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Journey To The West with Sibyl & Zoe Coldham (EP#218)

Sibyl and Zoe Coldham join Mason on the show today, to share about their documentary, Journey To The West, an award-winning film that follows the journey of Chinese medicine into Western culture, exploring the roots of the profession, and the many obstacles it has faced, especially within the realm of consciousness held by mainstream medicine and allopathic thought. 

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Sibyl and Zoe Coldham join Mason on the show today, to share about their documentary, Journey To The West, an award-winning film that follows the journey of Chinese medicine into Western culture, exploring the roots of the profession, and the many obstacles it has faced, especially within the realm of consciousness held by mainstream medicine and allopathic thought. 

Journey to the West
 navigates between an in-depth exploration of Chinese medicine's struggle for legitimacy and a serene unveiling of Chinese medical philosophy. Weaving historical and contemporary plot lines, to reveal the intricacies of a profession that seeks acceptance and understanding by the Western medical model at large.

Throughout the podcast Sibyl and Zoe speak passionately from the heart, discussing the film's inception, creative process and their overarching intention; to tell the story of Chinese medicine in a way that is accessible to a wide audience.

The women express that limitations in the Western education system, including the curriculum often offered, stand as great obstacles to the continuing legacy and authentic practice of the craft. Highlighting that the methodologies of the scientific model, particularly the placebo effect as applied to acupuncture, should never get in the way of the actual medicine.

They go to share why energetic medicine can not be accurately measured in the same way as a pharmaceutical drug, where the placebo is a dead entity, and results against an active constituent will never compare.

Western medicine's political terrain is also covered, particularly within the context of the UK's National Health Scheme, who's views on Chinese medicine differ greatly from those here in Australia. An aspect of the conversation that allows us to understand the influence of social ideology on the integration of Chinese medicine and acupuncture into mainstream systems of healthcare at large. 

The duo emphasise the importance of understanding the philosophy and principles of Chinese medicine and the need for practitioners to continue their work with patience and perseverance.

An illuminating chat today, offering many thought provoking concepts for us all to marinate on.

Dive in and enjoy.

Image of rural China.

"Some of these problems for the Western medicine are so great that they're going to have to come to be more open to Chinese medicine, because the kind of things Chinese medicine works really well with just happen to be almost exactly the same as the things that the Western medicine and the NHS is struggling with".
- Sibyl Coldham

Sibyl, Zoe & Mason discuss:

  • The challenges Chinese medicine faces in the West.
  • The scientific model and its limitations when applied to Chinese medicine.
  • Where Chinese medicine fits within an allopathic system.
  • Why Chinese medicine can't change to appease the limitations of the education system. 


Who is Sibyl Coldham?

Writer and producer, Sibyl Coldham, has worked in Chinese Medicine education since the ‘80s as educational developer at the London School of Acupuncture. Sibyl then joined the course team for the Practitioner Development programme when the London School of Acupuncture joined the University of Westminster. In 2005, Sibyl moved back into educational development as director of the University’s Centre for Professional Learning Development, working for better outcomes for students through practice-based and inclusive learning across the University. Since 2015, Sibyl has been director and then chair of The TCM Development Trust, which was set up by the London School of Acupuncture to support Chinese Medicine education and research. With the closure of the Westminster course in 2019, Sibyl led a change in direction for the Trust to promote the public understanding of Chinese Medicine, which directly led to the funding of this film.

Who is Zoe Coldham?

Zoe Coldham is an award-winning documentary filmmaker and portrait photographer. Zoe graduated with a Bsa of Film and Television from Swinburne University. Zoe's first short documentary, Charlotte, won Best Documentary at an Academy Awards qualifying event, The St Kilda Film Festival. In 2018, Zoe worked as a cinematographer on two feature length documentaries which went on to premiere at the Melbourne International Film Festival. Zoe's passion lies in exploring untold stories and creating acceptance through education and understanding.

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Check Out The Transcript Below:

 

Mason:

Good morning. Well, good afternoon, Sibyl. Is that right? Good night?

Sibyl:

Good evening.

Mason:

Good evening.

Sibyl:

Hello.

Mason:

Good morning, Zoe.

Zoe Coldham:

Hello.

Mason:

We're morning for us, Zoe. Afternoon in ... Where was it again, Sibyl, for you?

Sibyl:

I'm in London, and it's in the evening. Dinnertime.

Mason:

I love it. Thank you so much for coming on. I love having two guests on. For some reason, I don't get to do it often. Congratulations on the documentary, Journey to the West. It's still so fresh at the moment with its release. So I don't know. Are you in the bubble of birthing a documentary baby?

Zoe Coldham:

Thank you. Yeah, it does feel like that. It feels like you're sort of letting out a piece of your soul into the world. We released it two weeks ago, and we've just had so many good responses, largely from the acupuncture community. Having them on side was crucial for us to make this film, and so getting all those responses has just been fantastic.

Mason:

You did such a great job in the way it's put together. It's really beautifully shot. Dare I say, I even like the score.


Sibyl, because that's one thing, I was entertained. We were just talking about not being practitioners, but I call myself being such a fan and a patient of Chinese medicine. One thing, I empathised so much with those practitioners and with the people that were helping to establish Chinese medicine over here in the West.


I mean was that something you, in terms of having the acupuncturist on board and having their stories told, was that something you knew that would deliver? How did you go about that? How was that in the brief and the documentary?

