TCM: Treatment and Diagnostic Methods in Traditional Chinese Medicine


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Traditional Chinese Medicine uses many herbal products. Photo by mailer_diablo

Herbal Medicines

While acupuncture is most closely associated with Chinese Medicine in many people’s minds, the most common and most potent TCM therapy is the use of medicinal herbs, mixed into boiling water and drunk like tea. Chinese medicines are usually a mixture of several herbs; each formula tailor-made for the specific needs of the patient, based on his or her individual requirements. The amount of each ingredient, as well as the specific herbs used in the mixture, may change from one treatment to another, according to the changes in the patient’s condition.

Alternative Treatment Methods

Several additional treatment methods are often used in conjunction with acupuncture and herbal medicines.

  • Diet: This is considered one of the most useful therapies in Chinese medicine. Interestingly, Western medicine and TCM share the view that a carefully controlled diet plan is essential to the treatment of many illnesses – for example, diabetes and heart disease. And, while the actual diet plans differ from one another in Western medicine and TCM, both medical systems stress the importance of eating fresh fruits and vegetables.
  • Moxibustion: The “moxa” is a stick of compressed herbs that is held several inches away from the skin, and used to heat a specific body area. Moxa burns at a high temperature, and offers localized pain relief much like that of a heating pad or hot water bottle.
  • “Talking”: TCM does not distinguish between the body and the mind;  the concept of the “bodymind” is central to TCM. One basic principle is that every thought and emotion is actually a collection of physical sensations which we give an abstract label, like “anger” or “love.” Thus, TCM practitioners sometimes use “xin li liao fa,” which is a psychological treatment method similar to cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) in Western psychiatry.

A Gentle Way to Better Health

Generally speaking, a therapy session with a TCM practitioner is a relaxing experience, as the traditions of Chinese medical practitioners stress the importance of emphatic listening and spending time with each patient. Thus, a TCM appointment may last from an hour to an hour and a half. In addition, traditional Chinese medical treatment is so gentle that it is used to help infants overcome colic and to treat their ear infections. Geriatric patients can also enjoy the benefits of traditional medicine, particularly for the relief of  the aches and pains that often accompany the aging process. In short, TCM can be appropriate for treating a wide range of illnesses in every age group.


Drum Tower. Quest for Personalised Health: Exploring the Emergent Interface of East Asian Medicines and Modern System Sciences. (2011). Journal of Chinese Medicine. Accessed February 10, 2012.

Flaws, B. & Lake, J., MD. Chinese Medical Psychiatry: A textbook and clinical manual. (2005). Blue Poppy Press: Boulder, CO.

Kaptchuk, Ted J. The Web that Has No Weaver. (1983). New York. Congdon and Weed, Inc.

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