Friday, September 13, 2019

34. Giving advice to patients

I recently received an email from a Chinese acupuncturist asking how she can improve the skills needed to help her patients cope with their problems. She writes, “How to interact with our patients is very subtle and skilful, and a very challenging task for us practitioners.  I really wish I could do better on this, but I don’t know how I could improve… (Their) problems are so tricky that I always have no suggestion to give.  I even sometimes don’t know how to comfort them when they are sad.  I wish I could say something to make them feel better!”

I am sure that every practitioner can relate to what she says, for these are issues we have all struggled with in our practices, and no doubt continue to struggle with.  There is no one approach that will suit all practitioners, because we will each have worked out our own way of dealing with our patients.  As with everything we do, our own guardian element will shape our interactions with our patients and determine the nature of these interactions.  Some practitioners will be much more hands-on in their approach than others (perhaps those with Fire as their element), whilst others will be much less so, giving their patients more room to breathe as it were (perhaps those with Metal as their element).  No particular approach is better than any other, provided that the practitioner is aware at all times of how far what they are doing and saying matches their patient’s needs.

Of course this is where experience comes to our aid.  If I think back on the years of my practice, I realise that there were many occasions when my own very hands-on approach disturbed some of my patients, where allowing a little more space between us would have given them the time they needed to work out their own solutions to their problems.  As with any profession, we can only learn by hit-and-miss, and only experience will teach us how much advice it is helpful to give our patients, and what kind of advice this should be.   We always have to be careful not to assume anything about our patients.

Finally, it is helpful to remember that we are not there to solve our patients’ problems;  only they can do that.  Our help must focus on offering treatments which bring greater balance to their elements, and then allow these to do the work.

 

 

 

Saturday, September 7, 2019

33. Unravelling the puzzle of point locations a little

For many years I was completely unaware of the fact that different branches of acupuncture used anatomical locations for some of their points which differed from the ones I had been taught.  The first five or more years of my practice were spent in a complete five element bubble, since at that time JR Worsley’s college at Leamington was the largest college, and many of us who trained there were completely unaware of the existence of other schools of acupuncture.  I know I certainly was, until rumours started to spread around the acupuncture community that acupuncturists who had visited China were bringing back with them another form of acupuncture which appeared not so much to complement what we had learned, but to cast doubt in the minds of some five element acupuncturists about the validity of what they were practising.  This was first brought home to me when standing in a lunch queue at an acupuncture event and being told by a fellow acupuncturist, with some disdain in her voice, “JR has a very odd way with moxibustion”, followed by, “You don’t still only do five element acupuncture, do you?”

I always find it interesting when I observe how often people are only too happy to grab hold of anything which might seem to undermine some practice or concept which holds a dominant position, almost as though they cannot wait to mock what before they expressed admiration for, or indeed, as in the case of many five element acupuncturists, actually used for years in their practice.  This happens all too often, particularly where somebody has been pre-eminent in one discipline.  Perhaps it is then only natural that those sheltering in the shadow of such a person may start to feel increasingly disempowered, and look for ways of asserting their own independence of thought.  This happened most famously with Carl Jung’s abandonment of his admiration for his mentor, Sigmund Freud, and the same thing happened in this country when JR Worsley’s legacy to acupuncture started being mocked in the way I encountered.

In a very short space of time this was followed by a growing onslaught by the acupuncture world in general on the right of five element acupuncture to be considered as a stand-alone discipline.  I have written a lot about the difficulties I, as a devoted five element acupuncturist, have encountered in defence of my practice over the years, but in this blog I want to look at how influences from China have apparently changed this country’s approach to the location of certain points, and how far this is still something five element acupuncture needs to take into account.

The subtle undermining of an accepted five element tradition extended also to the area of point location, where people started discussing whether the five element locations used, based on a long-established tradition going back through to JR Worsley’s teachers, Jacques Lavier and We Wei Ping, came up against the locations modern Chinese acupuncture was now deciding for us, and which have come to replace those in many British acupuncture colleges.  I am certain no historian of acupuncture, nor have I, any way of knowing whether the point locations which have gradually superseded some of those used in five element acupuncture have clinical validity or not.  And this is the only factor in the debate about different point locations which I feel needs to be taken into account.  If I needle a point in my well-practised five element location will a point at a slightly different location used in modern Chinese acupuncture, and following hard on its heels, modern British acupuncture, have the same clinical effect?

We sometimes think that acupuncture does not lend itself to “evidence-based research” in quite the same way as scientifically-based therapies, because it does not seem possible in a holistic discipline such as ours, and similarly in any of the different forms of psychotherapy, to obtain sufficient objective evidence of the efficacy of any clinical procedure which cannot be measured by some physical instrument.  But I think my many years of practice have provided me with just as much evidence that the points I use in treatment have actually brought about material changes in my patients, and ones which are perceptible to others, provided that their senses are sufficiently honed to perceive sensory and emotional changes.

When a patient says, as one of my patients did, that “the treatment you gave me a few days ago really made me feel I could face life again,” is that not evidence of the efficacy of the particular treatment, made possible by needling specific acupuncture points?  The problem is that a reader of this blog only has my word for this, and if I were to invite observers into my practice room during the treatment, might the presence of unfamiliar faces affect the patient’s response to the treatment, and perhaps nullify it?  I do, though, have what I like to call one objective proof of the location of one of the disputed locations of an acupuncture point as a result of a moving encounter I had when consulting JR Worsley about one of my patients.

This point is the one on the Kidney meridian which in the five element point numbering is IV (Ki) 7.  As any five element acupuncturist knows, this is one of the first points in the combination of six points, needled bilaterally, used to clear one of the most serious energy blocks recognized in five element acupuncture, that of a Husband/Wife imbalance.  IV 7 is a tonification point, drawing energy from Water’s mother element, Metal, and in the five element location is at 3 ACI (cun) from the prominence of the medial malleolus.  We were taught to needle all six points before taking the pulses to see whether we had cleared the block, in effect checking whether the patient’s Heart energy - (I (Ht)7 is the last point in the procedure - was recovering sufficiently to combat the spiritual despair which is one of the main indicators of this block. 

 had taken a patient to see JR Worsley, and he had diagnosed a H/W block, leaving me to carry out the treatment.  As this was early on in my acupuncture career, it took me some time to mark up the points, particularly those on the Kidney meridian which require much careful measuring of the leg, so when JR returned I had only had time to needle the first two points, III (Bl) 67 and IV (Ki) 7.  Before I had told him that I had not completed the whole procedure, he took the pulses, nodded at me, and said, “That’s cleared.  Good.”  It was then that I realised that the re-establishment of a strong connection between the Metal and Water elements through the tonification points must have been sufficient to clear the block.  From then on I have always checked the pulses at this early stage in the procedure just to see if this often happens, which I find it does.  Each time, though, I go on to carry out the full procedure because I recognize that needling the remaining points strengthens the connection between the elements which a H/W imbalance shows has been weakened.

From this, and from my own experiences, corroborated by my years of clearing many H/W blocks, I know that the tonification point on the Kidney meridian is where we locate it in five element acupuncture, at 3 ACI (cun) from the level of the medial malleolus.  The Kidney source point, IV (Ki) 3, too, which also forms part of the H/W procedure, is at a different location from the more recently accepted location.  I therefore recommend any practitioner trying to clear a H/W block to adopt the five element anatomical location of these two points. I like to think that I am stepping in the footsteps of an acupuncture master in using the points exactly where he told us they were, and feel that something of the energy I felt passing from him through to the patients I brought to him for consultation is transferring itself a little to me as I needle the points where he told us to find them.