"A friend of mine actually set up The Hutong, and he was looking for non-Chinese experts, who had knowledge of particular parts of Chinese culture, to teach courses," explained Tan. "So, I taught a lot of the Chinese medicine courses, breath work, preventative health care, and some qigong classes, all the things I'm interested in."
The classes led to Tan setting up a full-time TCM practice at The Hutong, where he continues to give classes and talks on a range of TCM-related subjects, and now also treats patients at his Straight Bamboo TCM clinic. For Tan, the unique relationship between himself and his patients plays a critical role in the success of treatment outcomes. "The practitioner's role is part clinical and part counselor," he said. "You're also a mirror, allowing the patient to see their problem from a different perspective, and then giving them practical solutions. "
"The patient's role is to initially listen and try to understand the information [given] as best as possible, and then actually follow the advice, in terms of specific dietary, exercise and sleeping types of advice and implement changes straight away."
"I try to find what works for patients and ask about their patterns, the foods they like, ask about what they would normally eat, identifying the foods they like, and then what is probably best for them, and then encouraging them to include that as part of their daily rhythm. I actually get to know my patients really well. So, it's working together, and the most important thing is support."
Tan feels that this type of in-depth, personal relationship is something that the Western approach to health care seems to have neglected.
"You'll see, a lot of times, people that go to Western health practitioners feel like the practitioner isn't really listening," he said. "They just want to take blood samples, and urine samples, and things like that. So, it's important to listen to the client, letting them direct the kind of treatment if they want to, and not being too pushy and getting the work you need done in a very subtle and non-confrontational way. Also, you're still achieving your aims and outcomes as a practitioner."
He is also convinced that TCM and Eastern approaches to wellness can empower people to take more personal responsibility for their health, something which modern budget cuts and rising health care insurance costs are bringing into sharper focus.
"I feel like Western medicine, all of this high-tech, high-cost medicine, is investing a lot of money and research into the [Human] Genome Project, for example, and genetics and the idea that we're going to have diseases because of our genetic background," said Tan. "But, in Chinese medicine, the focus is definitely on the self-responsibility side of the ladder."
"We are looking at our lifestyles, and our emotional responses, as basically 95 percent of our problems, and most of the things to improve, your breathing, eating and sleeping, exercise and thinking patterns, are things that take personal effort."
Tan does, however, believe in the importance of an integrated approach for Eastern and Western medicine. "I always encourage clients to get check-ups, because you want to rule out any possible organic problems; or even if they have indications in a blood test, or if they have low blood pressure, or high blood sugar levels, these [indications] are actually helpful for my diagnosis."
Essentially, Tan's philosophy is centered on a positive, holistic approach to health and the ideas of personal responsibility and empowerment. "The change you're looking for is where the patient really accepts responsibility and realizes, 'jeez, that was probably partly my responsibility and it is my responsibility'", he said. "That will automatically change their energy and it will start to go off in a more positive direction."
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