Sibyl:

Well, I developed the brief. Zoe and I developed it together. But in terms of what the content should be and how we should approach that was kind of down to me. I think not being an acupuncturist myself, although having worked with them for 20, 30, 40 years, I think that really helped because part of the thing about trying to tell the story of the college that I was involved in and a lot of the people in the film were involved in was that the practitioners are too close to it, and they're much more vulnerable to criticism because they're too close.


So a lot of the lobbying and the really quite vitriolic criticism that gets thrown at acupuncture in any kind of political arena sort of thing, they find it hard to talk about that and to find out what would be interesting to somebody who doesn't know all that stuff. The other thing is they get so steeped in their knowledge that the question is, where do you start to tell the story? What do people need to know so that they can understand what you're trying to say and what your issues are and why they're important?


So that was, in a way, not being an acupuncturist, I think, helped with that. So we developed a script where the areas, the topics we wanted to cover, and we just asked. We got the people. We wanted practitioners, researchers, people involved in the politics, people taking different angles in how they understood acupuncture as well, because one of the guys works in a hospice, so it's much more gentle and spiritual. He's not doing physical, the kind of acupuncture you do on a runner or something like that.


And then we also wanted to have a Chinese practitioner because it is Chinese medicine. So we felt the people who were in it came together through the roles they had in the profession and the angle they took on it. Does that make sense?

Mason:

Yeah, so much sense. What's jumping out is I was wondering, had you already done the mass reflection on what you'd been involved with over the decades or was it one of the first times you'd really done that collection, and was that a cathartic experience?

Sibyl:

Was it the first time?

Zoe Coldham:

I'll jump in. I'd say you probably had reflected-

Sibyl:

Yeah, I think that's-

Zoe Coldham:

... but you hadn't distilled that information into an organised form. With the trust that we developed the film with, you had talked about writing a book at some stage, hadn't you?

Sibyl:

Well, I mean the suggestion had been made. The idea of writing a book, it's just my heart would ... I just can't imagine anything that I less wanted to do than write a book at this stage in my life. It's a lonely project. Who would read it anyway? That's the problem with a book.

Zoe Coldham:

I think the book would have had a danger in becoming too academic and a piece that people wouldn't have read or maybe the masses wouldn't have had access to.

Sibyl:

Yeah, yeah. Although I've said I could take an angle that was a bit separated from those people who lived through those times, you also, as a filmmaker, you brought in what's the audience. Also, I'm the wrong generation. What we're interested in is telling this story to people of your age, not people at the end of their careers, but people in mid-careers who are developing their lives, making their choices and all that kind of thing.


But I think, particularly, we needed the perspective of a filmmaker. A professional filmmaker is different from someone who just wanted to get a few points across.

Zoe Coldham:

It all happened quite organically because I was filming an event for the London School of Acupuncture and, at that event, they had these round tables where they were discussing the profession and where it's at. I was living in London at the time, but I'm actually Australian. I knew a little bit about acupuncture, but really not much at all. I could sense they were highly intelligent and very good at what they did. But then a lot of them were talking about these instances where their legitimacy was questioned, where their profession's being sidelined.


In England, they don't have statutory regulation. It just felt at odds with how it is in Australia, and I just thought, what's going on? It just seemed very strange to me that this group of highly intelligent people were just struggling to be accepted. So after that, I started talking to Sibyl about it. I guess in me talking to you about it, we kind of fleshed out the story. It started coming out very naturally, and we just decided it would be quite interesting to make a film out of that.

Sibyl:

Yes. The trust that I was chair of at the time, we had funding. We wanted to spend it, and we wanted to do something that would raise the profile of Chinese medicine, which, as I've already said, in my view, a book isn't going to do, whereas, a film can. So that plus somebody on our doorstep who actually wanted to make this film was just a gift, really. So it came together.


But again, some of the trust was set up by the London School of Acupuncture. It was profits that we made before we joined the university because we're a not-for-profit company. So we had this fund that we thought we would need to buy a building, but when we joined a university, of course, we didn't need that. So it just sat there. We just wanted to do something useful with it that would have an impact on understanding Chinese medicine, so the film became that thing.


But also, the story that we actually told wasn't quite the story that some of the people in the film thought it was going to be. That's where Zoe came in because she's got that extra bit of separation that could come and say, "This is what's interesting. This is what people need to hear before they can understand that. This is too technical and too complicated. No matter how important you think it is, it's got to go."

Mason:

I'm that person that goes too complicated, and I've got people coming into my company and being like, "You chill out and step back a little bit. You're too close to this." What was that mostly, that was wanting to be told? Because the film, the way it started, I love the romance of the journey, and that's-

Sibyl:

Do you like the title?

Mason:

I love the title. It's one of those things. When you step on a journey, you think it's going to take this long, you think you're going to learn this, but then you realise, oh no, there's going to be three steps forward, five steps back, two forward, one back. It's got that beautiful dark night of the soul that Chinese medicine is going through, and then likewise, the stewards of the journey.


It had the tragedy, which is the constantly of having been given is this to do with back pain, acupuncture being approved for back pain and then migraines and getting some momentum. That's what I'm curious whether that's what wanted to be told, the technicalities of why it was that that was taken away. Did it feel like a blindsiding?

Sibyl:

Absolutely. Absolutely. Also, people just assume that everybody who does acupuncture does the same acupuncture. People assume that acupuncture's the same in every country, and it's very different. The situation in the UK is very different from the situation in Australia. We thought we could only tell our story, but we thought that was interesting because it says a lot when you're setting something up, these things do come along that you cannot expect.


