Toby Stephens – Clinic Director

  • BSc. Health Sciences (Acupuncture)

  • 6 years Traditional Clinical Apprenticeship in Japan

  • British Acupuncture Council Member

  • Certified Shiatsu Practitioner

  • Fully Licensed & Insured

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nonSpecialism – Acupuncture and the Art of Generalism

November 20, 2012

Within the broad spectrum of oriental medicine, there is room for specialism – and there are many practitioners who choose to specialise in one condition or target group.


Family and friends have implored me to specialise. To be the specialist in IVF, pediatrics, or another specific area. From a marketing perspective it makes very good sense. But I feel there is a little more to the story…


We have moved from a world of scarcity to oversupply. Only a few yeas ago the challenge was gathering enough information. Now we are faced with the problem of distinguishing the useful (acupuncture!) needles from an ever-growing haystack. We need an effective filter to sift through the chaff; to find the relevant, the pertinent, the honest.


One solution is to look for an expert; a “specialist” to help us make sense of all the noise. It follows that a “specialist” possessing “special” knowledge must be providing something “special”. So why not turn to this expert for a special solution to your needs?


Authentic oriental medicine has its deepest roots in Tao(ism) – which in reality is the opposite of an “ism”. By definition, it defies definition: the first, and perhaps most important, words of the Taoist “bible”, the Tao Te Ching, state – “the Tao that can be named is not the true Tao”.


So, if technology today can explore previously inaccessible depths and distances to reveal the hidden truths of Nature herself, why bother with this ancient (non)philosophy, which cannot even bring itself to definition?


By intentionally rejecting definition (read ‘restriction’) we are able to step back and see the bigger picture. Creating space and perspective in which to see connections and repercussions that are outside the scope of the narrowed focus of specialism.


The core principle that oriental medicine draws from Tao(ism) is context: The “here and now”; the background; the texture; known as “soft focus” in the martial arts. By drawing back from the temptation to isolate or identify a specific disease/symptom/goal, the oriental doctor views the patient as a fellow human being. Seeing the patient in the context of their current life, environment and culture allows us to see to the root cause.


So how do we develop the skill of understanding and working within this wider context? By treating all types of people, of all ages, with any condition. This provides the experience needed to understand each patient within the broad sweep of the human condition.


Its like the difference between knowing the nature of a place as a summer retreat – and living there day in day out; rain and shine; spring, summer autumn, winter.


If you decide to receive bio-medical help, by all means search out a specialist. Specialism is the keynote of biomedicine. But if its oriental medicine you want, look for a ‘generalist’ and avoid ‘specialists’, however tempting they may seem to your westernised mind.


I do not specialise in IVF (infertility), or back pain or menstrual problems. Nor in weight-loss or quitting addictions. Nor in so-called “cosmetic acupuncture”.


I treat people suffering from these and any other complaint, symptom, problem, pain or issue. I also treat people suffering from nothing other than the human condition. If I must specialise, I specialise in treating human beings.


A Short Story
Please enjoy this short story written by my teacher, Edward Obaidey Sensei: Outside the Box – broader perspective medicine.


It illustrates (amongst other things) the power and extent of the generalist’s broad view as discussed above.

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