanding of why “it” happens, and even our criteria of improvement are still ours. The Sound Healing found in many different cultures was not “designed” to get someone back to work. To quote from one of my articles, “The emphasis on medications has led psychiatrists to judge other modalities by medication-based criteria, sometimes reaching either/or conclusions. This path can lead to a dead-end choice about which is “better.” Yet medications, acupuncture, electricity, and light all work differently and have far different impacts on the body.”
Even attempting to compare Drug A and Drug B does not lead to “True-All-the Time” answers. For example, an adolecent who has depression comes with different physical and emotional challenges, strengths and vulnerabilities than a peri-menopausal mother who also has Rheumatoid Arthritis. While these people may share certain symptoms, like fatigue and insomna, they have many other qualities that are different.t. They may both benefit from an antidepressant. But which one will likely depend more on that individual than the particular medication.
Ironically, Western solutions may be less effective for increasing numbers of Westerners. Our sedentary, fast-food lifestyle has chipped away at our baseline health. (The obesity and metabolic syndrome “epidemics” are examples of this.) That means when we get hurt (including pain and emotional disorders), we don’t have the same resilience to get better. Deterioration of our capacity to heal may be more about life-style than aging. When your body has forgotten how to heal, just taking more medications is not a good answer. What is?
Eastern approaches have become popular because they focus on getting the body to heal. They are not fast or convenient in that they often involve changing how you live. And their model of three times weekly to weekly treatments is not financially practical here. But the wisdom of these approaches can be integrated into effective treatments if patients are willing to become co-healers.
Whatever your condition, there is no pill, advice or needle that can substitute for what you might change about how you live, think and feel. Consideration of these issues used to be standard in Western Medical practice. Unfortunately, the increasing reliance on medications has distracted both doctors and patients from the most powerful ingredient to improved health – ones intention.
Acu-psychiatry aims to bring to your attention to how you can begin to help yourself, once you leave the office.