We have the National Health Service. They carry on as they do, and acupuncture was getting very accepted in the NHS. A lot of our graduates worked in pain clinics in the NHS. But then the NHS, they created a body that was responsible for authorising what could and couldn't be done in the NHS because what is done in the NHS has to be done for everybody because it's public medicine.


This was all this evidence-based medicine, which really pushed the doing everything by randomised controlled trials, which for Chinese medicine is crazy. You just wouldn't. Randomised controlled trials are for drugs that are tested against a placebo. Whereas, energetic medicine, how do you get a placebo? So they make up placebos. They do all this research and basically because the placebo isn't really a placebo, it isn't inert, it's just sticking a needle in another point, you get a pretty good reaction.


So acupuncture wasn't showing itself as better than placebo, and it took years for people to challenge that maybe it was the placebo that was the problem, not the acupuncture. Because when it was tested against doing nothing, both the placebo and the acupuncture did way better than doing nothing when the placebo was sticking a needle in a bit further away from the real point or something like that.


So it's just these things come along, and who would anticipate that, that you'd get a completely different way of your expectation about how something's supposed to work? Interestingly, there was a lot of antagonism for that kind of science against Chinese medicine here. I know there's a lot in the States as well because I've read the blogs of a particular guy there, and I guess you have it in Australia as well.


The Western medics who are more pro-acupuncture tend to be the anaesthetists, the clinicians, because nobody would test that with a randomised control tile that would be considered stupid. So they are much more prepared to look at things on an energetic level than the hardcore physiologists who think you can do everything in a test tube and stuff. So it's part of the journey.

Mason:

Well, I'm curious about that part of the journey because that's, I guess, the next part of the story is it's such a hurdle. I've seen it, whether my wife's teacher's teacher, Dr. Motayama, Japanese man, he had this same thing. He's like, "Well, we can measure Qi, but it completely goes against the fundamental beliefs of ..." So there's that hurdle. Everyone gets their...

Sibyl:

There's only one way to measure something. It's like saying you have to use feet and inches, you can't use metric. It's ridiculous. But it's the way it is at the moment, in a lot of the world anyway.

Mason:

For you, Zoe, observing this as well, do you see the road forward? What I keep on coming back to is where when you go back to the shamanic roots of Chinese medicine, the people who are going, "Right, if we can't go the scientific way, we're going to go this way." Intention-based medicine is one way that I see it being put forward. There's many ways to describe Qi.


But what's the foot forward now? Is it realising that we're never going to change the ossified medical system, so we need to develop alongside it? Is it still somewhat a weaving? Is there any insight? I know there's no known way forward, and we can't predict the future. I know I've talked to a lot of acupuncturists who have become so fatigued with the Western model, and in a way that's, I feel, positive for them.


They're like, "I'm not even going to bother anymore. I'm going full decentralisation, and I'm just going to educate the community and people who have come through the institutions who want to return to the, dare I say, the magic or the wholeness." Within the UK, what's the current way forward and plan, and where's the hope coming from?

Sibyl:

Well, what do you think, Zoe? Do you want to start?

Zoe Coldham:

You can start, Sibyl, with this one.

Sibyl:

Okay. The way I see TCM, the way it is in the UK and I think in some parts of Australia and the US as well, it's not anti-spiritualism. It's not anti-Qi. That way of thinking, of understanding, is essential, whether it's TCM, whether it's going back to the Neijing or whatever. It's the same medicine. There's just what the Chinese did was to ... They were rationalising. They were putting their ideology onto what they accepted and what they didn't.


But they still use the classic text, like the Yizhen. In our film, the Chinese practitioner who studied in China, she studied the classic text. It wasn't left out. Basically, it's more systematised, I suppose, than you would get if you just studied one of the classical texts. But the classical texts themselves have contradictions in them. Volker Schied, who's one of the people in the film, he actually works in China a lot in terms of looking at how the origins have survived in TCM.


He works with the Chinese in terms of what to bring back into TCM, if you like. I mean we'd have to talk to him about that. That's more his thing, but-

Mason:

I definitely agree when you say there's different types of acupuncture. I've done a lot of work on this. I'm feeling less in one camp or another. Completely agree with you that Chinese medicine within universities, it needed to be organised in order to actually grow as well, and I really value it. Because it does have that magic still, it's bumping up against the modern sciences.


That's what I meant in terms of for us to have this alternative medicine continue to go along its journey. Now where does it go?

Sibyl:

I think that's about the education. The science should never get in the way of the Chinese medicine in the college, whether it's a college or whether it's a university, wherever it is, and it doesn't have to. To me, that's just bad educational design. The college we had, which was one of the most respected acupuncture colleges in the UK, joined a university. The course didn't change.


All that changed was not even the way the marking was done. We had to put our grading system into language that the university understood. But we still used words like Qi and Shen and Jing, all those things were still there. The way diagnosis was made was the Chinese way. They had to do their Western medicine as well because they work in the West. If you're trying to bring the profession up, it's always a balance between the organising and the individuality and the individualism.


But what we tried to do in the UK, even with the accreditation and all that stuff, was to give people the scope to slant things in different ways. But the core curriculum of Chinese medicine has the five phases, has the eight principles, has all the meridians, extra meridians, the Essences. All that stuff's in there. It's how do you use those clinically that the college is about.


