What to Expect: Chinese Medicine

Chinese medicine is unfamiliar to many of my patients. Even for people who have had acupuncture before, every practitioner is different in the way they look at medicine, the particular methods they use to diagnose, and their preferred treatment modalities. This is true of all medical professions, “alternative” or not. Because of this, I decided to create a page to help create some familiarity with my particular vision and methods. Hopefully, this will help you prepare for your first appointment.

I was trained in Classical Chinese medicine and my primary modality is herbalism, though I am also well trained in acupuncture and use it with most of my patients.

Classical Chinese medicine is a variant of Chinese medicine that seeks to reconnect deeply with the foundational texts and practices of Chinese medicine. While all Chinese medicine has some connection to these foundations – Classical Chinese medicine takes these to be the most important factor in how we diagnose and treat. While this may seem irrelevant to the patient – it is not. Patients report getting better faster and staying better longer when they see someone trained this way as opposed to how most Chinese medicine practitioners are trained. There is power in those roots!

When a patient comes in for the first time, we will usually spend a few minutes talking and going over the intake form. During this time, I will also be listening to the way you speak, the color of your face, particular features of your hands and face and getting a general feel for the way you carry yourself. All of this information is diagnostically valuable in Chinese medicine. We will continue to talk throughout the treatment, though I often do become quiet during certain parts of the appointment so I can concentrate.

I really enjoy talking with my patients, though, so feel free to ask questions and share your experience as we go.C20_Chinese_medical_illustration_in_trad._style;_Hand_massage_Wellcome_L0039658

Then I will feel your pulse. The Chinese system of pulse taking is complex – all organ systems can be felt using the pulse at the wrist. I am feeling for rate and rhythm as well as particular qualities of the pulse – does it run smoothly or with a choppy wave? Is it stronger at depth or up on top? Do any of these qualities change over the span of a few minutes? I usually take the pulse for about 5-10 minutes depending on the complexity of the information I’m getting there.

It’s best not to drink strongly caffeinated beverages before you come for an appointment. Also, even if you are running late, try not to get your heart rate up too high before arriving. Just give me a call to let me know you’re going to be a few minutes late.

I also look at the tongue, which sometimes seems silly to patients. However, it can yield very valuable information. For this reason, it is important that you don’t brush or scrape your tongue before you come in for an appointment. I also prefer that you don’t drink strongly colored beverages (like tea and fruit sodas) or very greasy or strongly colored foods (like things containing yellow Indian spices). It’s fine to do these things most of the time, but not before an appointment – if you can avoid it.

By this time, I will know what herbal formula you need to take and, if you are coming for acupuncture, we will do acupuncture. I use a few different modalities in my treatment. I use needles, which are very thin and sterile, and are not as scary as some people believe. I use a very gentle form of acupuncture with relatively few needles. However, make no mistake, the impact of acupuncture can be very strong even if the stimulation is not strong during the treatment. I also use cupping – which involves the use of glass cups, applied with suction, to run over tight portions of the body – usually the back. This is a very relaxing type of treatment good for a variety of conditions. I also sometimes use moxibustion which is the burning of a special herb over acupuncture points. The patient is not burned but instead feels a gentle warming that usually goes through the entire body and is very relaxing.

Acupuncture treatments take anywhere from 20-40 minutes depending on your needs.

After your treatment, we will discuss how to proceed. I usually recommend several treatments in a row – preferably every 1-2 weeks for 6-8 weeks. This helps establish a good base of support for future work. After some stability is achieved, I typically see people every 4-5 weeks. Sometimes, we will just recheck the formula using the diagnostic modalities described above, and sometimes we will do acupuncture. It just depends on your particular situation. Regardless of your treatment frequency, you will likely be asked to purchase and take herbs throughout your treatment plan. Some patients do not require such steady herbal treatment, but most do.

The vast majority of patients with chronic problems will need to be seen for at least a year, at least monthly, and take herbs the entire time.

For people with very complex disease patterns or who are on very strong pharmaceutical medications, the treatment time can be longer. For patients with simple, usually acute, problems – treatment can be quite a bit faster. During the entire time you are being treated, you will be receiving the very highest level of care.

Along with acupuncture and herbs, I will make dietary and supplement recommendations, assist you through any habit or lifestyle changes that need to be made, keep you informed with regular newsletters and other information, as well as being available to you by phone and email. Once your major problems are under control, you should come back for a 2-3 week course of herbal treatment and acupuncture about once every 3-4 months.

This helps ensure that you stay on the right track and achieve optimal vitality as you get older.

Written by Watershed Team


We believe that healthy, thriving people are the foundation of a strong, just and joyful society.