Achieving emotional health and balance is an inherent principle in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and Five Element Theory. The basis of these theories of healing is the holistic and symbiotic concept of organ energy systems: the Lung system, the Liver system, the Heart system, the Spleen system and the Kidney system. Each organ system has a number of characteristics including an element (Lung is to metal as Heart is to fire), a season (Kidney is to winter as Liver is to spring), and an emotion. The emotion for Lung is Grief and Sadness. The emotion for Liver is Anger. The emotion for Heart is Joy. The emotion for Spleen is Over-Thinking. The emotion for Kidney is Fear. These emotions are referred to as the “Internal Demons” in traditional texts, which when acting out of balance can wreak havoc on the mind, body and spirit. If all is running and functioning smoothly through the organ systems in our body, then our emotions are balanced, our health is good and we are disease free. However, if there is a blockage within a system, caused by trauma, abuse, poor diet, an unhealthy lifestyle, or outside pathogens such as viruses, bacteria or allergens, an imbalance among the organ systems results. This imbalance can cause a physical symptoms such as pain, headache, cough, skin rash, or menstrual disorders, or emotional systems such as anxiety, depression, insomnia, irritability, and stress. As an acupuncturist, my job is to diagnose the affected organ system and then apply needles to specifically locate points on the body that will balance, tonify, move, warm, drain, unblock, cool, stimulate or regulate the organ systems. Interesting, of the 365 original acupuncture points, 135 of them (37%) are used to treat mental, emotional or spiritual disharmony.
Beyond the traditional concepts of organ systems, meridians and points on the torso and limbs, there are other more contemporary micro-arenas of points on the ear and scalp which contain points and combinations of points that are particularly effective at treating emotional disorders. For instance, the National Acupuncture Detoxification Association (NADA) Protocol which is made up of five points on the ear is used around the world to help people with substance abuse. Other auricular protocols are used to treat PTSD, cigarette addiction and overeating. One study shows how electrical stimulation added to scalp points can help reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety by stimulating the production centers of serotonin and norepinephrine, while another shows how acupuncture stimulates other emotion processing-related areas of the brain.
As you can see, the science is slowly catching up with the traditional knowledge developed over thousands of years of empirical observation and practice. More and more studies are being undertaken to show how acupuncture benefits emotional balance and overall health.
And best of all: it is a drug free choice that has no side effects!
Dhond RP, Kettner N, Napadow V. Neuroimaging acupuncture effects in the human brain. J Altern Complement Med 2007, 13(6):603–616.
Hammer, Leon. Dragon Rises, Red Bird Flies: Psychology and Chinese Medicine. Eastland Press; Seattle, 2010.
Zhang Z-J, Ng R, Man SC, Li TYJ, Wong W, et al. Dense Cranial Electroacupuncture Stimulation for Major Depressive Disorder—A Single-Blind, Randomized, Controlled Study. PLoS ONE 2012, 7(2): 10.1371.