Because I come from a college that was involved with developing the profession, we felt that involved talking to and working with Western medicine. The medics aren't the problem. It's the physiologists and the scientists and the evidence-based medicine group that what I see is the problem because they're totally inflexible. A medic also, they don't call it Qi, but they work with people's health.


A good doctor understands what's going on. They don't do it that way themselves, or they do and they go and study for themselves, but they're not the ones that are negative. It's the more science establishment. All the criticism we got was mostly from academic, physiologists and pathologists who-

Zoe Coldham:

Yeah, I think that's an interesting point because the film obviously addresses a lot of the barriers that the profession comes against in terms of getting knocked back from being recommended on the NHS because it doesn't pass any of the clinical trial tests. We talked a lot about how do we end this film? How do we keep hope when there's been so many barriers for the profession?


There is an issue with the science, and trying to get acupuncture to fit into that model is very challenging. I think Sibyl's right. Acupuncture can't change. That's not the answer. I think the systems around testing it or the strictness of those systems and what they inform need to shift a little bit or become less strict. It seems like that's happening currently or historically only when Western medicine fails in a certain way.


During the AIDS crisis, when the GPs, very early on when they had no idea what this illness was and because Chinese medicine just approaches a body as a whole and not an illness or a disease, it was able to treat these people and have really a lot of success in helping people with their symptoms. Because of that, during that time, the GPs started recommending these patients to go and get acupuncture.


During that time, the Gateway Clinic was set up and that was embedded into a hospital in the UK, and that's still there. The GPs, "Send them down to the hospital. They have beds in the hospital." Really, we don't have that in Australia, and it's an amazing way for it all to function. So I think that's what needs to happen. It just needs to be accepted into the fold. I think that then the doctors will hopefully realise that it complements Western medicine very well and doesn't compete with it.

Sibyl:

It does different things, and it does some of the same things but does them differently, and it does things that Western medicine doesn't do. I think one of the people in the film, he is a biomedical doctor and an acupuncturist. He's also very involved in the regulation, in the work that decides what can be used on the National Health. It's very complicated, so it was hard to bring it into the film.


But one of the things that you don't really get is that the way the NHS establishes what can be done, each disease is different. So the fact that acupuncture works for back pain or migraine or fertility, each of those is a separate case to be made. What seems to happen in other places, if you get statutory regulation, then you're considered to be safe and you can do it. But it does come down to the funding.


The nature of the National Health is that anything that can be done on the National Health has to be available to everyone. So that's a massive expense if the infrastructure's not already there. So I think, according to Mike Cummings, the person I'm talking about in the film, he sees that as the main problem at the moment.


But he also, I think, sees, although I don't know that we have this in the film, but I think just in our interview with him, he talks in a way that says some of these problems for the Western medicine are so great that they're going to have to come to be more open to Chinese medicine because the kind of things Chinese medicine works really well with just happen to be almost exactly the same as the things that the Western medicine and the NHS is struggling with.


I don't mean the cancers and the high tech stuff. I mean the wellbeing stuff, the mental health, the migraines, the kind of weird stuff, the chronic disease basically that they're not very good at.

Mason:

I imagine that it kind of forces you ... Such a core tenet of being a practitioner or Chinese medicine or Taoism is the cultivation of virtue, virtuous. So I can imagine the patience to get cultivated to be like, "Cool. Let's just wait for that next door to open, and let's fill it in and allow that next foot in the door to establish a collaboration," I should say, "or understanding of each other." It's like a ...

Sibyl:

But it's also Yin Yang, basically. You know Yin Yang. It's imbalance, but it also turns into its opposite. These things happen. You get switch points. Things are in balance. They get out of balance. They re-harmonise. At times, that's catastrophic and difficult for everyone. It's not always smooth and easy, and that's the whole point of Chinese medicine is, at a health level, to keep it as smooth and easy as you can.


But these rhythms are real. They apply to everything. So they apply to the situation wherein here in the UK with Chinese medicine at the moment.

Zoe Coldham:

And I think that speaks a lot to why the profession just continued to persevere and continues to this day because they have that mentality.

Mason:

I was just going to say that. Yeah.

Sibyl:

Yeah. Well, that's the way they see the world. That's their worldview. You do keep on going. But also, it's the people in the '70s who really made Chinese medicine much more available, much more thorough clinically, I think, because there were three or four, so various schools in the UK prior to that, and they were very inwardly focused. They weren't open to new ideas bringing things in.


I mean one of them, other colleges broke away from them because their students aren't necessarily like that. But they were very much about the course that was set up by their founders. I think I've lost my track here. What was I saying?

Mason:

I think that's what sometimes you go into the dreaming of Yin and Yang and you're just like, "You know what? Let's just feel it rather than try and analyse it." I love it. Obviously, the philosophy is self-evident and self-regulating. It's almost one of our biggest challenges because that way of being and, yes, you could say it's a discipline, but it's, I guess, a discipline that has a heart.

Sibyl:

It's a way of being. People who do Chinese medicine live their lives in a particular way. I mean I know hundreds of them. I mean you were talking about intention earlier. intention's a huge part of Chinese medicine. It's a huge part of, I think hopefully of any clinical medicine because you are doing things to other people and you have to know where you are with that and how you're doing that and where it's going and how it's going to be right for that person.


I think it's no different whether you're working with Qi or whether you're giving them five grammes, 10 grammes or whatever of something that's going to wreck their liver or however you want to see it.

