The holistic discourse and formalising education of non-medically qualified acupuncturists and homeopaths in England
: an in depth, qualitative study

  • Assaf Givati

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


The holistic discourse‘ is a central identification mark of acupuncture and homeopathy practice. The term holism reflects much of the critique of biomedicine as reductionist, dualistic and oppressive, and, as such, has been used to distance these therapies from conventional medicine. However, in recent years, acupuncturists and homeopaths in the UK have become increasingly engaged in professionalization, including the formalisation of their education. These efforts to move closer to the mainstream call into question the role of holism in the representation of acupuncture and homeopathy practice.
The overarching aim of this research study is to explore the way that Non Medically Qualified (NMQ) acupuncturists and homeopaths in England, as part of their efforts to professionalise and formalise their educational structures, negotiate holistic concepts that are embedded in their theory, practice and discourses. The thesis firstly considers the meanings that the two practitioner groups attach to the rather fluid concept of ‗holism‘. It then moves on to examine how the holistic discourse is negotiated during the process of formalising education including the teaching of courses in Higher Education Institutions (HEIs).
The thesis is the product of an in-depth, qualitative inquiry. Several data sets were used in this research: (1) Twenty-five in-depth interviews with acupuncturists and homeopaths in London and the South of England, including practitioners who are school principals and lecturers; (2) Participant observation of teaching a research methods unit in a BSc (Hons) Acupuncture in a private school for Chinese medicine; (3) A review of practitioners‘ professional websites, of professional bodies‘ educational and practice documents, and of 27 acupuncture and homeopathy course syllabi; and (4) Two non-participant observations of a day in an acupuncture practice and a day in a homeopathy practice.
The findings from this research study show that NMQ acupuncturists and homeopaths still make frequent use of the term holism‘ as part of the representation of their practice.
Nevertheless, their holistic discourse appears to be mostly focused on individuals and their immediate environment, a discourse which can be described as wider self‘ holism, with little awareness of the relationships of patients with their broad environment, these relationships being described as wider world holism. Crucially, the holistic discourse which is interwoven in acupuncture and homeopathy‘s philosophy, theory and practice, is a dynamic discourse, influenced by political and societal factors surrounding these therapies, as well as by the dynamics within the therapies themselves. This research study demonstrates the way practitioners ‘narrow’ and ‘expand’ their holistic narratives and practices according to the challenges that they face during the process of professionalising and formalising their education, as well as in relation to their consumers‘ expectations. This research study suggests that the way by which practitioners often negotiate the tension that exists between increasing formalisation and the unique nature of their expert knowledge, can be described as ‘pragmatic holism’ through which practitioners try and make gains from the formalisation process, without losing their holistic approach and appeal. Furthermore, the entrance of HEIs to the teaching of acupuncture and homeopathy courses seems to have accentuated some of the tensions that are part of the formalisation process, but it may also offer opportunities to increase practitioners‘ critical reflectivity in relation to their holistic discourses and practices and to expand their wider world holistic awareness.
Date of AwardDec 2012
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Portsmouth
SupervisorAnn Dewey (Supervisor), Tara Dean (Supervisor) & Kieron Hatton (Supervisor)

Cite this