Culture / Language / History / China

Ancient Medicine in a Modern World: Traditional Chinese Medicine in Germany

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) enjoys a very high level of acceptance in Germany, and patients are looking to TCM for help with their health issues.

A TCM practice in Cologne, Germany (Supplied: Sabine Schmitz)

The friendship between Germany and China has existed for a very long time. There is a mutual support and exchange between the two countries. Germany has a strong economy and it has a very good medical care system based on Western medicine.

Interestingly, alternative medical modalities are also on the rise in Germany. Many patients are looking for other treatment options, either because they are better informed than in the past and prefer natural methods on their own or as a supplement to conventional medicine, or because conventional medicine has failed them.

An additional factor might be that awareness concerning pharmaceutical products has changed significantly—not only in regard to their efficacy but also to the benefits versus the risks of the drugs prescribed. There are many reasons that I see in practice when talking to patients. Patients are quite open to taking new paths and trying new approaches.

However, TCM plays a very important role in healthcare in Germany and enjoys a very high level of acceptance here. Patients are specifically looking for TCM for help with their health issues. This means that patients are relatively self-informed and they find practitioners by specifically searching for TCM treatment. This means that they know what a TCM doctor offers. One can also see that there is an increasingly strong network of therapists who offer TCM in Germany. So there are two factors: supply and demand.

In China, TCM is a popular treatment method because the positive results are well-known. It is fascinating to consider how long TCM has been used for the treatment of many complex diseases in China. TCM has a long history, with the earliest records of medical development dating over two thousand years. In comparison, the origins of empirical conventional medicine barely stretch to three hundred years. Without any exaggeration, it can be stated that TCM offers a variety of internal and external treatment methods that allows for a flexible approach in the use of remedies. This flexibility is essential to the treatment of many diseases.

The renowned Chinese pharmaceutical company Hu Qingyu Tang in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province (Supplied: Sabine Schmitz)

In the Chinese way of thinking, a disease is not only limited to local symptoms. Besides physical phenomena, any disease mirrors the entire structure of a person. Emotions, social environment, climate and, of course, food are all taken into account. TCM considers the human being as a unity of body, spirit and soul. Thus, the physical, mental and spiritual constitution is equally important for assessing a person’s state of health. Doesn’t the holistic approach make the most sense? And that is exactly what people recognize and look for when they seek TCM treatment.

As many patients search for natural medical methods, it is important that TCM practitioners are well trained. This is the only way to ensure the highest possible quality of medical performance and authenticity. To do this, it is necessary to obtain the expertise of outstanding and very experienced teachers with knowledge from a wide range of disciplines from China, the mother country of TCM, before exporting it to Germany. Of course, it makes the most sense to learn TCM at renowned and well-known Universities in China. These schools have the most experience in teaching foreign students. Students have many options, because for most areas of specialization there are many teachers who teach foreigners. Training in China is equally important for German students of TCM in order to provide this medicine at similarly high standards in Germany. As a result, TCM naturally also gets the acceptance it deserves.

Anyone who is interested in learning TCM is advised to contact a Chinese university. The advantages speak for themselves. The teaching is structured, concise and aligned to the needs of the students. One has the ability to see numerous patients from a wide range of medical fields, an opportunity that is missing in TCM education in Germany as well as in many other countries. Without this practical exposure, good practice is not possible. Knowledge can not just come from books. One needs a lot of experience for one’s own practice and for providing good treatment.

But apart from that, learning doesn’t stop once you graduate. Every student of TCM soon finds that the knowledge one acquires from one’s teachers cannot simply be imitated in clinic: imitation will not work, you must use your teacher’s knowledge as a basis to build your own expertise. There are some factors that can never be adapted, like environmental circumstances, or emotional and cultural factors. This is the only way to deepen expertise and refine knowledge—an experience that will serve your patients as well. However, you learn a lot more in the homeland of TCM than just the medicine itself, you also get to know culture, country and people. China has so much to offer. Never forget, we can always learn from each other. Knowledge increases when shared!

In Germany, TCM practitioners must be accredited and registered, and herbal remedies obtained from a trained pharmacy. Fortunately Germany has established a pharmacy system in which many are specialized in TCM and recognize the added value it can bring. This makes available a rich assortment of quality-tested herbs as well as the option for a variety of preparation methods, or pao zhi, which is of great benefit for therapeutic success. All in all, this enables TCM doctors to offer the full range of TCM – acupuncture, Chinese herbal medicine, Tuina, TCM dietetics, but also movement exercises such as qi gong or tai chi.

Once more, traditional medicines are increasingly important in modern society. Many chronic health complaints are increasing, perhaps due to stress, an unbalanced lifestyle, unhealthy diet or changing climate as well as environmental factors.  Preventative medicine is important in order to maintain health, and this is also increasingly understood in the West. Prevention, known as yangsheng, is of core importance in TCM health maintenance or life care. Prevention in terms of TCM begins before an illness develops. If a disease has already occurred, TCM can prevent it from worsening. Just like treatment, in TCM prevention is always individual and depends on the person, season, age, etc. The aim is to “preserve” life or maintain health and improve well-being.

The medical treatment offered by TCM is the result of thousands of years of development. It is no exaggeration to claim that TCM is a profound and established medical method to treat a wide range of medical conditions. A relationship of exchange between China and Germany is important for practical application of TCM. An exchange can take place through study, further training or through mutual visits and communication.

We can look forward to a successful future of TCM in Germany and hopefully this dynamic of mutual exchange will increase—for the benefit of the German population!

TCM practitioner Sabine Schmitz

Sabine Schmitz (M. Med. TCM) is a graduate of the Zhejiang Chinese Medical University in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province, China, where she majored in Chinese medical dermatology. Sabine is based in Cologne, Germany, and has a busy Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) practice specializing in skin diseases, gynecological disorders, and treatment of infertility. She mainly works with Chinese herbal medicine and acupuncture. Sabine is also the author of Treating Psoriasis with Chinese Herbal Medicine: A Practical Handbook. Her website is www.chinamed-koeln.com.