Mason:

You brought up cancer. The chronic illnesses is something that I don't foresee us being anywhere close to the Chinese medicine being able to fulfil its fullest potential in treating these Western-diagnosed diseases, even though they don't necessarily have that diagnosis in ... Well, they don't have that diagnosis in Chinese medicine. But there's a continuing to be-

Sibyl:

There are parallels.

Mason:

Yeah. It's amazing to walk those parallels. I'm just observing sometimes that frustration of hearing that you're not allowed to treat this disease with this complete medicine. Just when I was watching the film, it brought me back down to Earth in terms of just how much of a journey it's been to just get this far and to just continue to be patient and just, as you said, just educate around what's going on and not getting too far ahead of yourself.


What's the sentiment there? I really empathise with practitioners who you've brought the magic or you've brought the essence through an institution like a university. The spirit is still there, and with it comes the understanding of what you can do with this medicine. I think part of being in Chinese medicine is understanding almost the karmic journey of the country you're in and accepting that and being a part of that, which is probably why there's such maturity in those groups that established it and have those intentions as the founders.


Where does that sit at that moment, that burning desire to help these people who only have a Western model that is biochemical when you know what you've got sitting there behind you and you're told you're not allowed to treat these things?

Sibyl:

Yes, I mean you're not allowed to treat cancer unless you're a medical doctor, but you can treat patients with cancer. You can't tell them not to go to their doctor, and that's the only thing you can't do. But you still will do what you do. I mean one of our graduates of the college, and she was one of the people at the filming, I think, Zoe, Mandy Brass, I don't know if you met her. She's set up a cancer clinic in Guy's Hospital.


She's working with cancer, but she's not doing it in opposition to the Western medicine. She works with people. Most of the practitioners I know, that's what they would do. The only thing you can't do really is say to a patient, "Stop seeing that Western doctor and just come to me." In a way, I think I wouldn't want practitioners to be putting themselves in opposition like that anyway because that's the patient's choice.


That's why the acupuncturist has to understand the Western medicine because that's where patients in the West start. I mean I think even patients in China start there now. That's what they come with, and you have to work with them and understand what they're saying. Yes, you make your own diagnosis, but then in the advice you give them about how they eat, about their lifestyle, about their self-cultivation and how to get them to understand their disease.


The Chinese explanation is often easier for them to understand than you've got ... I don't know what you might have. I mean if you've got a migraine, you know you've got a migraine. But if you've got internal medicine, you don't know. I mean I had a massive great tumour in my, not a cancerous tumour, but it was inside my ribs. It was squashing my lungs. I had no idea it was there, slow growing probably for 20 years. I had no idea it was there. I mean I kept going very well.


But so patients need to ... I think they're very open to people talking to them in energetic ways because that's what they feel, and that resonates with how they see themselves.

Mason:

I think a bit to clarify there, I think coming from what you were saying is not being in opposition, I think that's the beginning. But then how do you respond when there's a doctor in opposition of you or a medicine that is in opposition of yourself and that's working and weaving in with that? I mean you've talked about cultivation. What do you recommend?


Having seen so many practitioners, I'm sure you would have seen practitioners who are incredible at moving when they're having barbs thrown at them, and they don't derive their identity through opposing Western medicine. I'm sure you've seen those that cultivate bitterness and those who do fully oppose it. What's your recommendation there for practitioners?

Sibyl:

For practitioners? Well, all the practitioners that I know get their reward from their patients. The patients come to them. They help their patients. The issue in this country is that whereas the NHS medicine is free at the point of sale, Chinese medicine isn't, so they can't treat as many people as often as they feel they should be able to in a culture where medicine is free at the point of sale. That's the issue.


But that's the infrastructure issue that I hadn't really appreciated. But that's what Mike says in the film, that that's a big problem. That's a big step to a big mountain to climb. But so I think it's politically and it's reputationally that people feel the brickbats and feel the lack of the support.


I think there's been a massive shift in the GP level of medical communities about their openness to Chinese medicine. But of course, they can't. Back in the '70s, you'd hear of patients not telling their GPs they were having acupuncture because the GP wouldn't approve. You don't hear that anymore. It's not like that. I haven't heard of anything like that. It's more the other way around, but-

Mason:

Don't tell the acupuncturist they're going to the GP because they won't approve? Is that what you're ...

Sibyl:

No, no, no. The acupuncturist wants to write to the GP saying, "I think they should have this test-"

Mason:

Gotcha.

Sibyl:

... which they can get for nothing on the National Health. But that doesn't happen now. I think there's a lot of respect at the GP level. It's just that GPs can't prescribe acupuncture except through private medicine, and that's what frustrates practitioners is that they could just do so much more if the setup is different.

Mason:

I guess you just nailed on that, knowing you can do so much more. What a practise to sit with that.

Sibyl:

That's the frustration.

Mason:

To sit with that frustration and-

Sibyl:

Yeah, that's frustration number one. Frustration number two is getting constant attack from people who actually don't know what you do and have no intention of finding out what you do. But that's not so much the GPs anymore. As I said, the science, the research, the institutions, the politics, the press, to a certain extent ... I don't know what the press is like in Australia, but the press can be very negative here, interestingly, in terms of-

Mason:

[inaudible 00:38:44].

Sibyl:

... waves of pro-China, anti-China, that's going on. It's extraordinary.

