Spring Hill, 2007
Paperback, 166 pages, price £8.99
(Reviewed by Suzanne Hyde, EJOM Vol. 5 No. 6)
This introductory text, easily readable in one sitting, states that it is intended to be a source of information on acupuncture for patients (actual and intended), acupuncture students and lay people in general. In writing this review, I am drawing on my own experience as an acupuncture patient over a 15-year period, and on the experiences and opinions of my dad, Tom, who was considering having some acupuncture treatment for the first time recently.
Personally, I found the first and final chapters of this book of most interest. The first chapter briefly outlines the cultural context from which acupuncture emerged and some basic principles, such as qi and the relationship between body, mind and spirit that underpin it. Similarly the last chapter, which deals with acupuncture past, present and future, gives a useful sense of the process and evolution of acupuncture, including its relationship with western medicine. Tom also commented that he found the explanation of qi, in the first chapter, a clear and interesting explanation of a new way of thinking for him.
However, by the end of chapter two, I was starting to feel a bit overwhelmed by the different types of models and information. I found myself relating to the explanation of the five elements and the application of them to the twelve organs and channels in chapter three, in much the same way that I might relate to a basic explanation of any of the twelve astrological sun-star signs that you might find in a women's magazine or an introductory astrology book. Each and every typology such as metal or fire seemed to fit my own and loved ones’ ‘type’ or symptoms, whilst at the same time not providing any meaningful sense of how to move beyond these. I also found myself relating my own patterns or symptoms to virtually all of the five elements and channels. Perhaps I’m just a self-obsessed hypochondriac but it reminded me of why I don’t pick up medical text books, lest I become convinced I have every symptom in the book. The author does state in the preface that this book “is not intended to be a sort of ‘home doctor’ [but rather] to show that acupuncture has a complex and intricate diagnostic method which takes a practitioner many years in which to become adept.” However, given that these typologies are provided it is hard as a reader not to attempt to apply them to one's own health or to feel frustrated when it comes to thinking about active strategies for change.
As an ‘experienced’ patient and one that asks plenty of questions, I found that the models presented in the middle chapters of the book felt static and less useful than an ongoing dialogue with a practitioner. What I would have found useful from an introductory text was less on basic explanations of wood, water etc and more on how to work 'with' the patterns my acupuncturist has already identified, more on the holistic concept of qi and how to support and work with acupuncture for good health. Tom, as a potential first-time patient, commented that although he found the book “easy to read”, he found some of the concepts such as the twelve organs and channels (covered in chapter three in particular), “hard to understand”. Perhaps here lies the conundrum of writing an introductory text. What we had in common in terms of responses to the book, despite our differing levels of prior knowledge and experience of acupuncture, was a preference for sections that explained holistic principles and philosophy and not what read to us as static typologies or ideas we had little hope of applying meaningfully to our own health for the purpose of change.
Chapters five and six on “How does an acupuncturist make a diagnosis?” and “What should I expect from acupuncture treatment?” are clear and resonated with my own experience as a patient. The appendices contain information on related acupuncture texts and organisations. All of this would seem useful to a new patient or someone toying with the idea of approaching an acupuncturist for the first time.
Another successful feature of the book for me is the use of quotes throughout, from a range of sources which help to illustrate and support an understanding of the philosophical basis of Chinese medicine in general and acupuncture in particular.
In sum, this book does successfully outline some basic principles of acupuncture, but as a punter with an existing active dialogue with an acupuncturist, I found the book ultimately unsatisfying. Having said that, it did whet my appetite for a more in-depth text that might allow me to engage with what I know of my own patterns and offer strategies to work 'with' my treatment, in relation to diet and exercise for example. It has also encouraged me to renew my understanding of qi. I suspect that students of acupuncture and more experienced and enquiring patients would gain more benefit from a different type of text. However, Tom reflected that reading this book had given him an insight into a subject he had little knowledge of and reports feeling more positive about acupuncture since reading it. Perhaps it is ultimately best suited to prospective or very new patients, for whom it would offer a way into some key acupuncture principles and an explanation of what to expect from acupuncture diagnosis and treatment.
Suzanne works in continuing education as a researcher and lecturer. Tom is a retired nurse and nursing manager.