"Treat the Person, Not the Illness": How Acupuncture Works Best
Acupuncture, although not a panacea, (believe me, if I break my arm or my gallbladder starts gushing bile, please take me to the hospital), is helpful for many common ailments (and, even better, is miraculously free of side effects).
Where acupuncture REALLY shines is in two particular scenarios that I work with often in my practice.
Prevention & Wellness (I'm saving that topic for a future edition, but feel free to contact me if you just can't wait, and want more info on how acupuncture can help you stay well)
Strange, and sometimes undiagnosed, constellations of symptoms that western medicine can't quite figure out how to help
We’re going to focus in on number two today. I could write a whole novel about this, but instead I want to share just one example from my practice.
I've been working with a woman who was suffering from intense neuropathy. The pain in her feet and up her legs was so bad that she couldn't sleep at night, and she couldn't even put her full weight on her feet until several hours into the day.
The pain itself was scary but even more frightening and isolating was the fact that she had no idea how or why this pain had started and no idea how to get better, or even if she could get better (luckily she is getting better and rapidly too!). She visited an orthopedic and sports medicine specialist, her general practitioner, a rheumatologist, and a neurologist, but no one could figure it out.
The neurologist made a stab at a diagnosis in order to start trying to help her, but the patient was pretty sure that diagnosis was incorrect. She consulted with another neurologist who confirmed that her first diagnosis didn't seem right, but he didn't have a much better idea of what was actually going on.
She was offered drugs to dull the pain, but they didn't really do much for her. So she started seeking alternatives which is how she ended up in my office. I feel grateful for this, as I really love working with her and have been amazed by her progress.
One of the things that I love about acupuncture is that it treats the person, not the illness.
Acupuncture works energetically in the body, mind, and spirit by figuring out where your internal mojo (or “qi,” the life force that animates you) is stuck or weak, and by making sure that this mojo is in the right place at the right time and everything is moving smoothly.
Pain happens when the body gets stuck in a dysfunctional pattern: “Where there’s no free flow, there’s pain,” say the Chinese classics. If you've ever felt trapped in a not-so-good relationship in your work or personal life, you have some idea of how this stuck energy can produce pain. It works the same in your body (and your mind and your spirit too).
Western medicine relies mostly on the interventions of drugs (which reallocate your internal energy by altering your internal environment chemically) or surgery. Unlike this approach, an acupuncturist doesn't add anything into your system, or take anything away; she simply moves everything back into its proper place so that your body can get back into its natural state of balance.
So what do I do all day long as an an acupuncturist? I basically spend my day reallocating your internal energy so that all your major organ systems have the resources to do their essential tasks. The body knows what balance feels like and will naturally seek that state.
Returning to my patient example, two months after she started seeing me, she went skiing and skied at high altitude for up to six hours a day (and very sweetly didn't tell me until after she got back in case I got worried about her!), and she’s back to her ballroom dancing classes as well.
Because I work to support and heal the patient, which is a different perspective from going after the illness with drugs or surgery, I'm able to treat most conditions, even if I have no Western Medicine diagnosis. I look instead for underlying imbalances in the patient’s energy and support the patient's body so that it can take over and heal itself.
Acupuncture has its own diagnostic system and so offers a different way of seeing the body and of helping the person to heal. Sometimes this fresh approach can unlock a whole new level of healing.
“Treat the person, not the illness,” is one of my four foundational cornerstones of how I approach helping people. If you want to know what the other three cornerstones are, you can visit the "How I Help" page on my website to learn more about what makes my approach to health and wellness unique.
The real reason I love “treating the person, not the illness,” is because this perspective lets me honor the needs and concerns of each particular person I work with.
While I can always offer suggestions to patients (drink more water, eat more protein, and here’s why), ultimately, it’s up to the patient to decide what they want to take on and try. I honor this autonomy, and I try to ensure that my suggestions feel reasonable to the patient and are in alignment with their values and needs.
I also believe in relying on the wisdom of the patient and their experience. A patient struggling with depression might tell me, "I felt better when I journaled every day." My next question is, “Do you think this is a good time to start journaling again?”
“Treat the person, not the illness” makes for a cooperative and supportive environment that allows the patient to get better in a way that feels aligned with their values, needs, and lifestyle.