Zoe Coldham:

It's very blatant. The vitriol towards the acupuncture community. We show some of the headlines in the film, and there's lots of questions around, does acupuncture work or is it a stab in the dark, something like that or-

Sibyl:

Just trivial, facetious and stuff. But do you get that in Australia as well? Or is that more of a UK thing?

Mason:

I think it's more the UK. I think we've gotten past that point. I'd say it's integrated much the same way. But with that integration, you can't ... I don't know if there's more accountability or something like that with journalists in Australia or if it's just less clickbait-y.

Sibyl:

That seems unlikely. You've got more Murdoch than we have.

Mason:

I know. But they know that they've got to toe a particular line of the wave and work within the psyche of how we operate. So I think it's more covert and subversive, where the UK journalists and politicians just smack you on the head and swing people back. "Actually, you're right. That is poppycock."


Yeah. So not as bad. But my gosh, they're definitely not doing anything to harbour trust, I'd say. It's quietly so conservative, and they enjoy going with that let's just keep up that brand of we're so laid back. Yeah, we'll try anything. So they don't want to burst that bubble so much.

Sibyl:

But I was just looking up at the kind of statutory regulation you have in Australia just before coming on here, and you have protection of title. So if somebody wants to call themselves an acupuncturist, they have to show they're entitled to do that. I think that maybe offsets the taking each disease individually, which is what you've got is an acceptance of Chinese medicine, acceptance of acupuncture, acceptance of Chinese herbalism.


So therefore you get around that thing of each point having to be approved is effective. Not to be too silly about it, but it's pretty much the way it is over here. There's no concept of just general acceptance at the political level.

Mason:

That's shocking.

Sibyl:

Sorry, I'm getting a bit ... If we got statutory regulation, I think maybe that would have changed that maybe, but we still would have the issue of the funding. I think-

Mason:

I was shocked. I assumed it was the same in the UK, before watching this film, as it is in Australia. I really have taken that for granted.

Sibyl:

People always assume things are the same or better in other countries, but it's not always the case. I mean yours is better than ours, for sure.

Zoe Coldham:

Acupuncture came to Australia a lot ... It came in the gold rush in the 1800s.

Sibyl:

Yes, exactly. Exactly.

Zoe Coldham:

So it has been around, and there's been a larger Chinese community in Australia for a long time. I think that's had a big effect on how accepted it is.

Sibyl:

I think the whole perception is different. It's seen as this Chinese thing. We have Chinese people. We have Chinese medicine. No big deal. Whereas, over here, I think because the way acupuncture got to Europe firstly is through ... We do this on the timeline in the film rather more than talk it through. But there's Jesuits and medics discovering acupuncture in China, translating texts. So there's this sort of academics who they must be if they can translate texts.


But one of the French guy was actually a doctor. Others were priests. So they brought the texts back to Europe. Although I think it's pretty certain that there was some indigenous Chinese acupuncture in the UK, mostly the way it developed was through individuals who studied with these second, third-hand people in Europe and then set up colleges here.


So I don't think it had the same credibility in its origins here as that I think it's quite reasonable in Australia that it's got more credibility because of the way it got there.

Mason:

But then, ironically, in the film, you said it was like at the nursery. In the '70s or '80s, it was that place where everyone knew was the place to be to go because it was just all happening.

Sibyl:

In the '90s, yes, yes.

Mason:

The '90s, right.

Sibyl:

The films says that. But that was partly because in the UK, in our legal system, you can do medicine as long as you don't call yourself a doctor. Whereas, in Europe, only doctors do acupuncture, huge business in China training European doctors to do acupuncture. In Germany, they have a system called [German 00:44:20] where you can be a medical complementary therapist, medical. You can do it there. They have their own system.


But generally, like in Italy or France and Portugal, as Volker, the most qualified Chinese herbalist really probably in the UK, after Brexit, he wanted to immigrate to Portugal. I hope he doesn't mind me giving personal stuff, and he couldn't get a licence there-

Mason:

Because he'd had to be a medical doctor?

Sibyl:

... because he does not have a university degree in acupuncture. He studied in China. He's a PhD in medical anthropologist, German herbalist, trained in Chinese herbal medicine, trained in acupuncture. He's done everything. But they have rules are rules. Every country has its own rules. I mean he was just absolutely shocked.

Zoe Coldham:

That's that catch-22 that we wanted to represent in the film was that there's "apparently," in inverted commas, no proof that acupuncture works. Because there's no proof that acupuncture works, you can't get funding for research. And then because there's no research for acupuncture, there's no proof that acupuncture works.


A lot of the schools were shut down because of this and because of the science lobby. That's why people like Volker and other Chinese medicine researchers don't have that degree and can't do the PhD. And then-

Sibyl:

That's not quite right for Volker. I mean he brought in millions of funding for acupuncture, for Chinese medicine research.

Zoe Coldham:

Back in the heyday when you had the university still open, but now there's no university courses open in the UK, so that creates an issue.

Sibyl:

No courses in university, so that's a massive blow to developing the research infrastructure. Yes, absolutely. But I mean that's something they manage in the US. They manage to work in partnership with universities. But that's, again, the sort of research ignorance. The PhD research institute community here, there's not enough people who understand Chinese medicine in the way we're talking about to actually supervise, to run research programmes.


Hugh MacPherson managed to work through York University, which is in the same town as the college he set up. He already had a PhD, so he could become a director of an institute and get funding. That was at a time in the '90s when the government was actually putting money into research funding. So that's partly where Volker got money and Hugh MacPherson got money and various ...

