Peeling Away The Label Of Depression With Acupuncture


Depression, categorized as a mental disorder, may be viewed as a natural human condition. It is a profound and complex sadness that tends to make one ask big questions; What is my purpose? Why did that happen? Will things ever be different? Each person experiences depression differently but when treatment is sought it is often the same; antidepressants. Partly this is because we have one label, depression, which is used to summarize the varied nuances of sadness in one’s experience. This diagnosis has the solidity of a lead ball and chain, the finality of a life sentence, and the trappings of a jail cell. If it is left at that, change feels nearly impossible. But when I hear individuals pause and sense into the intricacies of what they feel and put their own words to all of that, a virgin wilderness opens up to be explored. There is more room for change and growth and the creation of meaning and joy.

Using acupuncture to help someone through their suffering requires an understanding of a patient’s unique constitution. An individual is more than his or her depression. He may have other health issues related to digestion, pain, fatigue, or immune dysfunction. She may have a stressful job, sick child, or a critical parent. Circumstances change along with the individual. What was helpful for a patient one week ago may not necessarily be what he or she needs today. Feelings and emotions wax and wane like the sea’s tides and the nature of an acupuncture treatment does as well. This all comes into play when designing individualized treatments that will over time, help one through the heaviness and darkness that comes with the feelings of depression.

The earliest Eastern physicians recognized that human physiology could be understood by observing principles in Nature and disease could be treated by using these same principles. Substances found in the universe are found within our own bodies and are categorized into elements; Fire, Earth, Water, Metal and Wood. In the west we know all living things are made of carbon, oxygen, and hydrogen. We are a microcosm of the macrocosm, composed of the same molecules the stars, trees, and rivers are created from. Everything in our body from the tiniest cells to the largest organs may be classified by its elemental nature just as a Hemlock and stream may be classified as Wood and Water.

Observing the patterns found in Nature gives insight into the patterns of depression. For example, remember a time when you stared into a campfire. You may have noticed the flames jumping around from one piece of wood to another. The flames leaped into the air as if seeking to embrace more dry wood. This is characteristic of the fire element within us. It is what makes relationships possible, the quality of reaching out, making eye contact and connecting, finding commonality in a community. When this quality is deficient you will first notice it in one’s eyes. There seems to be a shade drawn, hiding what lies behind their walls. Or they may look away and make little eye contact, seeming to always be in the corners or off to the side where they cannot easily be seen and touched. When there is an imbalance in fire the depression can manifest as isolation, feeling unloved, separate, and different.

This pattern is quite different for someone who has a metal imbalance. The metal element corresponds with Autumn, the time of year when nature lets go. Leaves change color and fall to the ground. Roots of trees and plants no longer need to sustain the powerful growth of fruits and flowers, but instead conserve their energy to last through winter after which a new season of growth occurs. This change needs to happen in us as well. There is a time to give birth to ideas or relationships or projects, a time for sustenance, and in order for new growth to occur, there is a time to let go of what is no longer useful. When someone continues to hold on to the past mourn what has long been gone, energy is lost and one is left feeling depleted. Of course letting go is not always easy, especially when what we are holding onto is so precious. But in order to feel full again we need to be willing to let the seasonal cycle continue.

Acupuncture helps the cycle continue by swinging open the gates in between the meridians of the body. Like a damn being removed from a river, the opening redirects the flow of energy. Specific points are chosen to allow more movement or stillness. In this way “letting go” becomes more than a trite, quick method of “getting over it.” Rather, it enables a person to feel secure enough to let go with ease, trusting that it is the right time to do so. Similarly, if more fire is needed, specific points may encourage warmth from within. No longer is warmth desperately needed from others. Nor is the warmth being gladly offered by others refused. Soon, the right balance is achieved, enabling one to feel his or her own personal fiery joy once again and radiate that heat out to others.