Kaptchuk earned his Doctorate of Oriental Medicine after five years of study in China in 1975. After returning to the United States, he was clinical director of the Pain Unit at Boston's Lemuel Shattuck Hospital. In 1990, he accepted a position as the associate director of the Center for Alternative Medicine Research and Education at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. In 2011, he became Director of the Harvard-wide Program in Placebo Studies and the Therapeutic Encounter, hosted at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.
Kaptchuk has been an expert panelist for the FDA, served on numerous NIH panels, and worked as a medical writer for the BBC. He has authored over 175 peer-reviewed publications.