About five places got seed funding to try and develop research. But then how they define research changed with this idea of evidence-based medicine, which is, to my way of thinking, useful in lots of respects, but in other respects slightly bonkers.

Mason:

Yeah. I-

Sibyl:

Nothing-

Mason:

Sorry.

Sibyl:

Sorry?

Mason:

I mean I'm bumping up against that, every time when I hear at the moment, "And that's where we're at." We're at nothing at university and evidence-based research, and that's where we're at.

Sibyl:

It sounds like, oh, yes, we want that, don't we? We want our evidence-based research. But when you actually go into what it means and what it leaves out and what the restrictions are, that to me is ... Qi's not the problem. We don't have a problem working with Qi, working with this and that. Actually, the mindset of evidence-based medicine, that, to me, is where the block is at the moment.

Mason:

Do you have a-

Sibyl:

Because they do it on education as well. They want evidence-based education, which means the way they research learning is trivial, basically. They don't do-

Mason:

Yeah, I don't know. I know what it's like to be in that community that understand why evidence-based medicine doesn't work for all modality.

Sibyl:

It's great for drugs.

Mason:

Yeah, great.

Sibyl:

Really useful for drugs. But hello, when did medicine get defined as drugs?

Zoe Coldham:

Well-

Sibyl:

It's a bit sad, isn't it?

Mason:

Do you all individually or as a group, do you have a real picture painted in terms of a vision? When the [inaudible 00:49:21] of the institutions fly, what is the vision? What can be best ascertained is going to be the way that it's going to look in 10 years or 50 years?

Sibyl:

What? The profession?

Mason:

The medicine alternative-

Sibyl:

Which institute?

Mason:

Having multiple medicines and having Chinese medicine available in the West, how it works within parallel. Do you feel like there's an inevitable vision?

Sibyl:

You go-

Zoe Coldham:

[inaudible 00:49:56] talked about Mike Cummings, who's one of the people we interview. He talked about, in the future, hopefully acupuncture is just a normal part of the steps you take in healthcare. So part of getting your checkups is acupuncture. That would be real integration, which I think is ideally what the profession is aiming for.

Sibyl:

I think so, yeah. It just makes sense because it works. It's effective. It's at a human scale. That's the bit of medicine that seems to be of Western medicine that's just falling off the cliff at the moment. Yes, they get more MRIs. Yes, they get this. Yes, they get that. They get more drugs. They test them well, all that stuff. But just the basic stuff, who's doing that? Acupuncturists, Chinese medicine, that's who's doing that.


Self-cultivation, just good dietary advice, mental health. Mental health's just got separated. I mean it's good that we now talk about mental health and think about mental health, but it's chopped off at the neck, isn't it? It doesn't connect to the body anymore. Nobody's seeing that you look after your body, you look after your mental health, that it's the same thing.


Your emotions are part of your system. They're all up here in your mental health somewhere, and I think that's really sad that-

Mason:

When you bring that up, I know I dive into a lot of the different factions of the Chinese medicine community, whether it's those within the universities, university students, professors, herbalists, those who are completely decentralised. But when you talk about mental health, it's happened a few times to me, it always makes me quite emotional.


Nothing unifies that entire medicine path because it's such a, well, of course, it's all connected and where it's so blatantly getting thrown at us that, as you said, it's like prawn medicine. Just rip the head off of someone's mental health issue and throw it over there. It's a real unifying issue for the Chinese medicine community, I find.

Sibyl:

Yeah, yeah. A lot of the people in the film ... Ray talked about that. Ray runs a group, in the film, the one working from the church doing with anxiety and trauma and just working with that community. There's a huge amount of that that could happen. There's loads of people who could do more of that given the opportunity. We've got issues about how they get paid, which I don't know how political you want to get about that.


A lot of people volunteer and will do things as a volunteer. But then other people think, well, we should get paid the same as that other person in that GP practise or whatever. So there's another dilemma. But these things all get, they just kind of wiggle their way through, I think, in some kind of way of-

Mason:

We don't have infinite spleen Qi to give, do we, at some point?

Sibyl:

No. No. Sadly. You can do a bit for a time. Everyone can do a bit for a time. Self-cultivation, you can't be in practise looking after people's health without looking after your own health. So you can't do it. You can't give it away forever.

Mason:

I feel highly inspired by the film. It was really nice for me. I really felt connected to the entirety of Chinese medicine as the journey, as I said. I think it's healthy to feel the different almost specialisations within Chinese medicine, but remember that it's the same. It is a one intent in medicine. That was really [inaudible 00:54:16] healing.

Zoe Coldham:

I think that's what we wanted to do. We wanted to ignite people's ... don't let them get disheartened by these issues. We wanted them to want to keep practising and keep persevering. I guess would you call it a fight? Perhaps, in the fight to be accepted into the healthcare system. We definitely didn't want people to feel disheartened by watching it.


I think as well, we wanted to bring in these explanations of what Chinese medicine really is and the philosophy behind it because I think if you're not a Chinese practitioner or you haven't studied Chinese medicine, that will be the gateway to acceptance and understanding is if you start to understand the language that Chinese medicine wraps itself around and you realise that it's just a different way of explaining experiences that we all have.


So that was a really big part of the film, as well as explaining the story of how it came from the East. We wanted to make sure people understand the philosophy.

