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  • Emma K. Dweck, L.Ac.

What is Acupuncture Good For?

People often ask me: what are the top five things (or the most common things) you treat?

I could answer this question in a few ways. The way the question was probably intended is a list of symptoms. Back pain, anxiety, depression, fatigue, and musculoskeletal issues would probably make up the list. However, there is always a deeper answer. I find that 99% of the time, when deep, long term healing occurs, it is because the patient and I are able to address one or more of the following

  1. Self loathing/perfectionism

  2. Heartbreak/betrayal—a sense of being let down by the world

  3. Martyrdom/chronic busyness

  4. Feeling stuck/dissatisfied/uninspired/resentful

  5. A deep existential fear of everything

As you can see from the list, these 5 issues each have a strong correlation with the 5 elements of Chinese medicine (in order above: metal, fire, earth, wood, water), which in turn are associated with a specific organ system. Of course every patient and pattern is different. Identifying the underlying imbalance (some manifestation of one of the above) causing the presenting symptoms is the key to my work as a practitioner. 99% of the time when I am able to make a clear and accurate diagnosis based on one of these elemental imbalances, the presenting symptoms clear up. The key is recognizing the myriad ways each of these can manifest, and also recognizing how they are all inter-connected.

For example—a person may present as incredibly fearful, anxious, and phobic, but underlying their fear is a deep self-loathing and lack of self-worth. Depending on their other signs, this person would probably be diagnosed within the metal element consitutionally, with an imbalance in the water element. Physiologically, this pattern could manifest in many ways. Low back pain, asthma, fatigue, constipation, acne, edema, could all be symptoms of this elemental imbalance. All these symptoms may seem random and un-related, but the beauty of Chinese medicine is that they are all intrinsically connected, and there is always a reason for what is going on.

I often have patients say something like “the Dr. said there’s no correlation between my asthma and back pain [or insert any other seemingly random symptoms here].” Because Chinese medicine is an ancient, highly developed, complete system of medicine, there is ALWAYS a reason for what’s happening! Another thing people tell me is “the Doctor says there’s nothing wrong with me.” The patient saying this is often exhausted, or has a myriad of bizarre and seemingly unrelated symptoms. Again, using the diagnostic skills of Chinese Medicine, we can make a clear diagnosis based on the patient’s underlying elemental imbalance.

The true beauty of all this is that regardless of the complexity of the case, a skilled diagnostician can always find a reason for the patient feeling unwell. In the world of Chinese Medicine, there’s no such thing as “nothing wrong with you.”

How do we tell the difference between a patient whose underlying constitutional fear is driving their phobias, and a patient whose underlying lack of self worth (or other constitutional imbalance) is driving fearful behavior? Luckily, the diagnostic tools we use are objective. As practitioners, we learn subtle sensory ways to recognize the difference between behaviors or the "social mask", and true constitutional imbalance.

The other really beautiful thing is that because Chinese Medicine is based on the laws of nature, each of the elemental imbalances can show up in literally infinite ways. The easiest way of understanding this is to think of water, and the millions of ways it manifests in nature: an ice cube, a tear, a tsunami, a peaceful lake—the list goes on. Just as every human is different, the elements that make up constitutional imbalances and virtues are equally unique. Intrigued? Try acupuncture!

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