Chinese medicine: how acupuncture can help
Acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine can be an effective tool in treating depression. Declan Phelan explains
is a complex medical system that is used to diagnose and treat illness,
prevent disease and improve well being. It can focus on physical,
psychological, emotional and spiritual problems. It is a mind, body and
spirit approach to disease. Acupuncture has been used in China and
other Asian countries for over 3000 years.
1979 the World Health Organisation (WHO) issued a list of conditions
that are responsive to acupuncture, some of which concern us here.
These include depression, anxiety/stress, panic attacks,
tiredness/fatigue, poor sleep/insomnia, and migraine or persistent
Acupuncture is used as a
mainstream form of treatment in China and Asia today, co-existing quite
happily with western treatment methods.
is only one aspect of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). It also
includes such practices as herbal treatment, moxibustion and cupping.
The use of Chinese medicinal herbs shares the same underlying theories
and principles as acupuncture and both can be used together to speed
the process of healing.
within TCM is cupping. This is a technique which stimulates acupuncture
points by applying glass or bamboo suction cups to the skin. The vacuum
created in the jar leads to blood congestion at the site. The cup can
be moved on oiled skin without breaking the vacuum, thereby massaging
the area deeply, pulling out excessive heat and enhancing the movement
of energy (Qi).
involves the insertion of extremely fine, sterile needles to
predetermined points, which in turn stimulate the flows of energy,
known as Qi in TCM, in the body. Qi (pronounced 'chi') flows through
our bodies within a system of 12 channels or meridians.
TCM, when the flow of Qi is blocked or weakened the body becomes
unbalanced. Our natural defence mechanism is now open for disease to
enter. Because everything is interconnected, mind, body and spirit will
How does the free flow of Qi
become blocked or weakened? Qi stagnation can be caused by injury,
trauma, lifestyle, drugs, alcohol, stress, shock, fear, loss,
alienation, bullying, work-related difficulties, and environmental
factors (such as toxic chemicals, heavy metals, etc.), to name but a
traditional Chinese medicine, opposing forces, such as heaven and
earth, darkness and light, hot and cold, weakness and strength,
activity and rest, represent balance. They are called yin and yang and
they represent opposing forces even though they are intensely
interdependent. In our lifestyles today it is sometimes easy to allow
one to dominate the other.
It is the balance of energy which acupuncture restores, thereby harmonising mind, body and spirit.
Emotions and our organs
western physiology emotional and mental processes are attributed to the
brain. In Chinese medicine emotions and mental processes are
interlinked with the functioning of internal organs. The relation
between each organ and a particular emotion is mutual: the state of the
organ will affect the emotion and the emotion will affect the organ.
Thus the heart relates to joy, the liver to anger or irritation, the
lungs to sadness and worry, the spleen to pensiveness and also worry,
the kidneys to fear, shock, willpower and will to survive.
emotions usually only become a cause of imbalance when they are
excessive or prolonged. By treating a specific organ we can influence
the particular emotion related to that organ and help the patient to
achieve a more balanced emotional state and promote the wellbeing of
the organ involved at the same time.
Let's take the example of three strong emotions involved in depression.
Fear and its effects on the kidneys
in fear for a prolonged time will cause the kidney energy to become
weak and damaged. Fear of financial problems, fear of family breakdown,
fear of abandonment, etc. can manifest in the form of lower back pain,
corresponding to the physical location of the kidneys.
kidneys 'control' the knees, ankles and feet. Problems in these areas
could be attributed to fear of moving forward in life. Chronic bladder
problems usually indicate insecurities. This can often be seen in young
children suffering from enuresis or bedwetting. Fear results in the
depletion of our kidney energy, the powerhouse of our being, and so our
kidney energy must be addressed, nourished and tonified.
Joy and happiness and their effects on the heart
can become a cause of disease when it is excessive, as it is in those
persons who are in a state of continuous mental stimulation (however
pleasurable) or excessive excitement. In other words, a life of 'hard
playing'. This leads to excessive stimulation of the heart, which can
injure the heart. Joy can also become a cause of disease when it is
deficient. When the heart is deficient there is mental restlessness,
depression, anxiety and insomnia (Maconia 1974).
believe the heart is almost always involved with all the organs, since
the mind in Chinese medicine has its home in the heart and its
imbalance will be a source of physical and mental ailment. Healing the
heart will have an overall effect on our well being. 'The cure is love
and the heart is the area where love resides. Love and healing starts
with loving from within.' (Mikio Sankey 2002)
Anger and its effect on the liver
taken in the broad sense includes other emotional states, such as
resentment, repressed anger, irritability, frustration, rage,
indignation, animosity and bitterness. Long-term depression is often
due to resentment or repressed anger. This may show as sadness and
grief but is in fact anger. When anger is forced inwards it results in
depression. Other symptoms may manifest: outbursts, impatience,
restlessness, insomnia, violent dreams, agitation, headaches, blurred
vision, and tightness of the chest (R Schnyer and J Allen 2001). We may
act like a loose cannon ball, not knowing which direction to take. The
liver is in charge of the direction of life. If the liver is healthy a
person will be fearless and decisive.
using acupuncture, we balance the underlying problems. We treat the
cause of depression, we calm the mind, so that the patient feels
happier, healthier and more at peace. Administered by a qualified
practitioner, acupuncture is no more painful than plucking a hair and
has no side effects, unlike many medications. It is in fact a holistic
treatment that balances mind, body and spirit.
correct diagnosis and treatment strategies, it can be a highly
effective treatment of depression. It can work hand in hand with
psychotherapy, counselling, homeopathy, bodywork and other holistic
practices and the results can be spectacular. More and more people are
discovering the effectiveness of acupuncture both as a preventative
strategy and as an effective treatment for many chronic diseases for
which western medicine has no answer.
Phelan practised as a registered practitioner of traditional Chinese
medicine for two years after graduating, during which time he helped
many people and was in great demand for his ability to heal. Sadly,
Declan died in August 2006. He was a dedicated doctor and a great
friend. He will always be remembered and greatly missed.