Alternative Medicine & Weirdos

I graduated from a 3-year Oriental Medical College in Japan and passed the national certification boards.  After that training I did a 1-year graduate course in herbal medicine.  I worked at two famous Oriental Medical Clinics in Kyoto and Osaka and worked part-time at a National Hospital which had a wing dedicated to combining both Oriental medical and Occidental medical treatments.  I also ran my own clinic out of my house in Kyoto where I treated my patients with acupuncture, moxibustion, shiatsu and herbal medicine supplied by a local pharmacist.  My clinic was called the “Integrative Medical Clinic”.

But my medicine was far from integrative and I decided to study modern medicine to make “integrative” mean something.  So I returned to America with ambitions of combining Oriental Medicine and Western Medicine.  I entered Duke University’s  Physician Assistant program with hopes of eventually finding a physician group to pair up with to forge this alliance of two medicines.

My training in Japan showed me that many herbal formulas are helpful for autoimmune diseases. So I bought about $4,000 worth of herbs and set up relations with Japanese pharmacies to get ready to import and export.  But over the next three years I could not find anyone who was interested in taking Japanese herbs.  People who tried them complained that they were too bitter or too much effort to prepare.  Also, the people who were drawn to having acupuncture were very strange.  People who were interested told me about how they really believed in acupuncture — but I didn’t care, either it worked or it didn’t.   Clients wanted to talk about past lives, auras and the mystical experiences they had.

Of course the more exaggerated their magical world, the more dramatic the effects of my first treatments.  This was not the people I wanted to treat.  I soon became very disillusioned with treating these people.  I could not get anyone to take herbs and had to throw away my investment.

My patients in Japan were not weird.  They were from the normal population.  They did not look at acupuncture as magic, did not talk about auras or past lives.  They just wanted their arms better or their rashes gone.  But here in American (back in those days), alternative medicine drew a strange crowd.

Then I jumped out of the fire, into the frying pan.  After giving up on acupuncture, I then studied Homeopathy and became a certified practitioner working with two MDs in a clinic.  The types of clients drawn to that sort of clinic had disproportional more personality disorders and neuroses than other medical practices I worked in.  It seemed that alternative medicine drew nuts.  OK, there were lots of cool, mentally-healthy folks there too but the wacky folks really shined.  So after 3 years, I stopped Homeopathy.

Weirdos are not the only reason I stopped practicing alternative medicine but it was part of the reason.  In future posts I hope to describe other reasons.

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Filed under Health

15 responses to “Alternative Medicine & Weirdos

  1. jason

    Replace “Alternative medicine” with “medical fraud” and your experience will make sense.

  2. @ Jason :
    Good succinct point.
    If you mean that “medically fraudulent” practices draw weirdos, I also agree. However, some alternative medicine works some of the time. But discovering that much of it does NOT work was another reason for my leaving those fields. But I did not want to write about that here — the post is already too long.

  3. philomytha

    I’d be very interested in your views on homeopathy. I have intelligent, non-weird, PhD friends who use it, but the principles behind it make no sense to me. The studies I’ve been able to find suggest its results are slightly more successful than can be explained by the placebo effect. I don’t know what to think, except that as desperate as I am to deal with my migraines, I don’t want to pay hundreds of dollars to see a practitioner of something that won’t work because I don’t believe in it.

  4. @ philomytha
    I agree with you! You hit many nails on the head there:
    — Desperate people are attracted
    — Brilliant people can believe weird things
    — Costs drive many people

    And may I add:
    — Orthodox medicine is full of foolishness and deception and business-driven treatment that make it unsafe and unattractive also.

    The world is complex. Our choices difficult. And many are hurting.
    I hope to write more later, by you point out the main issues.
    Thank you for visiting.

  5. Earnest


    If someone takes a placebo, and knows it’s a placebo, and gets a medical condition better, where is the fraud? See a recent article about irritable bowel syndrome for details.

    OTOH perhaps IBS is itself the fraud! Open to suggestions on that one.

    @philomytha: if you get the results you want, this suggests a valid transaction of some sort, at that point the only problem is the cost risk as you point out. I can also say there are antidepressants that can make you happy that you have pain, so you may want to check those out before wandering off the allopathic trail too far.

