Thursday, October 28, 2021

83. One of the challenges of writing about the elements

One of the challenges of writing about the elements is that, because of their different qualities, elements demand different kinds of approach from their practitioner.  That means that practitioners have to learn to adapt how they deal with their patients to take account not only of the differences between patients of the same element, but also the fact that their own element will respond in its own specific way to what the patients they treat will demand of them.  This requires a high degree of sensitivity and flexibility on a practitioner's behalf, and, above all, a degree of self-awareness that few of us possess before we start on the long road to becoming an experienced therapist.


Each of us, patient and practitioner alike, is formed of a unique blend of the elements, creating what we can call our own unique elemental DNA.  When this unique imprint meets the equally unique, but different, elemental DNA of our patients, there is clearly the risk of some misunderstanding between the differing needs of these two people in the therapeutic relationship.  For we must not forget that, whilst it is obvious that the patient arrives in the practice room with specific needs of his/her own, the practitioner, too, enters it with what may at first sight not be, or what the practitioner may think should not be, their own needs. So what are the patients' needs and how may they conflict with those of the practitioner?


We often don't think enough about this, as though taking for granted that we know why our patients are coming to us.  Surely, we may think, it is that they wish to feel better, to heal themselves of some symptom, usually something physical.  But if we look more carefully, beneath the obvious reasons lie often deeper ones, hidden sometimes from both the patient and the practitioner, and only gradually exposed as a result of the changes prompted by treatment.


The more experienced and adept a practitioner is, the more quickly these hidden areas of a patient's life come to light.  I know that I learned quite quickly to open the door to this more hidden world to patients by asking questions in such a way as to give them permission to talk more freely.  A good example of this was when a patient came to me complaining of bad neck pains.  After listening to him describing this, I turned the questioning in another direction, by asking, "And is there anything or anybody in your life who you also feel is a pain in the neck?"  I was almost amused to see how quickly my patient responded to this, by admitting that, yes, his youngest son was causing him a great deal of problems.  By connecting the two levels of his distress, the physical and the emotional, this allowed him to open up to the deeper problems in his life, to his obvious relief.  This was also likely to contribute to his physical pain, if not indeed simply being its cause.   


I therefore recommend that all aspiring five element acupuncturists should learn the techniques necessary to bridge the gap between patients talking about their physical symptoms to emphasizing that five element acupuncture is also there to help heal emotional trauma.  Patients and practitioners often find it easier to remain at the more superficial, physical level of their patients' lives.  Practitioners may therefore be happy to follow their patients' agenda in their approach to why they are coming for treatment, rather than venturing into the more challenging areas by touching upon what are usually the more deeply-rooted and therefore often more painful areas of patients' emotional lives.


And then there is the question of how far practitioners' own element dictates their approach to treating patients.  None of us cam remain untouched by the characteristics of our particular guardian element.  An Earth practitioner, for example, will, therefore, approach his/her patients quite differently from a Wood practitioner.  Each practitioner has to be aware of this, and counteract any particular bias which may start to creep into their practice because they may have their own personal response to the different elements of the patients they treat.  


I realised early on in my practice that I had problems dealing with my Wood patients which I seemed not to have with patients of other elements.  But I only became aware of this when I noticed that I seemed to have very few Wood patients.  It was only when I looked carefully into the reasons why this should be that I realised that my own slight fear of the forcefulness presented by the Wood element, which my Fire element often found difficult to counter, had unconsciously given me a bias to avoid diagnosing Wood in favour of elements I found easier to deal with.  This was a great learning curve for me, because it made me examine how far my diagnoses might be skewed by personal factors, rather than being based on the realities of the patients before me.  A salutary lesson indeed!


On the other hand, we must not ignore the fact that our own element also shapes the kind of relationships we develop with our patients in both a negative and a positive sense.  All Fire practitioners will want to engage more actively, perhaps too actively, in their patients' lives than will a Metal practitioner, who may well tend to give his/her patients more space to work out solutions for their problems themselves.  Perhaps some of Metal's patients, though, might prefer a more involved approach. And what, then about the other three elements?  

From observations of my fellow practitioners, I have learned that of all the elements it is Earth which may find itself burdened the most by its patients' needs, because it can so easily feel overwhelmed if too much is demanded of it.  It may also find the one-to-one relationship of patient to practitioner more difficult to cope with than other elements do, as it is usually happier when working in a group rather than on its own. On the positive side, Earth will be more than ready to empathise with its patients' distress.  Wood practitioners, on the other hand, have to hold back from expressing their tendency to think that they know what is best for their patients, and refrain from getting irritated by some of their patients' decisions.  They will, however, be very clear about the kind of help they can offer.  Water practitioners have the advantage of being very sensitive to their patients' needs, but may tend to be too susceptible to self-doubt in relation to their work, leading them to query constantly whether what they are doing is the right thing for their patients.


Of course everything I write about the elements is personal to me, and therefore to some extent only partially relevant to other practitioners' approach to their practice.  it is good always to remember that each of us has to develop our own relationship to the elements and establish our own understanding of them, which will inevitably differ in certain respects from mine, although I hope not completely.  Those reading this will therefore need to adapt what I say in the light of their own experiences. 



Friday, October 1, 2021

82. The fear of getting things wrong

Nowhere is the fear of getting things wrong more evident than when five element acupuncturists are faced with diagnosing a patient's element.  All of us seem to be worried that not "getting it right" straightaway may somehow be regarded as a failure.  I have written more about this in my two latest blogs (80 and 81).  Here I want to continue this discussion with more insights as to why treatment on any element can never be harmful to a patient, provided we remember the basic rules of good five element practice. 


Firstly, always keep things as simple as possible.  The simpler is always the better because five element treatment is based on giving simple instructions to the element we have chosen as a patient's dominant element.  We then give that element time to show us clearly whether its response is one of relief at being so firmly addressed, or leaves the patient almost unchanged.


Another important rule is that we should never take energy away from a depleted element in order to pass it on to an element which already has more energy.   Nor should we confuse the elements by needling points on different elements during the same treatment.  The only exception to this rule is when we are correcting certain energy blocks, such as a Husband/Wife imbalance.


Practitioners are often reluctant to offer their patients these simplest of treatments, in the false belief that they will be impressed by the number of needles used.  For example, it has always been difficult for me to convince students that one of the most profound five element treatments you can ever give a patient is simply needling the source points of one element and leave it at that - four points, two for each official on either side of the body.  JR Worsley used to tease us by saying that a good acupuncturist would take only 3 minutes to do a treatment: one minute to greet the patient and take the pulses, one minute to needle the very few points needed and one minute to say goodbye.   


And then there is the question of how much time during each appointment we should take up by talking with our patients, and this is because there is some confusion as to whether five element acupuncture should be considered to be a talking therapy or not.  We certainly need to get to know our patients by questioning them and giving them the opportunity to talk about their problems.  We must, however, always remember that it is the patient's elements which will ultimately help solve these problems, rather than spending too much time talking them through with the patient.


As an additional note here, I learnt early on from my own treatment the importance of keeping to simple treatments.  I was being treated by a practitioner at JR Worsley's Leamington college, and JR would often come in to give my practitioner the benefit of his experience.  So I had a great deal of evidence of how simple the treatments he suggested each time were.  Often the same treatments were given at intervals, such as the AEPS or Windows, but always the basis for each treatment were the command points.  I don't remember an occasion when he recommended any points beyond this classical repertoire.  The sheer simplicity and, I like to think, purity of the proposed treatments have stayed with me and have formed the foundation for all the many years of my own practice and teaching.