WHAT TO EXPECT DURING YOUR FIRST VISIT TO A TCM PRACTITIONER
Hint: It’ll Be Very Different Than Visiting Other Doctors
Getting ready for your first visit to a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) doctor? Whether you’re going in just for a preventative check-up or because you’re not feeling well, it can be a little nerve-wracking if you don’t know what to expect. A visit to the TCM practitioner isn’t exactly like going to see a western medical professional.
Here’s what you can expect on your first visit to a TCM practitioner.
The First Visit
Here in the west, most people don’t go to a doctor until they’re sick or hurt. But, as we’ve talked about before, in Eastern medicine prevention is key! That’s why you should visit your TCM practitioner before something goes wrong. That way, your doctor can tell you how to cater your lifestyle and diet to your body’s unique needs, helping you stay healthy and feel great.
When you go in to see a TCM practitioner for the first time, they will usually perform a pretty in-depth health assessment. This is kind of like the usual medical exam you get at the western doctor’s, but TCM doctors have slightly different methods because of their focus on holistic health.
Generally, a TCM doctor will examine you in five different ways:
- How you look: First, your TCM doctor will observe you visually, taking note of your personality, behavior, and how you look. They’ll check out your skin tone, eyes, and even fingernails. Your tongue will also be inspected so they can see its size, shape, color, texture and coating–all things that can help diagnose an illness in TCM!
- How you sound: After they check out your appearance, your TCM doctor will move on to your auscultation, or how you sound. That includes your voice, how you cough, and what it sounds like when you breathe.
- How you smell: Up next is your scent. This might seem uncomfortable or awkward, but your TCM practitioner will smell your breath, body odor, and general scent. Don’t feel embarrassed! Your natural smells can tell your doctor a lot about what’s going on with your body.
- How you feel: During the examination, your TCM doctor will ask you a series of questions like you’d get at the western doctors’ office. You should tell them about any pain you’re experiencing, how well you sleep, and what your energy levels are like. They treat teeth and gums or hair and skin issues, so don’t forget those areas. Your body is connected. They’ll also ask about your medical history, digestion, and other important info.
- Your pulse: Finally, your TCM doctor will check out different pulse points on your body to check for the strength, rhythm, and type of pulse you have. They might also examine energy pathways that run throughout your body called meridians, or inspect any areas you’re feeling pain.
You might think it’s weird that a TCM doctor will want to know about your pulse and body odor if you’re just having trouble sleeping, for example. But TCM is a holistic medicine. That means it considers the body as a whole. Things as seemingly unimportant as the color of your tongue can tell your doctor about your liver function!
If you made your appointment because you weren’t feeling well, the TCM doctor will diagnose you after they finish the exam.
In TCM, illness and disease is the result of imbalance–an imbalance of energy. You see, we all have Qi, or lifeforce in us that powers everything we do. Within that Qi are two opposing forces–yin and yang. Yin energy is dark and passive, while yang is bright and active. According to traditional Chinese belief, finding balance between these equal yet opposite forces of yin and yang is the key to happiness and health.
So when you’re not feeling well, your TCM doctor will look for imbalances in your inner harmony. Different kinds of disharmonies have specific symptoms, so the exam will help your practitioner narrow down what could be going on with you. That’s when they make their diagnoses.
Once your TCM practitioner has figured out your diagnoses, they’ll work with you to make a plan of attack to resolve your imbalances. The goal is to get your Qi back in balance without going too far one way or another and creating an imbalance in the opposite direction.
The cool thing about your TCM treatment plan is that it’s entirely tailored to you. Your practitioner will consider your imbalance, your lifestyle, diet, and medical history. But they’ll also take things into account like your family situation and living environment.
Your TCM practitioner will craft a personalized treatment plan just for you. This plan is usually a combination of a few different treatment methods, including acupuncture, herbal medicine, and lifestyle changes. Here’s a quick run-down of some of the most common TCM treatments:
- Acupuncture: Acupuncture and acupressure targets the Qi pathways in your body, called meridians, to help improve the flow of energy. An acupuncturist will place small needles in the top layers of your skin at particular points to help you feel better.
- Moxibustion: Moxibustion is a treatment often done alongside acupuncture. Your practitioner will burn ground-up mugwort known as moxa near certain acupressure points. The combo of the heat and the herb helps open up Qi pathways.
- Cupping: Cupping was made famous in the west by Michael Phelps at the 2016 Olympics, where he showed up with red circles all over his back. That was the result of cupping, when a practitioner heats up plastic or glass cups and places a burning cotton ball in the cup to suck out the oxygen. This vacuums the cup to the skin, helping to boost blood flow and circulation.
- Herbal Remedy: In TCM, food is medicine. So herbal remedies are often used to combat different imbalances. You might be told to eat or drink an herb or spice, take it in a pill form, or take a combination of herbs that your practitioner prescribes you.
After your appointment, it’s important to see your TCM practitioner regularly throughout the year, even if you’re feeling great! They can monitor your energy balance and help you make changes that can prevent illness and keep you healthy.
Good luck at your first appointment!