  6. Earnest

    Sorry forgot to check the boxes the first time!

  7. DaCheese

    Of course this goes along with your earlier observations about Americans being enthralled by the trapping of Asian cultures, mistaking culture for religion, etc.

    It kind of makes sense, though. Japanese medicine is traditional in Japan, so people with conventional/traditional mindsets are as likely to use it as the unconventional folks. But here it’s strange and exotic, so you’re naturally going to see mostly unconventional people seeking it out. More conventionally minded folks are going to rely on more familiar Western treatments, whether it’s modern medicine or grandma’s folk remedies.

    @philomytha: I’d love to see some of those studies. For all intents and purposes homeopathic remedies are placebos, containing no active ingredient whatsoever. So the idea that they might outperform standard placebos is just bizarre.

  8. DaCheese

    Note: I didn’t mean to implicitly equate “unconventional” and “weirdo spiritualist” in my last post. There are plenty of open-minded, unconventionally-oriented folks who are not weirdos; many are quite rational in their mindset. But within that broad group, there is always a small subset of people who venture beyond reasonable open-mindedness and into wanton credulity.

  9. @ Earnest :
    Good points

    @ DaCheese:
    I agree with your points. Did you feel I would disagree?

  10. I look forward to your other posts on this topic. Healing is a subject full of subtlety and mystery, don’t you think? I’m always amazed, amazed! when I see how the body (especially a child’s body) can manage to repair, say, a scraped knee so quickly and perfectly.

  11. @ Dan
    Indeed, self-healing is startling! That does not make it magic, just very hard to understand and hold at one moment in one’s head and thus startling.

  12. Well, I suppose, we could simply give all the credit for healing to God and stop being so damn amazed.

  13. Speaking of alternative medicine/medical frauds, there’s another fraud that’s really popular in Malaysia, at least. It’s called the Quantum Pendant (, a pendant that perpetually gives out scalar energy that improves health. Or so they claim. Happen to have heard of it?

    I was one of the victims of their scams (my whole family was), and quite a number of my relatives are still convinced that it works. Ugh.

  14. @ Darren,
    Good to see you stop by again. Yes, I had heard of this health fad and seen videos on it. Tis amazing what people are willing and excited to believe, and how well that works ! Thanks for sharing.

    @ Dan,
    Absolutely ! “Praise the Big One”!!

  15. It was interesting to read about the connections between alternative medicine and weirdos as you have experienced. It makes me wonder how much we experience is because of the ‘like attracts like’ factor and the need the psyche has to ‘mirror’ aspects of ourself.
    I have been interested in Traditional Medicine for all of my adult life and I have explored and experienced most of them. In all that time I have come across a few weirdos as patients and practitioners but no more so than I would find in my Allopathic experience. In fact some of the ‘strangest’ people I have met are psychiatrists but then that is probably not surprising. I met a few and decided they were not for me and I was better off doing my inner work on my own, with the help of books and the odd psychologist. Odd as in occasional.:)
    I don’t think there is any doubt that health, like many topics, has extremists at either end and the weird and the wacky can be found at both ends, but my experience has been the middle ground.
    I have found very sensible, sane, down-to-earth, even conventional Homeopaths, TCM practitioners, Acupuncturists etc., and probably encountered the ‘strangest’ in the fields of naturopathy … a field I explored and quickly dropped because it did not really make sense to me.
    I wonder if this is because my ‘like attracts this like’ or it is because of where I have lived? If one lives in a commune I suspect there might be more extremes than if one lives in ordinary suburbs in a city.. My experience by the way of such alternative practitioners includes: Melbourne, Adelaide, Perth, Brisbane in Australia; London in the UK; Vancouver in Canada; Boston in the US.
    Or perhaps I am cautious and research those I see extensively before I do so. I am a conservative and traditional person in many ways with unconventional, unorthodox and often controversial views and beliefs. It’s a very Virgo/Aquarian mix which makes up a large part of me.
    What is ‘out there’ so it is said, is what is ‘in here’ so if a weirdo appears in your life it is mirroring a part of you. Perhaps that means I am not quite the ‘fruitcake’ that some might have me.:)

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