Sibyl:

The reason it's not like Western medicine is because it isn't. It's its own thing. Its Eastern medicine. It's not a deficient form of Western medicine. That was a big important message. But one of the feedbacks Zoe got was the film, for practitioners, it inspires them to be proud of themselves and what they do. And for patients, it explains how the medicine works so that they know what's going on. I thought that was just a lovely point. That's exactly what we wanted to do.


I think Zoe's done a terrific job of finding the animator and the music that, Mason, you've already referred to that lightens and carries and keeps that thread and that Qi in the film, even with some of the stories that people are talking about. They're a bit frustrating or frustrated or cut off, and I think that's why the film works for me. I think that's pretty amazing, really, for Zoe to achieve that.

Mason:

I agree with all. I really enjoyed it. I'm really looking forward to our wider community watching the film. It's genuinely a different perspective, one that maybe we've ... It really colours in a perspective maybe we thought we had, but we had the very basics. We didn't have the full picture of just what is going into this journey.

So everyone, you've got to jump over into Vimeo and find Journey to the West. Journey to the West by Zoe Coldham. Is that how I pronounce your last name?

Zoe Coldham:

Yeah, that's great.

Mason:

There was something you just said there. I feel like I just want to point out, I've been really feeling the beauty. The frustrations come up a few times, I believe. Is Chinese medicine as a living thing, living being, whatever we want to call it, entity, like all living beings sometimes-

Sibyl:

I like thing.

Mason:

Thing.

Sibyl:

I think thing is a great word.

Mason:

Demystifies it a little bit. It's nice to just sit with that. In an individual body, if you've got frustration, then there's clues and things that's going to point out what you need to do next in order to go through your next stage of evolution. It seems like that's a particular one the entirety of Chinese medicine is feeling, of course. If you look under the frustration, it's not necessarily just frustration.

Sibyl:

No, it's not. Absolutely not.

Mason:

So that's one of the things that I wanted to point out is I got out of this.

Sibyl:

I mean there's millions of stories we could have told. But to me, one of the aims for me and my side of the film was to just capture the story so far and be inspiring enough to the next generation. Say, "Okay, it's over to you. This is where we're at. Have a think about where you guys are going to take this next, and just be inspired." Because it's that other Yin Yang thing. You've got to inspire other people to do the next thing.

Mason:

Yeah. I really do compliment you on that. It's an intention that I guess wasn't obvious to me, but I felt anyway. I was like, "Well done." Got the water Qi moving. So the [inaudible 00:59:20], the willingness to take on responsibility was definitely felt.

Sibyl:

Yeah. Without beating them over the head and saying, "What are you doing? You should be ..."

Zoe Coldham:

The sentiment-

Mason:

It seems like you understand Chinese medicine if you're taking that approach. Sorry, Zoe.

Zoe Coldham:

No, I was just going to say the sentiment really was look at all this amazing work that has been done and now here's the work that still needs to be done. I guess that's in a nutshell.

Sibyl:

Yeah, yeah. This is where we're at. And also, I mean they're all so different the, what is it, six or eight people in that film that we interview. They're not a bunch of clones, are they? They're so different, the one from the other. They don't always agree, but they have a common purpose and a common intention, and they're working on it.


I agree with you totally, Mason. There are other people and lots of people I know and graduates of our school who work quite independently, quite quietly on their own thing. We need all of those kinds of people. But we also need some people to work in the more public arena and to work with institutions. Because on one level you could say, why should anybody? Why should a university or a ... I mean a college, if it's set up by a practitioner, then that's why they do that.


But why should another group take this on? It's up to you to convince them or give them something that's formed enough and got a vision enough for them to buy into. I think that works at the institutional level as well. I mean that's what practitioners do with their patients. They say, "Look, this is where we can go. This is how I understand you. This is what I think we can do." They take them on that journey, and it's the same.


It's all the microcosm/macrocosm just at the individual and the group level, I think. So I live in hope. I can't see that anything as valuable and as effective as Chinese medicine is going to just drop off the cliff, as it were. These things come up again.

Mason:

I agree. It's the weed that the monocrop doesn't know it's wanting.

Sibyl:

Yes. The monocrop is the massive problem. It's a very good analogy for the educational sector. I mean universities here, I think Australia went through it some years ago, but they're very sad places at the moment not just in terms of Chinese medicine. In terms of just about everything, they're very sad places, and that will change.

Mason:

[inaudible 01:02:33]. It absolutely will. I agree. You can't help but have hope when you're working with something like this. Thank you so much, and congratulations on the project to both of you. It must have been really nice to work together on something like this as well.

Sibyl:

Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Zoe Coldham:

It's been great to talk about as well.

Mason:

Yeah. I really am excited to hear the feedback from everyone watching the film. So is that right? Everyone, if they can just go head ... We'll have the links in the descriptions and all over the place. But if you just want to jump over now to Vimeo, Journey to the West, that'll pop up there? Is that the easiest way?

Zoe Coldham:

Yeah, that's right.

Sibyl:

It's only an hour.

Zoe Coldham:

It's vimeo.com/ondemand/journeytothewest.

Mason:

Amazing. Good night, Sibyl. Good night, Zoe. Thank you so much. And-

Sibyl:

Good morning, Zoe.

Mason:

Good morning, Zoe. Sorry. Hopefully, speak to you again.

Zoe Coldham:

Thank you.

Sibyl:

Thank you. It's been great. Thanks very much.

 

 

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