By Geoff Girvitz
Special to The Toronto Sun
There are a lot of sick people out there. At least, that's what Marylyn Bell thought when she left her career behind to study Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) full time in 1998.
As a TCM practitioner who runs her own clinic in Oakville, Ont., Marylyn Bell incorporates massage, exercise, and herbal and dietary guidance when treating patients.
"At the time, I just kept meeting people who were ill," says the former domestic Airline Manager. "Yet Western medicine had no way to deal with them."
Bell says pain and depression are two of the most pervasive and debilitating issues out there; yet those who suffer from them aren't considered to be "sick." As such, there is a genuine dearth of treatment options for these people.
Seeking solutions, she embarked on a course of study that would eventually span more than 5,000 hours and two countries. Since graduating from the Toronto School of Traditional Chinese Medicine in 2001, Bell has been running a private clinic in Oakville, Ont., as well as teaching courses in acupuncture at her alma mater.
Where many Western doctors will simply throw pills at a problem, TCM practitioners incorporate a wide range of techniques, from applying therapeutic massage and herbal formulas to prescribing specialized exercises and providing dietary guidance. Often, more than one mode of therapy is combined to produce the best results.
To Bell, this type of holistic approach is important for many reasons. "TCM people teach, as well as treat."
In other words, Bell and her peers not only strive to heal their patients, but to help them take an active role in maintaining their own health and well-being.
Learning to provide this calibre of treatment isn't something that one can just pick up over a weekend seminar.
"The training is just as rigorous as it is in western medicine," Bell says.
In addition to four years of full-time study, she travelled to the U.S. to take exams in acupuncture, herbology and anatomy.
Although these exams were not required to practice TCM in Canada, she was motivated to prove that her knowledge met an international standard. That type of dedication has paid off in the form of a growing patient base.
Even with her own successes, Bell continues to be surprised by TCM's exponential rate of growth.
"In 1995, no one [in Canada] even knew what acupuncture was," she says. "Now, we see it on television, in newspapers and health magazines."
Currently, it's common for people to seek out acupuncturists for a endless range of needs.
In a typical week, acupuncturists encounter requests as diverse as easing back pain, decreasing tension and even improving a patient's appearance.
According to the U.S. industry magazine Acupuncture Today, the number of acupuncturists in that country has grown to 14,000 from 12,000 from last year.
But despite TCM's growing popularity, not everyone has access to the type of care that they would like. Insurance companies, for example, have been slow to acknowledge alternative forms of treatment.
While some insurers will now cover visits to a naturopath or physiotherapist for acupuncture treatments, TCM specialists have been left out of the loop. For Bell, "this is like going to a GP who knows something about cardiology, but not being allowed to see an actual cardiologist."
Meanwhile, the Ontario government lags behind B.C., Quebec and Alberta in establishing regulated standards for TCM practitioners.
For these reasons, Bell has been an outspoken advocate of TCM legislation in Ontario.
With more Canadians undertaking serious study of TCM than ever before, Bell is ready to see her field accorded the respect it deserves.
To reach Marylyn Bell at her Oakville, Ont. clinic, call 905-845-7466.
(Geoff Girvitz is some things to all people. Write him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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