There is one important aspect of five element acupuncture which distinguishes it from other branches of traditional acupuncture, and that is the importance it places not only upon understanding the qualities of the different elements at all levels of the human being, but also those of the organs which together create the energies of these elements. We call these the 12 officials; they carry out the instructions of the elements of which they form a part, always one yang and one official to each element. The Fire element is the exception here, its dual function giving it two yang and two yin officials. Each official has a specific function, and together they cover the complete range of human experience. They therefore not only represent the physical organs familiar from any conventional medical textbook, but, appropriately for a system of medicine which claims to treat the whole person, they each also have additional qualities which extend to the deeper areas of human existence. Each physical organ, as well as having its familiar physical function, also has a specific association with the different mental and emotional aspects of life represented by the element of which it forms part.
This is something that needs to be emphasized, because it is easy to think only of an organ's physical function. In five element acupuncture we give each official a much more important role in maintaining health than simply treating physical symptoms. Each treatment is potentially a way of restoring physical, mental and emotional health at one and the same time, something which anybody wishing to practise five element acupuncture needs to understand. This branch of acupuncture is one of the few systems of medicine which combines an ability to restore health to the physical body whilst at the same time addressing problems which have their cause at the deeper levels of human life. It is, of course, possible to use acupuncture as a purely physical system of medicine, but if we do so we are doing it a disservice by ignoring its potential to help restore emotional balance. It is surprising how easy it may be to concentrate only on the physical attributes of organs whilst forgetting that it is often their deeper functions which lead to all manner of imbalances.