Emotional Medicine

Hugh Hayward - Chinese Medicine Practitioner 

Heartache and suffering are a growing issue for our young people, with depression being the most frequently managed health issue for people aged between 12 – 24 years of age.
For up and coming Millennial Australians it can feel like they have almost too many places to turn to when it comes to problems of the heart. A perceived information overload and army of experts presenting their views through the media can disrupt their decision making process. So I ask, how do people in a position of care best support a young person going through these issues?

In Chinese philosophy, the shen is the spirit of our emotional state. The expression of the way we see ourselves. Just as seasons shift and change, in Chinese medicine we explore suffering so that it can transform into something beautiful. Thinking of it that way, anyone could look at sadness and pain, and hopefully eventually see a situation with an element of hope and positivity. 

Rather than dealing with labels and ultimatums, Chinese medicine views mental health the same way as other pathologies in the body. Based on a system of pattern recognition, we see emotional suffering and stress as an adjunct to physical disharmony. It is uncommon that they present independently to each other, and one does not outweigh the other in importance. Makes sense right? If your brain chemistry is out, you might have a short fuse or if you have gut health issues, you might feel like crap, so to speak. When the body is happy the mind will be content.
The Spleen, which is largely responsible for digestion in Chinese medicine, also plays a part in digesting our thoughts. If you have issues in this department, you might end up with symptoms like anxiety, excessive worrying or compulsive thinking. If your Liver has been in better shape, you will be quick to anger and might have depressive type emotions, all of which will feel better with exercise, laughing and drinking alcohol ironically.

In my own experience as a person, and as an acupuncturist, the best way to heal emotional pain is to put all of your pain out on the table. As a patient, take a good look at it and allow yourself the time to feel it. At a more progressed state, emotional trauma if unchecked, will lead to a deeper sense of detachment and a reduced interest in life. Suppressing these issues and distracting ourselves from the pain when we feel it only makes things worse. We need to re-learn how to appreciate our suffering as a prompt to understand ourselves better, rather than constantly numbing ourselves when it arises. Very much like physical pain, the longer we leave it, the harder it can be to treat in the future.

It is easy to excuse or refer the ‘difficult’ patients. Some don’t know why they have come to seek help, or are so introverted and detached from their emotions they don’t reveal them for many sessions. As Chinese medicine practitioners we have an incredible set of tools to help us learn from and treat all clients. We have everything we need to effectively treat heartache. With some help from our patients and peers we can probably start to redefine suffering, so that it becomes something of an opportunity for self-discovery and the impetus for change, rather than something that lives under the rug.