A friend asked me recently to write about acupuncture and emotional trauma. I’m happy to take on the subject because it’s something that acupuncture, especially Five Element acupuncture, treats very effectively.
Consider trauma as an experience that harms (or threatens to harm) a person’s health or wellbeing. The traumatic event could range from something severe, like wartime experience, to something like an early childhood experience or a death in the family that leaves a lasting emotional mark. The result is fear, hyperawareness, and hypersensitivity to anything that mimics the original event.
In a way, our body and mind are wise in their efforts to protect us from suffering further or re-encountering something we experienced as dangerous. The trick is that even after the threat or painful moment has passed, our heightened responses can make daily life a misery.
Generally normal and safe situations can create severe consequences and the body may have extreme reactions. I have seen patients with strange sensations in their skin or muscles, nightmares, a feeling of choking or breathlessness, panic attacks, racing heart, or shutting down and becoming numb.
The way a person stores trauma in their body or reacts physiologically, I think, has a lot to do with their nature as a person and their constitutional element. Treating trauma must be very individualized.
I think of a traumatic memory as something that gets stored in the mind or body, like a line of code or a packet of energy. Sometimes it does seem to actually have substance, like a cloud over an area of the patient’s body.
Acupuncture works so well to release traumatic memory because it lies at that intersection of emotions and physiology, has a language and method to address energetic accumulations, and allows the practitioner to determine which functions have been compromised, where the information is stored, and the type of healthy energy or information the patient can most benefit from.
Five Element acupuncture is my favorite tool for trauma, because this tradition studies and applies the “spirit of the points.” This means that each individual point addresses a specific type of moment in a person’s life. Some are general points that can be used on anybody, and some are only used for certain people based on their constitutional element (CF).
I think of each point as a little box where information gets stored, particularly accumulations or residues of imbalanced energy that do not support life and wellbeing. To deliver a particular point to a person is to choose the location where that memory is stored and then to open the box and release it.
An overall flush of the system is often called for, in the form of a treatment called Internal Dragons. This powerful treatment is a hallmark of Five Element acupuncture and is indicated by certain ways that a patient initially presents.
In my mind, the Internal Dragons treatment clears out the stuff that is not us. This can be foreign energy of many different types. I also see this treatment as a way to bring a person fully back into his or her own body.
A point I commonly use for trauma is called Dovetail (Ren 15), roughly around the area of the solar plexus. This is the alarm point for the Heart Protector (generally considered to be an energetic protection mechanism to absorbs blows that might threaten our purest inner self, the Heart).
Alarm points in general release excess, and in this case, you could think of a traumatic memory as something that we are trying to take away to reset the person’s system to a state of happiness and safety.
I use Dovetail to help clear the residue of painful life situations like a breakup, but also for more severe events that may have been life-threatening. People are usually sensitive to being touched there. It feels like a very vulnerable place. Most of us have stuff stored at this spot, because it is nearly impossible, I think, to get to adulthood without some pretty serious emotional wounds. Dovetail can release these.
Depending on the person, I may instead use a point called Spirit Burial Ground (KD 24). This is for a person who has hidden their spirit away in refuge from life, maybe to avoid getting hurt. If a person has gone into the cave of their own being, it would be impossible for me to get very far with treatment until I tell them, using this point, that it’s safe to come out and feel life a little more. This point is on either side of the torso, right at the level of the energetic heart in the center of the chest, the place where we often feel emotional pain.
As trauma is released over time, it’s important to reinforce a person’s native spirit. For this, I like a point called Walking on the Verandah (KD 22). Think of the image offered by the name of this point: a person is recuperating and not ready to be out fully playing in the world, but has a safe space from which to look out and start to interact with others.
There are hundreds of points on the body, addressing different states of a person’s spirit. Learning the spirit of the points is a life’s work, something not only to study but also to discover in the moment of the exchange with a patient. And sometimes, in giving a particular point, I receive it too.
I have seen patients whose traumatic experiences changed their posture, face, coloring, and voice, among other things. The healing effect of these types of acupuncture points can, over time, bring a person fully back to their natural, relaxed and alert self, changing them so profoundly that they look noticeably different.