Gerad Kite is an acupuncturist with a list of famous patients as long as your arm. But be warned if you’re tempted to join them – after a few sessions with him life can change in all sorts of ways.
Gerad Kite looks like a sharply dressed businessman, jacket off in the aftermath of an important meeting. Once upon time, 20 years ago, when he was running his own successful travel company in San Francisco, that is what he was. 'I was only interested in making money at the time. I was very stressed. I was working too hard. I was drinking too much.’ A self-confessed sceptic when it came to all things 'alternative’, Kite found himself going along with a friend for a session of classical five-element acupuncture. The next day he shut down his business. He says it took him a long time to make the connection between the two events, but by then he was already training in so-called five element himself.
Today Kite, 48, runs arguably the most lauded acupuncture clinic in the country, tucked away above the boutiques of Bond Street in London. The majority of people who come to see him have been diagnosed with 'unexplained infertility’, which Kite says 'seems to be the health issue of our time’. But others – including many famous names – arrive with a wide range of problems, from depression to addiction to headaches to a vague feeling that 'something isn’t quite right’.
In fact, five element embraces such uncertainty in a way that Western medicine, with its rigorously systemic approach, is unable to. 'Five element came out of the Taoist tradition, which was based on how the Chinese related to nature, how they understood the link between what was happening in the outside world and the interior one. They were also interested in the uniqueness of the individual: the idea that if you are fulfilling your destiny, being true to who you are, you will stay well.’
These days in Britain it is traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) that is the more common form of acupuncture, but this was only brought in by the Communists. 'They looked at the existing system of medicine and thought, “We need an approach that is Westernized, where we look at distinct symptoms and have distinct remedies for those symptoms.” Basically, cause and effect.’
How does the five-element approach differ? 'We note a patient’s symptoms, but they don’t support our diagnosis , or determine how we set out to help. They are simply alarm bells of distress. Instead we are interested in how the person presents, in how they are – how they look physically, how they smell, how they sound, their emotional state. It is like the medieval idea of the “humours”. It is about sensing how a person is out of balance. The idea with five element was that you treat people in advance of them getting sick. When someone is properly sick it is often too late.’