Interview with Dr. Bettina Brill at Shen Healing Chinese Medicine

Dr. Bettina Brill
 Co-Founder of Shen Healing
 Co-Editor of The Lantern Journal of Chinese Medicine
 Lecturer at Southern School of Natural Therapies
 Ph.D. Sc; BHSc (Chinese Medicine)

 HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN PRACTISING? 
27 years. Michael and I established Shen Healing in 1990 in Carlton and we have been here ever since. 

 HOW DID YOU GET INVOLVED IN CHINESE MEDICINE AND WHAT DREW YOU TO IT? 
The first time I came across Chinese herbs and acupuncture was when I came to Australia. I was working on my Ph.D. and I was at the computer all the time and had really sore shoulders. There was an integrated medical doctor in Newcastle, and he prescribed strange-looking herbs and twigs for me to boil up for my shoulder. However, what really got me into it (Chinese Medicine) was once I moved to Melbourne and got into martial arts. I started to study a bit of Chinese philosophy and massage; I also met Michael, my partner, who was doing acupuncture. That was all a really long time ago [laughs]. Then we went to China in the early 1990s and spent some time there. When I came back I studied with several practitioners. I spent 5 years at Steven Clavey’s clinic. In those days we didn’t have a comprehensive course in Chinese Medicine. We certainly didn’t have any at the university level. Students don’t know how lucky they are today. Eventually, I ended up going to Victoria University to get my Bachelor’s Degree. 

IT IS INTERESTING HOW A LOT OF PEOPLE COME TO CHINESE MEDICINE THROUGH MARTIAL ARTS. 
Yes. I guess that is because it is a part of the philosophy, the whole package of Chinese Medicine; taking care of one’s self, practicing yang sheng. 

YOU SAID YOU WERE STUDYING PRIOR TO ALL OF THIS? 
I have a background in science. I came down originally to work at Melbourne University and then discovered Chinese Medicine. 

WHAT ARE THE BIGGEST CHANGES YOU HAVE SEEN IN YOUR YEARS OF PRACTICE? 
Definitely registration. First registration in Victoria, and then later nationally with AHPRA, that was a huge step, a huge change, and that has been really good. Also, the public is more aware of Chinese Medicine now and in general has a great deal of confidence; they know that if they see a practitioner they have to be registered and are properly educated. Another big change is now we have courses at university. That wasn’t available in the early days, so as a result we have lots of good practitioners that are really well educated. There are a lot more resources too, lots of good textbooks. You could almost say there are too many, do we actually have time to read them all [laughs]. Also journals, I will put my own little plug here [laughs]. I would like to mention our own Australian journal The Lantern. 

SO DID YOU DID YOU DO A MASTER-APPRENTICE STYLE OF LEARNING INITIALLY? 
I went to China and basically got an introduction there. Then when I came back I studied with different schools. I originally studied with Gary Seifert in Sydney; he has passed away now, unfortunately. I studied western science subjects with Health Schools Australia. At the same time, I was doing an apprenticeship with Steve Clavey. It took many years, much longer than it would take nowadays, but you had all that time to absorb, it’s actually not a bad way. Eventually, I went on to study my Bachelor’s Degree and fill in all the gaps. I guess it took around 8-10 years in total, all while practicing and learning. 

WHAT ARE THE BIGGEST CHALLENGES YOU FACE IN-CLINIC? 
I would say the biggest challenge for practitioners is the business side. For people starting out that can be difficult as they are not quite prepared for it. You have all this knowledge you want to apply, but there are all these restrictions on how you can advertise. You can’t really tell your patients all you can do for them. So that is a bit tricky. We are fortunate to have been around for a long time and get most of our patients via word of mouth, but for new practitioners, I can imagine that it is very difficult. 

WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR TCM STUDENTS AND GRADUATES? 
I  recommend having a part-time job when you start out. This takes a lot of the pressure off and it gives you time to learn and set yourself up. I also think it is important to keep in contact with other graduates so you have support. Don’t get discouraged. I would also say don’t move away from raw herbs. There is a movement of people using prepared medicines because they view raw herbs as too difficult, but patient compliance is actually quite good. Patients will take the herbs when you explain to them how to take them and what they are for. Keep the true medicine alive, don’t move away from it. And don’t get downhearted, it is hard at times but it is also a great lifestyle choice. Remember why you chose Chinese medicine in the first place. 

WHAT WOULD BE ONE OF YOUR FAVOURITE HERBS OR FORMULAS? 
I have to talk about at least three; I can’t just say one because I love formulas. Formulae are the favorite subject that I lecture at school. I really love Li Dong-Yuan’s Bu Zhong Yi Qi Tang. It is a great formula for digestive problems, which lots of people have, but I also use it for menopause sometimes. Another one is a gynecological formula by Zhang Xi Chun, Gu Chong Tang. That formula works a treat with the right patient to stop heavy bleeding. My favorite formulas, however, are the Wen Bing formulas. I really love Wen Bing, the warm disease theory. I can’t pinpoint one formula, it is more the theory, individual herbs and the general approach. It works so well for our climate and also for lots of skin problems that we have here. Finally, how good is Gui Zhi Tang! My favorite herb is Ji Xue Teng. 

WHAT DO YOU THINK THE BIGGEST ISSUES CURRENTLY INVOLVING CHINESE MEDICINE ARE? 
We do have problems. I think the biggest one at the moment is the restriction of advertising. Chinese Medicine is again under pressure, but it has been under pressure over the dynasties. It has always come out and survived. So I am sure we will survive this one as well. It’s an international issue. When I was in Europe recently I met quite a few practitioners and they are under pressure over there as well. Here we are very lucky because we are registered, so we have a professional body that gives us some degree of protection. The other issue is the accessibility of herbs. I think there is a need to protect our herbs and I think importers and researchers need to get behind that, to make sure our herbs remain accessible to us. Slowly one after the other, we have seen herbs vanishing and I think that’s a danger. So I think those are the biggest issues, but Chinese Medicine is resilient and I am sure it can get past these. 

 HOW DO YOU SEE CHINESE MEDICINE EVOLVING IN THE FUTURE? 
Well, there are good things happening too, so it’s not all negative. The Epworth Hospital is going to have a section in Box Hill with Chinese Medicine in the near future. This will open up Chinese Medicine to the general public in a hospital setting. That’s good, good for the public, good for us. Hopefully, that will lead to more research, which is needed, especially in herbal medicine. I think that’s definitely the direction of the future. I also think young practitioners need to have a voice. They need to go out there and represent Chinese Medicine, defend Chinese Medicine and fight for our medicine to stay alive. One way of doing that is to keep using the medicine, using the herbs, don’t abandon them for convenience. We also need to stay united as practitioners and keep our lobby strong.
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