Patients often tell me that they don’t like taking pills – which is of course one of the reasons they may come and see me in the first place, in that they are seeking a way of healing and managing their health which is not dependent, or over-dependent, on pharmaceuticals. And you only have to read the list of possible side-effects of some drugs to see why they might be reluctant to take them. (Only last week, in fact, common painkillers called non-steroidal anti-inflammatories were in the news because of a link to increased risk of heart attack.)
Distrust of pharmaceuticals is also no doubt linked to a distrust of the people who make and market them, and again it is not difficult to find reasons for such distrust. Perhaps also sometimes there is even an uneasiness about western medical science, and even science itself, in general; sometimes there seems a kind of arrogance and hubris about this that rides rough-shod over the natural world, of which we are of course a part.
Such people are looking perhaps for what might be called a more natural form of medicine. I like the words of the doctor who was also the father of the poet W H Auden, who would tell his son that healing is not a science, but “the intuitive art of wooing nature.” Healing, after all, is something that happens naturally all of the time, in that our bodies (and perhaps even our minds) will heal themselves given half the chance. If you catch a cold, you will usually get better in a few days, all other things being equal, without the need for any kind of medicine. If you pull a muscle, you will usually recover, at least if you are sensible. What medicine most often needs to be is something that supports and encourages this natural healing process; Mother Nature sometimes needs a little help, but it is more often than not she who is doing most of the healing, not us. Perhaps also a big part of such medicine is the encouraging and educating the patient to live in such a way that Mother Nature can best work her healing magic. Skimping on sleep, for instance, a modern vice, will make her ministrations less effective.
But what about acupuncture? On the face of it, not an especially natural thing you might think. However, traditional acupuncture arose as part of a civilization with a world view rather less hubristic than the modern one, one which saw and sees mankind as part of the natural world, not above it. Medicine, in such a culture, is indeed a wooing of nature; acupuncture as part of Traditional Chinese Medicine is about restoring harmony and balance, gently coaxing our bodies back to how they were meant to be. Acupuncture is about stimulating and supporting our own natural healing processes.