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Alternative Medicine Demands Shared Decision Making

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In 2003, after 17 years of being an architect and civil engineer, I applied to a Master's degree program in Traditional Chinese Medicine. Comments from my application essay seem particularly relevant to YES! Magazine:

Alternative medicine is one field in modern life where ordinary people have had enough of so-called professionalism. They are demanding equal participation with the experts in decision making.

Having a profession, I thought, would mean that I would have the knowledge and ability to make good decisions. What I've learned is that good decisions are more often the result of good clients, and good clients are those who involve themselves in the decision making process.

As a society, I believe that we have trained ourselves to be bad clients. Partly, the area of professional knowledge has become so esoteric that only an expert could fathom it. But equally, we've all become so deeply involved in our own fields that we haven't time to be involved with anything else.

‘Alternative' medicine is one field in modern life where ordinary people have had enough of so-called professionalism. They are demanding equal participation with the ‘experts' in decision making. While not all clients are willing to take the time to understand their options, I believe that alternative medicine followers are more likely to participate in decision-making. I believe that taking responsibility for one aspect of one's life spills over into how one participates in other aspects. Thus, we slowly train ourselves to be better clients and to make better decisions as a society. This is a process that I would like to participate in. This is a future I would like to help create.”

Now as both a Chinese medicine intern and a post-cancer patient, I see the habit-changing effort involved in maintaining health – that is, maintaining balance between one's internal and external environments. In my case, this includes taking time to cook my herbs and whole grains, practicing tai chi, monitoring my blood pressure, and, paradoxically hardest of all, making the effort to stop and get enough rest. This is ‘do-it-yourself' healing, not what you'd want in an emergency, but what leads a friend to say: “I do more preventative health care as an acupuncturist then I ever did as a Registered Nurse.”

Pamela O'Malley Chang is a YES! contributing editor based in Oakland, California.

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