Traditional medicine in Geneva Interview with Helene Cormon
Traditional medicine, Geneva, Switzerland
One patient in Switzerland out of three is using alternative traditional medicine. Today more and more people are using this type of traditional medicine for their chronic pains and to get the stress out of their body. Nothing is more damaging to our body than stress, and from time to time it’s important to get it out of the system. Alternative medicine is one of the options.
So on a cold December day, we went to see Helene Cormon, one of the specialists on Traditional Asian medicine in Geneva. We were curious to know more about the traditional medicine, and to see what it’s all about!
Helene is a young and pleasant woman who studied traditional Chinese medicine both in Switzerland and in China. She was recommended by a colleague because this is mainly how it works - through informal communication channels.
Q: Why do you think traditional medicine is so popular in Switzerland?
Western medicine is very efficient for urgencies, whereas the traditional Oriental medicine is very efficient for more chronic problems. Many come to me when they have had chronic pain that has not been cured by painkillers or by other types of medication; and they want to try something else.
The traditional Asian medicine is very old, and it has been proven for over 2000 years that it works.
When you treat somebody with traditional medicine, whether it’s acupuncture or another form of traditional medical practice, you have behind you a practice that has been around for centuries which has been constantly improved over time.
I think this fact itself assures people that this is not something that I have developed myself, or taken it out of my hat.
Q: Are you a medical doctor?
No, I’m not a medical doctor in the traditional occidental way. I got my training in Switzerland and in China. In Switzerland it’s the German part of the country which is the center for traditional medicine.
Traditional medicine has another philosophy and another way to think about the human body. Let me give you an example. In the Occident we gained our knowledge about the human body by desiccating it. This started already in the Middle Ages, and it made us understand how it works as we studied the different organs, the bones etc. So you could say that our occidental medicine has been constructed around this.
The traditional Asian medicine in particular, does not operate in this way. First of all they were not allowed to desiccate a human body so they developed another way to see how a living
Q: So how do you make your diagnosis?
We will look at the general aspect of the person, then listen to what he/she has to say, then take their pulse. The way of taking the pulse in traditional Chinese medicine is quite different from the "normal one". The Chinese have 27 different types of pulses, and we take it at three different points and three different depths. We will then look at the persons tongue because it’s the only "internal texture" that you can observe - its color, form etc. We used to have this kind of test here too, but since the medical analysis got more sophisticated, this one disappeared. The Japanese generally uses the third type of diagnosis and it consists of palping the stomach. Once you have identified the sensible points, we set needles in the extreme points, and watch the immediate change. This will give us an indication whether or not the energy and the blood circulate well in the body, and the effect is immediate.
Q: If I have understood it right, it’s when the energy is blocked that the illnesses appear?
Well, I would rather say, the pain. If the blood and the energy circulate well, everything is fine. You could compare it to a city. If the traffic is fluid, everything is fine. If there are traffic jams, you have to ease the traffic.
Q: Apart from acupuncture, what are the other techniques?
In the western world we hear mostly about acupuncture, which is the insertion of the tips of needles into the skin at specific points for the purpose of treating various disorders by stimulating nerve impulses.
However in traditional medicine we also use the Moxibustion another oriental medicine. We burn the fluff or process it further into a stick that resembles a (non-smokable) cigar and use it with acupuncture needles.
Another technique I also use is fire cupping, which is a method of applying acupressure by creating a vacuum next to the patient’s skin. In traditional Chinese medicine it involves placing glass cups on the skin with a vacuum. The therapy is used to relieve what is called "stagnation", and is used in the treatment of respiratory diseases such as the common cold, pneumonia, and bronchitis. Cupping is also used to treat back, neck, shoulder, and other musculoskeletal pain.
In China they also use quite a lot of herbal medicine in combination of the other techniques.
Q: So if somebody comes to see you for headache, you use both acupuncture as well as herbal therapy?
Yes, for the internal problems we use plants, for the pains we treat them either with acupuncture, moxa …
As I explained earlier when a person comes with a problem, we look at the whole picture, and we’ll ask questions about " everything " in order to see if the body is in harmony or not. Somebody might present the same symptoms, but this does not necessarily imply that they will be treated in the same way.
Q: Could you give us some more details on the herbal treatment?
We do not have a pharmacy here in Geneva preparing the herbal medication. It’s a very complicated procedure, and therefore what we do here is to fax a prescription to Bern where there is one. You really need a specialized pharmacy to undertake this kind of thing, and the traditional herbal treatment is not yet too well-known. You know if it has survived for more than 2000 years, it means that it’s not a fashion thing and that it works.
Q: Is traditional medicine recognized by the State?
No, not at all. Switzerland is quite a liberal country, and therefore as long as it is not forbidden, it’s allowed. Although traditional medicine is not recognized by the state, the private insurance companies have set up insurance policies covering traditional medicine and these insurance policies are quite popular among the people.
Photos: WHO/P. Virot