BY HARIATI AZIZAN
PAUL Koh was seeing to his 90th patient for the day when it hit him. “Patients were just not getting better, especially those suffering from chronic ailments like asthma, high-blood pressure and diabetes. Most of the time they die from the complications.”
At that time Koh was working as a medical assistant at a government health centre where he saw 80 to 100 patients a day. To say that he became disillusioned with conventional methods of treatment was an understatement. So, when he met a herbalist teacher from the Natural Harmony School of Medicine, he realised there were other ways of treating these diseases, and became interested in alternative medicine.
Now Koh is not only a qualified herbalist but also an eyologist, colon therapist and Bowen therapist. Having practised herbology for more than 10 years, Koh divides his time between two natural health centres in the Klang Valley – the Natural Therapy Centre in Taman Tun Dr Ismail, and Remedy, a holistic therapy centre in Subang Jaya.
The knowledge is far from new, he explains, but people have been sceptical of alternative or natural medicine practitioners, seeing them as quack doctors. However, with increased awareness and information, public acceptance has grown.
“First of all people have to realise that alternative medicine as it is called is merely a coined term. It is called alternative because it is not taught in medical schools. The preferred term would be complementary medicine because it can improve on existing conventional methods,” Koh says.
“It is also good timing now for the field as there are increasingly good opportunities, particularly with government support for the field,” he adds.
Excitement has been gripping the local natural medicine industry in the past couple of years with the recent recognition from the government, which has led to steps to regulate the industry.
Yam Cher Seng, the director of Natural Therapy Centre, concurs. “The government backing could not have come at a better time.”
In Europe and Australia, she says, conventional doctors have always practised complementary medicine, often with a high success rate.
“The two methods share similar objectives, which is to treat patients and make them better. The only difference is the philosophy, where conventional medicine looks at the physical cause while complementary medicine looks at the whole person – spirit, mind and body. It treats the person as a whole,” Yam explains.
A recent Newsweek article reported that nearly half of all American adults choose complementary medicine for some of their health care, spending some US$600mil (RM2.28bil) a year.
“This is happening in Malaysia too as there are many doctors who are going for further courses to complement their conventional practice. Many of the medical universities are incorporating natural science in their programmes because more and more patients are seeking complementary medicine. Doctors realise they have to at least understand it,” adds Yam.
She feels that this acknowledgement is good for the industry since “it will reduce the misconception of the so-called quackery. With the regulation, meanwhile, unqualified practitioners can be sieved out.”
Eventually, “it will no longer be a second choice or the last resort in patients’ health care -- when all else has failed,” he predicts.
What does a herbalist do?
Basically, a herbalist uses different herbs as remedies to treat people, instead of drugs or even vitamins. With a new patient, we take their history – medical and family – to find out their problem. This is important because that information can help identify their malady and the source of the illness.
As I also do iridology and sclerology, I sometimes look at the white and the black of the eye to pinpoint the problem before making a prescription. Now, I also have scientific equipment to do diagnosis. After diagnosing the disease, I make a prescription.
I also prepare my own herbs, like tongkat Ali, which you can’t get anywhere else except in Malaysia. At the centre we have more than 200 types of herbs from various places, local and overseas.
The patients I see vary from those with skin problems to infertility and cancer.
What are the qualifications for the job?
Science knowledge is important. When you do herbal studies you’d need to learn pharmacognosy which includes the study of plant species and their medical ingredients. Courses vary, but in my case I took a Diploma in Natural Hygiene which is a one-year course in anatomy and physiology before moving on to herbal studies for another two years.
The main philosophy of herbal medicine is that our body has got its own capabilities to heal itself. By giving herbs we are aiding the process.
After quitting government service, I got myself enrolled at Natural Harmony School of Medicine. Unfortunately the school has closed now (but the health centre is still operating in Damansara Heights). I then took courses in other natural treatments.
After learning about herbal medicine, I went to Los Angeles to pick up colon hydrotherapy. Two years later, I went to Australia to pick up Bowen therapy.
I felt that I need to be more well-rounded. Sometimes herbal medicine will take longer to work, so you need to resort to other treatment such as cleaning the system.
I also link up with other practitioners in Australia and Britain where they do a lot of research and attend international conferences to keep up with the latest findings.
What kind of personality is suitable for the job? You have to be caring as you are looking after people's health. You must also be interested in plants and herbs.
Describe a typical day at work.
On average I see six to seven patients a day. I start at nine and as I have two clinics, I divide my time between the two. It depends on the type of patients too. Each patient takes about an hour. If it is a new patient then it’s consultation only but if it’s a patient who is having on-going treatment, then I will start from where I left off.
What's the best part of your work?
I like the challenge of difficult problems. Patients come from diverse medical backgrounds with a lot of different problems. The harder the problem the better it is for me. If I can help any patient overcome their illness and attain a better life that will be enough.
And the worst?
What I hate most is when people come and see me but don’t continue their treatment.
They don’t have the patience or understanding. Now, many think that when they get a headache, it can be cleared instantly. You take one pill and it is cured, but not in herbal medicine.
A serious problem can take a year to be healed or at least a month for the herbs to start showing some visible effects.
What are the career prospects?
You can live comfortably and if you work really hard and see many patients you can make a lot of money. Earnings can range from RM5,000 per month for an established practitioner. Some can even make up to RM20,000 per month.
Now that the government is supportive, there are many good opportunities for those interested in the field. We are still considered as an alternative – second choice when nothing works – but actually, we work very well in certain areas such as chronic and degenerative diseases where mainstream medicine doesn’t work well. And with future regulation we will gain more respectability.
Different types of natural therapy
Naturopathy: The treatment of disease without drugs usually involving diet, exercise and massage.
Eyology: Comprises iridology and sclerology which is the study of one’s personal health from the person’s eyes.
Bowen therapy: Massage-like treatment that stimulates the energy flow and activates the body’s natural healing abilities.
Aromatherapy: Thee use of aromatic plant extracts and essential oils in massage or other treatment.
Osteopathy: The treatment of medical conditions by manipulation and massage of the skeleton and musculature.
Colon Hydrotherapy: Cleansing of the colon to activate the body’s self-healing process.
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