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The Integration of Chinese Medicine and Western Medicine: Focus On Mental Illness

James Lake, MD

Western biomedicine and Chinese medicine are presently the two most widely practiced systems of medicine in the world. Even as Chinese medicine is emerging as an accepted alternative approach to medical care in many Western countries, Western biomedicine is growing in popularity in Asia. The confluence of Western medicine and Chinese medicine in both the West and Asia presents many complex problems and opportunities for the integration of these disparate systems of medicine. Many patients receive both Western and Chinese medical treatments concurrently. However, until now there were no guidelines for rationally integrating assessment or treatment approaches from these two systems of medicine. This paper develops a conceptual framework for integrating Chinese medicine and Western biomedicine, acknowledging the comparative strengths and limitations of both systems of medicine. Emphasis is placed on the integrative management of mental and emotional symptoms. The first part of the paper reviews how Chinese medicine benefits the principal assessment and treatment goals of Western medicine. These benefits include a graduated series of therapies (as opposed to a few very potent treatments); improved management of side effects caused by Western medications; improved treatment outcomes; greater coherence in healing and practitioner-patient interactions; a more holistic framework; and an improved prescriptive methodology. The second part of the paper reviews how Western medicine benefits Chinese medicine. These benefits include improved accuracy in assessment; improved recognition of treatment complications; faster acting or more potent treatments for serious or acute symptoms; better assessment and tracking of progress and outcomes; availability of continuous emergency and inpatient care; and improved treatment outcomes. Rational guidelines for combining assessment or treatment approaches from both systems of medicine are suggested. The paper concludes with specific remarks, recommendations, and caveats pertaining to integrative approaches to common mental or emotional symptoms frequently managed by both Western physicians and Chinese medical practitioners

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