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The New Healers

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Lipman says he turned to acupuncture because he was disillusioned with the impersonality and cursory nature of American medicine. "In South Africa, you take a good history, because you couldn't afford to do all these tests. You learn to listen to patients." He now practices what he calls integrated medicine, addressing lifestyle, nutrition, and general health along with providing acupuncture treatments.

Like Chang, Lipman readily acknowledges the limitations of his practice. He says acupuncture is most effective against headaches, back pain, menstrual problems, infertility, digestive problems, and stress-related disorders. "If I need to prescribe an antibiotic," he says, "I will, but for the most part I don't. I'm not against Western medicine. We are not saying it's either-or. We are not claiming to cure cancer or aids, but I do think it can help cancer or aids patients."

Lipman's client list has evolved over the past five years as the public has grown more accepting of Eastern medicine. "When I first started, my clientele were really from the artsy community and HIV community. Over time, I'm getting more and more mainstream people, more Wall Streeters. It's now beyond trendy. It's still trendy, but it's more established."

Success, of course, breeds criticism. The most vocal opponent of alternative medicine is Wallace Sampson, former chief of oncology at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center and a Stanford professor of clinical medicine. He chaired the National Council for Reliable Health Information, a group that sees almost no medical advantage to any of the alternative offerings. Moreover, the group blames the cultural relativism of the sixties for infecting medicine with pseudoscience. "I see no benefit to any of it," Sampson says. "There might be benefits to meditation and relaxation -- if nothing else, to acquire a better quality of life -- but it has very little to do with life extension and susceptibility to disease."

Sampson has a well-polished, William Bennett-like screed as to how the alternative-medicine virus entered the culture. "Harvard offered courses, and then the hospitals in New York started doing it. These programs are set up by rich people with an ideological agenda that nature is good and science and technology is bad, that truth is a relative, culturally determined thing, so that science is diminished. There will be a price to pay for this later on, in terms of health and the indoctrination of medical students."

Doctors practicing complementary medicine, however, strongly believe that the next century will prove to the quack-busters that nontraditional treatments have a place in modern medicine. They believe that the older healing arts will be merged with Western medicine to create holistic health care that is both high-tech and ancient. In their vision of the future, patients will get MRIs, qi gong, and herbal remedies at the same clinic.

There is a rough dividing line in the alternative-medicine community between those who've been educated at medical school, or at least done some serious post-graduate work in science, and nondegreed "healers" and mystics, the sort one associates with Marin County or Santa Fe. But complementary M.D.'s do not deny that they exist on the same spectrum, since, almost by definition, they're open to the possibility that a psychic healer, for example, could do a body some good.


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