A French five element acupuncturist, Pierre, comes regularly to our seminars and uses the time between them to send me interesting questions about his practice. He is tucked away in Brittany, far from any regular five element support network, and has been brave enough to study on his own. His latest email to me deals with one of the uncertainties therapists of all kinds have to learn to face. What do we do if we are not sure that we are helping our patients? What if the patient's symptoms persist? It is interesting that his email also contains part of the answer to his question without his realising it.
With his permission, I will quote what he was written (and he asked me to forgive any faults in his English!):
"The more I treat patients with Five Element Acupuncture only, the more I feel I miss something like a deep knowledge of the spirit of the points. The treatments I give to somebody, focused on the CF (guardian element), is often good to improve their well-being. But too often they continue to suffer at a level that I seem not to be able to achieve. After a number of treatments, I feel like I'm going around in circles with the points I use to help them and the treatment seems to be on a plateau. Examples : The pain (a patient) feels on the wrist doesn't really change, the weight (a patient) wants to lose doesn't really move, the fear (a patient) has concerning his future retirement doesn't really reduce, but they all feel better inside them with some improvements in their well-being and even in their other symptoms.
How to improve a treatment with somebody beyond the treatment of the CF (guardian element) when we feel that we are on a plateau?"
I can see that there may be some mismatch here between what his patients expect of their treatment and what he does. This brings me to an important aspect of our practice. By what criterion do we judge the success of treatment? In a purely physically-based medical system, such as that of most orthodox Western medicine, a successful outcome is usually measured by how far one or more physical symptoms have disappeared, or at least been alleviated. That assumes that as five element acupuncturists we are there simply to treat the physical, whilst ignoring the other, deeper levels of our being, our minds and spirits, or in general terms our emotional well-being. We all know that a holistic therapy like five element acupuncture does not or should not confine itself to treating just the physical level, indeed often viewing this as in some senses the most superficial level. And my French acupuncturist's patients appear to recognize what five element acupuncture has done for them at this deeper level by telling him that "they all feel better inside them with some improvements in their well-being and even in their other symptoms".
It seems, though, that it is the practitioner who is more concerned with assessing the effect of his treatment on his patients' physical symptoms than they are. Perhaps to some extent we all live in a medical environment concentrating so much on treating purely physical complaints that we may overlook what to our patients may well be the most important effect of their treatment, which is the fact that they "feel better". My advice to my French friend will be to be glad that his treatment has increased his patients' general well-being, to continue with the kinds of treatment that have already produced such good results, and, most importantly, to give himself more time for treatment to work. He may be in too much of a hurry to judge the success of treatment simply because he is overlooking how much his treatment is already helping his patients.
When I was a student we had a rule of thumb which stated that it takes one month of treatment for each year that a condition has persisted. For most patients their imbalance has lasted for many years, and a practitioner must therefore assume that things will not improve quickly (although they may!). Often it is the practitioner who is in more of a hurry to get things moving than patients are.