A study on the nature of intuition and its possible role in the practice of Chinese medicine

By Richard Chamberlain


Intuition is referred to in the ancient classical texts as well as in modern Chinese medical books. It is believed to be a property of the Hun and connects the Water and Fire elements. Within western medicine, intuition is considered part of an experienced nurse's repertoire. Modern spiritual writers regard intuition as a link with an individuals higher self and soul and this communication is through the emotions. Intuition is therefore, very much an emotional response compared with the more reasoned and logical response of cognitive thought.

To understand how intuition features in acupuncture practice and what practitioners understand by intuition, a questionnaire was sent to a sample of members from the British Acupuncture Council and British Medical Acupuncture Society. Practitioners were selected from five cities, Edinburgh, York, Brighton, Bath and Norwich. These cities represented an even geographical spread across the UK. Ninety-four practitioners were sent the questionnaire and fifty-five were returned (58% response). Forty-nine practitioners (89%) said that they were aware of intuitive thoughts whilst carrying out their practice.

Six practitioners were selected for an in depth interview. This explored in detail how intuition featured in practice. Practitioners were invited to put forward their own views on intuition, its value, use and mechanism.

Combining responses from the questionnaire with reflections from the interview several conclusions about intuition and its place in Chinese medicine can be reached. There is a link and communication with an external body of wisdom. This can inform the practitioner about aspects of a patient's condition and treatment. Practitioners would experience this as an emotional reaction or feeling that was distinct from a rational thought. Practitioners felt that intuition was a natural phenomenon and a normal aspect of being a human being.

The majority of practitioners thought intuition has a place in the practice of Chinese medicine. Combined with a sound theoretical knowledge intuition was considered by these practitioners to be of value within the clinical setting.