In just over a month, on March 9th, the 2012, 2-year Graduate Mentorship Program will begin.  This is the 6th time this course has been offered.  The program is almost full with 40 new participants and 18 past students taking it again.   The reason we can accommodate this number of students is that the course is not only live. Many of these students are taking the course from their homes in places like California, Vancouver or Texas. The course is also live-streamed AND it is filmed and broken down into weekly shorts.  This option to take the course in small increments is available to all registrants.  I’ve designed the program this way in accordance with the wisdom written about by Annie Lamott in her wonderful book on the writing craft Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life.  I’ve learned over time that a three-day weekend is wonderful.  It gives students a chance to sink into and immerse themselves in a topic.  In a way, spending this time is like being on retreat.  Letting go of the work-a-day world to swim in the material allows the material to seep in and become part of you.  However, the weekends are full of details that can easily be forgotten.  There are so many times I have attended a weekend course, feeling that I absorbed so much and then – reviewing my notes later – I feel astounded at all the details I forgot….Completely!

With this in mind, the Graduate Mentorship Program offers both the three-day weekends (8 of them altogether) and then, in addition, offers the weekend repeated bit by bit, in weekly assignments. These assignments involve watching about a 1 hour video presentation that has been edited from footage of the class – with questions in mind to think about for the week.  As the weekends progress, flashcards are also there to review diagnosis and formulas. This way, taken in small doses, the material becomes very digestible.  There will be questions and ideas for students to write about in our forum.

Another important aspect of the Graduate Mentorship Program is the community that gets created among us all in relation to the medicine.  This community is created only in part by meeting each other in person at White Pine Institute.  It is also created through the the “tea house” – like forum that is formed for the students of the program.  I take this idea of a tea house from Michael Max’s vision of his blog/journal Junkyard Daoist.  He writes “Junkyard more like a teahouse.  A place where people gather, linger, discuss, argue and share in the company of those with similar interests and perhaps very different minds.  In this way maybe we can better understand our craft”. The resource are for the Graduate Mentorship Program is just this kind of cyber-teahouse dedicated to the participants of the program.  It is a place in which we can all discuss the weekends and weekly assignments, bring case questions, grapple with conceptual conundrums and share our success stories.

One of the really wonderful aspects of this Graduate Mentorship Program teahouse (I’ll have to give the teahouse a name…..any ideas?)  is the virtual library it houses.  As we are having our lively conversations any one can walk over to the library and take out an article or show us a video to further illustrate their idea.  Yes, we have a voluminous “Student Library” that is available only to participants (past and present).  The library houses institutional subscriptions and back issues of many major journals such as The Lantern, and  The Journal of Chinese Medicine.  It also gives students access to many online courses and subscription only web-sites such as Classical Chinese Medicine, Hun Yuan Research Institute and World Acupuncture.  These rich resources, full of wonderful articles and videos, are used in the program and are available only to students.

What is this “material” we work with in the Graduate Mentorship Program?  What is the program about?  What is learned?  The foundation of the course is diagnosis.  Most of our initial Chinese medical education involves learning techniques, herbs and formulas while not emphasizing our ability to see and synthesize the key diagnosis that can unlock the knots of disharmony.  We learn to gather information from our patients through a variety of methods – touching, asking, seeing, hearing etc. – but how do we process this information so it leads us to very clear and effective treatments? Also, we want to make sure our gathering of information is mindful and skilled. In this program we revisit touching diagnosis with a strong abdominal and pulse diagnosis component.  We also revisit asking diagnosis with new concepts for how to question and new ears to hear the answers.  We revisit looking diagnosis with new eyes for seeing the constitution of our patients, their skin, their eyes and their tongues.  Then we learn to take the bag full in information and see the core simple mechanisms at play that explain the plethora of minutia.

When our diagnosis is clear and well articulated, determining the correct treatment follows rather seamlessly.  Proper diagnosis is also our best way to insure safety in our work.  When we are confident that our diagnosis is accurate, we can easily stand behind stronger and more focused methods, herbs and formulas. In fact, it is impossible to really understand herb and formulas without the ability to deeply diagnose.

It is for this reason that, during the first weekends of the Graduate Mentorship Program, the focus is on diagnostic skills.

Good diagnostic skills can only develop when the practitioner has a deep and dynamic understanding of physiology.  Physiology is the description of how the healthy body works.  If we don’t understand physiology and rather have a sort of cut and dry method of categorizing symptoms, we will inevitably jump to muddled conclusions.  How can it be that Yang or Qi deficiency can lead to hot flashes?  How can a purgative formula allow the blood to rebuild?  How can warming be a foundation for supplementing Yin?  We cannot understand these ideas without a deep understanding of how things work.  If we only enrich Yin for hot flashes, nourish blood for blood deficiency and give Yin enriching herbs for Yin deficiency, we will have fairly mediocre results.  When we understand the relationships between Yin, Yang, Qi, Blood, Up, Down, Inside, Outside, Wet, Dry etc. our diagnosis can find the key knot that inhibits the dynamic of health and the treatment will follow naturally. For this reason, this course teaches classic physiology, taking that which students have learned in school and seeing it in a dynamic and integrated frame of reference.

We then take these skills and this clarity into various areas of medicine.

Because my own experience, both studying in China and in my own practice has had an emphasis on women’s health, this emphasis is reflected in the Graduate Mentorship Program. We bring our diagnostic skills into the treatment of women through menarche, fertility, pregnancy, postpartum and menopause. However, once our diagnostic skills are grounded, our ability to understand and work flexibly and accurately with formulas increases by leaps and bounds.  We can apply these skills in other areas as well.  So, the course also takes students into the world of classic and experiential formulas as they apply to digestive issues, respiratory issues and the areas of medicine we see so frequently, working with cancer patients and patients with “modern illnesses” such as hypertension, diabetes etc.

Throughout, we develop our ability to understand diseases through the lens of our good diagnosis rather than trying to match our patient to a formula or disease factor in a book.  Rather than treating diseases directly, we learn to treat the person who is suffering so that their natural healthy dynamic – that in itself resolves disease – is returned.

As we apply our perceptive/diagnostic skills to these areas of medicine, students are given handouts that eventually become a library of clinical reference.  Many past students use the notebooks from these classes as a key reference in their clinics.  These handouts are well organized to provide clarity in diagnosis and treatment.  In addition, there is a plethora of supplemental material on each topic.  This material includes discussions and case studies that has been translated by Sharon and is not available any where else.  The study is brought to life by the vast experience of our predecessors.

For the first time, the Graduate Mentorship Program includes an acupuncture component.  In the early part of the program a basis for integrating acupuncture concepts with our herbal diagnostic skills is formed.  There is a strong emphasis here on palpation diagnosis.  As we look at formulas, we will consistently discuss acupuncture corollaries.

If you would like to read what others have said about the program, we have a testimonial page.   There are also plenty of previous participants who would be happy to discuss their experiences.  I welcome any questions.