Treatment of mental-emotional conditions is one of my specialties as an acupuncturist. The mind and spirit have always been a major interest of mine.
I commonly treat people for anxiety and depression in my acupuncture clinic. Many with great success. Some people come to me for acute disturbances: anxiety and depression occurring after a breakup, the death of a family member, loss of a job. Others come for chronic generalized anxiety, depression, even panic disorder and addictions: conditions that they’ve dealt with for many years.
I would like to share some success stories from my acupuncture clinic. I’d also like to explain the strategies and treatments I’ve used that have led to relief and healing within my patients.
Some of the most dramatic instances I’ve witnessed in my acupuncture clinic have been through the use of treatments that release heartbreak or trauma from the past. This is a philosophical description of the treatment strategy employed. Essentially, this is what the treatment does. From a more physiological perspective, the strategy used to alleviate anxiety and depression that is coming from unresolved experiences from the past is to open the chest and circulate the blood (working with the heart and lungs), clear heat from the chest agitating the spirit, and calm the mind. With longterm chronic mental-emotional conditions, the abdomen and digestive system must also be addressed.
To the ancient Chinese, emotional disturbances are attributed to a “weak mind.” The mind and digestive system are closely linked in Chinese medicine. Any type of trauma or situation we have difficulty resolving mentally can damage both the digestive system and the mind.
Unresolved emotions create inflammation in the stomach. Ulcers are often the result of longterm mental-emotional stress. Inflammation consumes digestive energy used to metabolize food and drink. Phlegm results from improperly digested food. This can take the form of candida, weight gain (fat) or sluggishness (both mentally and physically). The lungs and heart receive their energy from the digestive system. Weakness in the abdomen can also lead to respiratory and cardiovascular problems, as well as depression and anxiety.
Weakness in the digestive system also weakens our ability to process our thoughts. Weakness in the lungs and heart disallow us from letting things go. We may feel weighed down by the heaviness in our chest. Things become “stuck” in the chest. Circulation of blood is is impeded, leading to many types of physical and mental-emotional symptoms.
Patient 1 came to me complaining of depression that he’d experienced since the break up of his marriage with his wife several years before. He had a feeling of being stuck, unable to move on. He was resentful with very low spirits. He couldn’t seem to meet anyone new. He had insomnia, fatigue, digestive problems (bloating, weight gain), as well as an overall lack of joy.
I diagnosed Patient 1 through assessing his pulses. The pulse is the most common way of diagnosing in Chinese Medicine. He had a pulse quality showing blood stagnation in the chest, and accumulation of dampness in the abdomen. There was, in addition, a special pulse quality suggesting there was an unresolved trauma that had essentially caused him to feel “suspended in time.” This pulse quality presents as a very uneasy vibrating feeling on the deep level of the pulse.
Physiologically, I knew Patient 1 needed his digestive system to be strengthened, and the blood in the chest to be moved. The dampness in the abdomen was causing the sluggishness, fatigue, obsessive thinking, weight gain and bloating. The blood stagnation in his chest was causing the low spirits, insomnia and inability to move on in his life.
The ideal for all treatment is to discern the root of the problem and treat it. My diagnostic findings led me to believe it was the trauma and unresolved emotions around his divorce that caused his emotional and physical problems. The special pulse I found is often associated with difficulty moving from one stage of life into the next. The person becomes stuck in time, unable to move on to the next “stage.” A trauma can commonly cause this. It’s almost like being hit by a car. The shock can stagnate the blood.
Mental trauma can have the same effect on the body as physical trauma. Being “hit” by a shock of any kind can cause the blood to become stuck, leading to physical or emotional pain, as anything that is stuck in the body will cause pain. The obsessiveness that results (as we try to figure out what happened) creates inflammation in the stomach which ultimately weakens the digestive system.
The first treatment with Patient 1 was dramatic in its effects. I treated an acupuncture channel associated with the special “trauma” pulse I found. Acupuncture points were chosen that moved the blood in his chest (relating to being traumatized and stuck in time). I also chose points to bring energy back into the abdomen, which encouraged it to rise into the chest.
From the acupuncture treatment, the patient had a major emotional release, shedding tears almost immediately. After the tears, the patient became very calm and fell asleep for some time. When he woke, he reported feeling a sensation of lightness in his chest and clarity of the mind he’d not felt in years. I explained that the effects of the treatment would continue for several days. I advised him to return the following week so I could assess the effects of the treatment and provide continued support.
The patient returned to my clinic delighted and amazed by the effects of the acupuncture treatment. He had continued to “process” old emotions throughout the week. He experienced a lot of “letting go,” and feelings of rectification of the past. His sleep was the best it had been in years, with a lot of dreams. He noticed a dramatic increase in energy. I noticed the vibrating quality of his pulse had diminished. Pleased with the results of his first treatment, I suggested we continue working together with weekly acupuncture treatments.
I can proudly say, many months later, Patient 1 has had a major shift. He is now in a serious relationship, contemplating marriage and a child. He no longer feels suspended in time. His low spirits have lifted. His insomnia has fully resolved. He has lost weight and feels generally better. His digestive systems periodically return, suggesting more work is needed in the processing of his emotions. This appears to be a part of his personality that he must learn to manage. We continue to work on this, regularly clearing heat from the stomach and strengthening pancreatic and liver function. We’ve also devised steps he can take in his lifestyle to support digestive function: changes in diet and exercise regimens.
Patient 1 is an example of the healing effects that can come from regular acupuncture sessions. It is a blessing to witness and support a person as he regains strength and zest for life. It still amazes me how closely integrated are the mind and body. Treatment in my clinic always involves addressing the physiology of the body as well as the psychology of the patient – no matter what the condition. I’ve come to see that addressing both body and mind are necessary for complete healing. This is just as true for depression as for an injury from a sporting accident. The strategy is different with every case, but focus on body and mind remains. We need our minds to be involved to empower our immune systems. The blood must be free to rebuild body tissues. The heart is the organ in charge of circulating the blood. In Chinese Medicine, the heart is seen as the residence of the spirit. The spirit is the special mysterious element in the blood that brings nourishment to all the tissues and cells of the body. It is that which creates healing. If the blood is stuck, the spirit is too. Tissues will starve, the mind and emotions will feel agitated or depressed. Freeing the blood is key to all regeneration and healing. Understanding and implementing this “truth” has led to many instances of successful healing in my acupuncture clinic.