[Interview] Henry McGrath

Henry McGrath studied oriental medicine for nine years, obtaining diplomas in shiatsu, acupuncture and herbal medicine.

He is currently the Acupuncture Course Director and Academic Director for the College of Naturopathic Medicine and has undertaken clinical placements in the Herbal Medicine Oncology Departments of several Chinese hospitals in Nanjing and Beijing.

Henry is an Orthodox Christian and is interested in the links between religion and medicine. He currently runs his own private practice and works at Penny Brohn Cancer Care.

He lives in Bristol, UK.

His books include The Traditional Chinese Medicine Workbook (College of Naturopathic Medicine, 2007) and Traditional Chinese Medicine Approaches to Cancer: Harmony in the Face of the Tiger (Singing Dragon, 2009).

Why did you first become interested in Traditional Chinese Medicine?

I’ve been interested in Eastern culture ever since childhood. I started yoga when I was about 18, then martial arts, and soon became interested in Eastern philosophy. I started studying shiatsu, Japanese pressure point massage, when I was about 26, and this led on to acupuncture and Chinese herbs.

How can Traditional Chinese Medicine complement the approach to cancer in the West?

Western medicine focuses on the illness, whereas Chinese medicine focuses on the person.

The West looks at the detail, the Chinese look at the “big picture”.

Western medicine tends to see human person as a machine, whereas Chinese medicine sees the human as an integrated entity of body and spirit, intimately related to his surroundings. Disease is always a reflection of an imbalance of the whole organism, and even of the whole of creation.

In your new book Traditional Chinese Medicine Approaches to Cancer, you talk about qi and how strong qi can protect us from illness. How can we improve the strength of our qi?

Good quality food. Exercise. Fresh air. Cultivating harmony with those around us and with the planet. Most important of all, spiritual development. In Chinese medicine spirit influences qi.

What changes can we make in our diets to enhance our health?

Perhaps surprisingly, I would say the most important thing is not to become obsessive about food. Relish your food, enjoy every mouthful. Eat lots of organic food, without being fussy about it. Eat a little of everything. Give thanks for food, say grace whenever you eat. Fast sometimes, but in a spiritual context, rather than purely for health reasons. For example, in our Orthodox Christian tradition we abstain from animal products during Lent, and on Wednesdays and Fridays. This transforms one’s relationship with food.

What can Traditional Chinese Medicine hope to teach doctors in the West about person-centred care?

A lot of GPs I speak to recognise that it is very important to build a relationship with patients: I would encourage them in this.

It is one of the tragedies of the NHS that many doctors' surgeries are moving to a team system, whereby the individual relationship between a patient and a certain doctor is lost. Patients like to feel that someone knows them properly.

People seem aware of the depersonalising effects of Western medicine, but nobody seems to be doing anything about it. With something like cancer, the GP could be the person who takes care of the patient through the whole confusing process, at present there is often nobody who does this.

I think it is very positive to see medical students learn something about complementary medicine: I recently had two trainee doctors spend a day with me in my clinic and receive a treatment as part of their training. They were both very inspired and said they saw the human in a very different way. Perhaps more doctors could visit us and talk to our patients about their experience of complementary medicine.

(c) Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2010

This article was first published in the
Singing Dragon Newsletter in September 2009

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