Psychology and Chinese Medicine

Chinese medicine is a system of healing that often takes the patient on a journey of self-discovery.  The physical, emotional, and spiritual aspects of each individual are examined together in this natural approach to medicine.  After 20 years of practicing acupuncture, I have witnessed many instances where illness or physical pain resolve when a patient’s emotional issues are simultaneously addressed with the use of acupuncture and Chinese herbs.

Years ago as a student at Southwest Acupuncture College in Santa Fe, New Mexico, I first saw this connection when I treated a fifty year-old female patient whose main complaint was acute shoulder pain.  I questioned her about the nature of her pain; sharp or dull, constant or intermittent, etc.  As I was new to clinic I neglected to ask any questions of a more personal nature.  As I placed the fine needles along the appropriate acupuncture meridians…she immediately burst into tears!  I asked her why she was crying and she responded that her needles were comfortable, but she had no idea where her feelings of sadness had come from.  My clinic supervisor, Dr Hao, guided me in asking my patient additional questions.  We discovered that her son had left for college a couple of months prior and she was missing him very much.  He was understandably excited to be in his new environment and had neglected to stay in touch with his mother, a single parent.  Her shoulder pain had begun within a couple of weeks of his moving to a different state.  I proceeded to add points to effectively treat grief, “letting go”, and relationship boundaries, in addition to the needles I had already inserted earlier for pain.

The following week my patient returned pain-free and smiling!  I asked her about her son and she responded that she had called him following her treatment and asked that he consider being in closer communication with her.  He had readily agreed and they had arranged to talk a couple of times a week, and for him to return home for Thanksgiving.  This experience early in my acupuncture career was the first of many situations where I clearly saw how our emotions and physical well-being can be intricately connected.

The theory behind Chinese Medicine is based on the energetic interaction between the Five Elements of nature; Metal, Water, Wood, Fire, and Earth.  When the flow of Qi (or energy) between these aspects of nature is balanced and flowing with ease, the body is healthy and a person’s energy is sufficient.   Unfortunately factors including, illness, injury, fatigue, poor diet, stress, exposure to toxins, or emotional duress can easily create an imbalance in the smooth flow of Qi.  The Five Elements effectively illustrate the connection between our emotions and our physical well-being.

The Metal Element, which corresponds to the Lung, is related to the emotions of sadness and grief.  Patients experiencing emotions from a death, divorce, or other loss often present with a persistent cough or phlegm that feels stuck in their throat.  The Water Element corresponds to the Kidney and is characterized by fear.  Patients experiencing deeply-rooted fear may also have low back pain, urinary issues, or joint pain.  The Wood Element corresponds to the Liver; anger, irritability, and frustration are the associated emotions.  Physical conditions resulting from chronic stress are numerous and include migraines, hormonal imbalances, infertility, and high blood pressure.  The final two elements are Fire and Earth, which respectively correspond to the emotions of anxiety and worry.  Patients with insomnia frequently describe anxiety as their main emotion, while individuals who are constantly over-thinking issues may find themselves facing conditions including food allergies, hemorrhoids, hernia, irritable bowel syndrome, gluten-intolerance, and indigestion.