I’ve been reflecting this week on how much the acupuncture profession has changed here in the UK. When I started my studies at The College of Traditional Acupuncture, back in 1984, acupuncture was still to most people a mysterious and exotic therapy.
My interest in acupuncture was piqued by the Acumedic Centre in Camden Town, London. I was studying pharmacology at University College London. I was in digs in Camden whilst in my third year and used to walk past Acumedic on my way into College. I had an interest in Buddhism and Taoism (the indigenous philosophy of China) and popped in one day when I realised the centre had a bookshop. I was intrigued with the atmosphere of the place; the smell of incense and burning moxa, rows of dried herbs, acupuncture supplies, patients waiting to see the Chinese doctors and the books. I forget now whether I brought anything on Taoism but I did purchase my first acupuncture book. It was a very basic introduction to acupuncture, I think by George Lewith, but I couldn’t find it on amazon.
My first exposure to acupuncture felt like a home coming. Here was the practical application of the holistic metaphysics of Taoism. Here was a holistic medicine which embraced the patient and their environment. I felt like I was learning something I knew already, whilst strange and alien at the same time. I’d already gained the view that drug therapy was merely treating the symptoms and often causing more problems than they were helping. In acupuncture I felt I’d found a genuine alternative.
I don’t know if I’m alone in this but in many respects I can mark the passage of my life with the books I’ve read. I read Carlos Castenada’s “The Teachings of Don Juan” in my first year of university and my perspective on life was irreversibly altered. Without Castenada I might now be doing pharmacology or accountancy; since most pharmacology graduates go on to be accountants. Go figure. I would have been better off financially! Still…
But Castenada raised far more questions than answers; hence the further reading in Buddhism, Taoism, yoga etc. But this was all very metaphysical. With acupuncture and the traditional Chinese medical perspective came a practical application.
So after graduating with my BSc I advanced to the College of Traditional Acupuncture in Leamington Spa under the renowned Professor Worsley. I immediately fell in love with what we were being taught but was puzzled by the reading list. There was only one acupuncture text to read; Professor Worsley’s big red book of point location. Sure, we had books on physiology, anatomy and the like to read. But I’d already done all that and wanted to read in depth about acupuncture. I went up to London and browsed the university book stores. I went to Soho. I found very little. At this time there was only the Beijing “Essentials of Acupuncture”, some small introductory texts, and the 1981 translation of “Acupuncture, a comprehensive text”. The latter was indeed more comprehensive, but to a budding 5 element acupuncturist it was completely impenetrable.
By my third year I was feeling restless. The College’s attitude was that other styles of acupuncture were merely “symptomatic” and not the real thing. Students gathered in quite corners to discuss “TCM” style acupuncture in hushed voices. We were confused. Then I found Ted Kaptchuk’s “Chinese Medicine: the web that has no weaver”. This was a revolutionary book which for the first time in English clearly and properly elucidated the tenets of “Traditional Chinese Medicine”. It profoundly describes the system of thought that underlies the Chinese practices of acupuncture, tuina, qigong and herbal medicine. There was nothing “symptomatic” about it.
I spent 2 years practicing as a strict 5 element acupuncturist with some success, but felt out of my depth at times; say if someone came in with an acute illness or injury. So when the oppertunity came to study TCM acupuncture with the Journal of Chinese Medicine I welcomed it with both arms. Most acupuncturists will know of the Journal of Chinese medicine but few will know they used to run a year’s TCM acupuncture course. This was to be the last course they would run. For our great fortune this was also the year that Giovanni Maciocia released his book: “The Foundations of Chinese Medicine – A Comprehensive Text for Acupuncturists and Herbalists”. This truly was a comprehensive text and was my bible for this year of study. I’ve just brought the second edition to this book and it is double the size and even more comprehensive. I’d planned to read it cover to cover but I’m struggling to find the time!
Twenty and more years later there is now no shortage of books on acupuncture. There are hundreds. As well as dozens of introductory texts there are some excellent dictionaries, point books, comprehensive foundational texts, and specialist texts. There are books covering obstetrics and gynaecology, neurology, the psyche, fertility, aiding IVF cycles, musculo-skeletal problems, case histories, historical and anthropological analysis. This was what I had expected to find when I was a student, having first studied Western medical sciences. I am proud that the literary field of acupuncture has come of age and I hope today’s students appreciate the rich feast which is on offer.