A modern physician’s perspective on traditional Chinese medicine


Today we are profiling Dr Shelley Ochs, a Beijing-based doctor specializing in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).

Dr. Ochs is a longtime American expat with an impressive education. Honors BA in Chinese Language and Literature from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, which led to an MA in Traditional Chinese Medicine from the American College of Chinese Medicine and a PhD. from the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences. She continued to teach, train, interpret and of course practice in institutions more prestigious than me, in the United States and in China. She currently practices at the Beijing United Family and teaches at the Beijing Center for China Studies. However, his pedigree might be the least impressive thing about him. In the midst of her incredibly busy schedule, she found time to tell me about her fascinating life.

It’s unusual for a Westerner to practice TCM as a specialty, isn’t it? How did you find your way in this area?
I was actually living in Taiwan when I was 19 and the pollution was really affecting my lungs. I tried TCM and it broke the cycle of infections. After this experience, I wanted to study it but I was told that it was too late and that it would be impossible for me because most people start studying when they are children. A friend told me it was like saying I wanted to learn to be a pilot or a ballerina.

But I soon learned that there were 48 schools with TCM programs in the United States. Since I had been relatively fluent in Chinese since my four years in Taiwan, I chose to complete a BA in Chinese Literature and then move to San Francisco to study Chinese Medicine in Chinese.

What did your parents think of this journey?
They were just happy that I chose something that offered real-world employment opportunities instead of just being able to go to college.

You are in a truly unique position to educate expats on TCM. What are the misconceptions Westerners have about this?
There are two big ones I can think of. The first is that people mistakenly think that the effects of TCM are temporary, so if you stop the treatments your symptoms will return. But the opposite is true. The purpose of TCM is to change the balance of the body so that it can heal itself. We try to remove the blockages and push the system so that your natural healing ability is triggered and strengthened.

The other is the idea of ​​using endangered animals as medicine. While this was part of popular culture in the past, it is actually a prohibited practice now that is strictly regulated. In licensed hospitals and clinics in China, professional practitioners do not prescribe herbal medicines for endangered species. The problem is trade and the profits from trade, which mostly goes through the black market in East and Southeast Asia.

You mentioned popular culture, which most people associate with TCM. But Chinese medicine has a very long history. How has it evolved?
In the 1950s and 1960s there was a lot of government support for TCM because it was what was easily accessible to most communities. But as more and more practitioners and facilities for biomedicine became available, people started to adopt Western medicine, and new forms of “Sino-Western integrated medicine” emerged. In recent years, Chinese medicine has gained a little popularity as it is effective in treating ailments that many people in China are currently suffering from, such as weight gain, hypertension, infertility, depression, anxiety and insomnia.

Both in China and other parts of the world, Chinese medicine is also used as a complementary therapy. For example, acupuncture and herbal TCM remedies can help reduce the side effects of chemotherapy.

We are also seeing a consumer desire for TCM in the West. The Cleveland Clinic recently caused a stir by hiring a full-time TCM herbalist. Some hospitals in Australia, UK, Canada and USA have integrated acupuncture treatments or refer to TCM professionals.

Could modern science explain why TCM is effective?
Clinical trials can assess the effectiveness of TCM treatments without knowing the underlying mechanisms of action in biomedical terms. You can compare treatment to placebo, or usual care (with biomedicine) to usual plus care, the most acupuncture or herbal medicine. But if we insist on explaining the effects in terms of modern biochemistry and physiology, then we find that the answers are often elusive. We simply don’t use – or need – biomedical explanations for most of our activities. Traditional concepts of the body-mind complex and interventions based on it do not depend on modern medicine. However, we also look at modern laboratory markers and diagnostics when evaluating patient outcomes.

There have been significant advances in the field of acupuncture. MRI scans have revolutionized what we know about how the brain and central nervous system respond to acupuncture needles. The connections between traditional points on the body and repeatable, consistent responses in the brain convinced many ancient skeptics that this is a valid practice.

However, how exactly the signals are conducted in the body is still an unanswered question. One of the most widely accepted assumptions is that connective tissue is the primary support.

Who normally comes to you and what kind of conditions do you usually deal with?
I tend to deal with around 70 percent expats and 30 percent local residents, and it’s interesting because so many of the issues people face are stress-induced. It’s just different stressors. Expats often need help with exhaustion, anxiety and insomnia triggered by the stress of moving to a new country. Residents are often referred for more serious problems like hypertension, or seek help for infertility. They tend to deal with the stress of dealing with aging parents, young children, work, school, and money issues all at the same time.

The great health story in 2020/21 is obviously the Covid. Does TCM have a place in the treatment of the pandemic?
In conjunction with modern medicine, yes. In fact, the combination in Hubei and elsewhere has been shown to lead to significantly improved results. One of the things China has done to help curb the disease has been to deal with close contacts and suspected cases, not just confirmed cases. Local clinics in Wuhan and large converted “hospital shelters” have offered TCM to more than 50,000 people. For example, in one hospital, TCM has been used to treat around 400 patients with mild to moderate illness from COVID-19 and none of these patients progressed to more serious illness. In other clinics where TCM was not used, the average progression rate was 6.5 percent.

In addition to being a doctor, teacher, translator and writer, you are also an expatriate mother. What are the rewards and challenges of raising a third culture child and what do you hope they get out of this experience?
It’s interesting because my daughter is about to graduate from a public elementary school where she is the only foreigner in her class. She has lived in China all her life and is fluent in Mandarin but holds an American passport. When asked where she is from, she replies, “My mother is American, my father is Chinese and I was born in Beijing. It can be complicated to find a sense of belonging as a child of a third culture, but I want her to acquire the social skills and resilience that will allow her to be comfortable anywhere in the world. the world. She will go to an international high school where she can continue to be educated in a bilingual manner. I hope his upbringing gave him a strong sense of empathy and tolerance for others, while learning to hold on to the core values ​​that I believe give life meaning.

This blog originally appeared on our sister site, Jingkids International.

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Photo: Shelley Ochs

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