Upasana: John, can acupuncture address issues that people experience such as stress, anxiety and depression? Does it conceptualise these things differently to how a field like medicine or psychology would, in your opinion?
John: Rather than talk about acupuncture specifically I would prefer to answer your questions in terms of Chinese Medicine of which acupuncture is a treatment method.
In my opinion and experience one of the strengths of Chinese Medicine is the effective treatment and management of stress, anxiety and depression and related disorders, either as a stand-alone therapy or in conjunction with Psychology and Western Medicine
To answer the second part of your question, the largest difference between Chinese Medicine and Western Medicine in this respect is that Chinese Medicine holds that there is no dividing line between mind body and spirit when considering disorders of the person. Signs and symptoms of psychological disturbance are seen in the same way with the same origins as somatic disorders. Psychological signs and symptoms almost always have concurrently identifiable and associated somatic signs and symptoms. In the Chinese Medicine context, this concurrency of signs and symptoms helps in differentially diagnosing and treating psychological disorders.
Accordingly, ‘anxiety’ is not a specific diagnosis in Chinese Medicine. The diagnosis may well be ‘heart yin and blood deficiency’ presenting with signs and symptoms such as panic, tachycardia, dizziness and spontaneous sweating.
In stress, anxiety and depression it is also essential to identify and assess the emotions involved. For example, one stressed person can be predominantly experiencing emotions of anger/frustration, while emotions of worry/fear may dominate in another. Each requires different treatment considerations and strategies.
Upasana: could you explain how Chinese Medicine can work on something like anxiety?
John: In Chinese Medicine diagnosis, a key principal is the concept of ‘ben’ and ‘biao’, that is ‘root’ and ‘branch’. In Chinese Medicine pathology, disease is seen as have a ‘root’ origin and a ‘branch’ manifestation. That is, a particular disease (branch) can be coming from one or more different ‘root’ pathologies.
In order to effectively treat an issue such as anxiety we need to look at the person and their signs and symptoms picture as a whole in order to differentially diagnose the root cause. Anxiety usually arises from disharmonies in one or more of the liver, heart and spleen organ systems so effective treatment is reliant on accurate assessment and differentiation of the overall signs and symptoms picture.
Chinese Medicine generally uses a much wider and less specific set of signs and symptoms than Western Medicine and consequently looks at a much bigger picture than Western Medicine. Accordingly there are often many factors making up a therapeutic program for someone suffering anxiety, including acupuncture, Chinese Medicine herbs, counselling and lifestyle and dietary changes.
At a basic biophysical level, using acupuncture needles in specific combinations and techniques, stimulates endorphin and enkephalin release which in turn act as a GABA antagonist, allowing the release of dopamine into the brain, thus immediately ameliorating symptoms of stress and anxiety. This amelioration is a temporary effect but become stronger and longer lasting with subsequent treatment. But this is only a part of a treatment program.
In an effective treatment program, not only does the client’s anxiety improve, but so does their overall state of health. This is because, very often, we have to fix other things in order to get a lasting improvement in the signs and symptoms that we call anxiety.
This is not to say that psychological therapy and drug therapy are not effective as well, it’s just that those approaches are not my field. I do know from experience that amazing results can be achieved in the field of mental health when all three modalities work together in consultative integration
Upasana: is there a ‘counselling’ component to your work?
John: Counselling is a huge component of my work although I would see my counselling with clients in terms of Chinese Medicine and not Western Medicine. What I do with clients certainly could not be called counselling psychology although it does have many similarities with concepts used in mindfullness techniques and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.
In my work, counselling is not limited to psychological disorders. In Chinese Medicine the aetiological factors of disease, disorder, imbalance, however you would have it, can be very deep and broad. In my counselling I help the client to understand and recognise the contributing factors. Experience and classical psychological thought tells me that once a person understands the factors involved in their illness, they are immediately moving towards solution resolution.
At a psychological level, the counselling techniques I use with clients usually involve working to recognise factors, both internal and external, that contribute to the situation in which they find themselves. Also, as I mentioned before, I help them to recognise and analyse emotions that they feel. Difficult, complex or dangerous emotional states are referred on to Western Medicine assessment for stronger interventions, but once the person’s mental state is stabilised I have found that he or she almost always benefits from conjunctive Chinese Medicine therapy.
I have rarely found difficulty in establishing trust with a client. I find that it is critical to be up front with them in what you are about and your system of ethics, as well as your qualifications and experience and limits of same.
I have found that clients very quickly make their own assessments of a practitioner’s integrity and capability as well as the capabilities of Chinese Medicine itself.
Upasana: How are Australians going in our acceptance of Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine? Are they still considered alternative therapies? Or is there more confidence in this field now?
John: I have never liked the connotations attached to the term ‘alternative therapy’. Medicine and healing is what it is all about. To set up notions of mutual exclusivity amongst medical disciplines is, I believe, at best counterproductive, and at worst, highly unethical. It seems to me that such notions have been fostered by the arrogance of western scientific thought. Nobody has all the answers but answers can be found anywhere.
People vote with their feet. They don’t need double blind placebo controlled tests to tell them that they feel better. Chinese Medicine is well established in the western world now. Outside of Asia acupuncture is second only to orthodox Western Medicine as the most commonly used form of medical treatment. And I use the term ‘medical’ despite Western Medicine’s attempts to own it.
In my practice, the average age of my patients is 50.9 years. I see Mr and Mrs Average and I see their parents, children and grandchildren. Repeatedly.
In my thirteen years of practice I have had many clients, both in suburban Melbourne and rural Far North Queensland, who have trusted me to assist with their care and well-being even though their death was imminent. I think that says volumes for the acceptance and trust in Chinese Medicine that Australians now have.
Upasana: Do you find that in your role, you teach people a new way of understanding their health and well being?
John: As a health care practitioner I believe that it is essential that a person has as full an understanding as possible of their condition and the factors that contribute to, as well as heal, that condition. For most people the concepts of Chinese Medicine are initially a foreign language and have to be explained and unfolded by the practitioner.
But most people find the concepts to be common sense in harmony with the laws of nature. If I had a dollar for every time a client said to me, “That makes a lot of sense”, well… I couldn’t retire, but I reckon I could take the family to Europe for a holiday.
As an example, take a man suffering migraine headaches and extreme stress as a result of hating his job. It is necessary for effective long term results that he understands how an overload of the emotion of anger/frustration has a deleterious effect on his liver system which then causes the migraines and sends him into a downward spiral of emotionally based depression. He also needs to understand how alcohol, fast food and lack of exercise negatively impact on the liver. When treatment and changes he makes start to have positive effects he is inspired to continue his positive path.
He is more inclined and more able to take responsibility for his own healing because he understands why and how it works.
Upasana: Was the discovery of accupuncture a pivotal turning point in your own life? could you tell us a little about why it became your path?
John: I had been 16 years in the same career and I was bored. I had always wanted to be a doctor as a kid and so I naturally turned to medicine when I needed a career change.
Although I have always been a fan of Western Medicine I felt it was not the path for me for a number of reasons, so I decided I had to become a doctor (i.e. teacher and healer) in another medical modality.
The concepts of Chinese Medicine resonated with both my material and spiritual self and studying it just made me plain excited. I was also strongly drawn to the hands on and surgical nature of acupuncture needling.
I love what I do and I am both proud of and humbled by the medicine itself.
John Mason can be contacted at: http://www.portdouglasacupuncture.com/