..The Intuitive Times
Complementary Therapies


Depression and Traditional Oriental Medicine

by Daniel Schulman, M.Sc.,Dipl Ac.(NCCAOM)

Back | Next | Contents | Home

In (TOM), body, mind and spirit are not viewed separately. They are an inseparable unity. We are both a mindful body and an embodied mind. Imbalances in the body-mind-spirit system can manifest as a combination of physical and emotional signs and symptoms. Within the theoretical and diagnostic TOM system, everything from the location of moles on your body to the state of your digestive functions to your emotional state are part of a pattern. 'Depression' is a very all-encompassing word. A Traditional Oriental Medicine practitioner may treat each of 20 cases of depression very differently. The individual is always the focus.

The Traditional Oriental Medicine system is based on many different concepts. The twelve meridian/organ complexes (examples include the Liver, Gall Bladder, Kidney, Bladder, Spleen and Stomach) and the five phases (Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, Water) are two TOM principles used to shed light on problems of the body, mind and spirit. Each meridian, organ and phase has its own set of body, mind and spirit associations.

Lets use the Wood phase as an example. Wood associates with the Liver and Gall Bladder. Its predominant emotion is anger. In keeping with the central principle of balance, anger in itself is not a bad thing. It is either an inappropriate display of or absence of anger, which would signal an imbalance within your Wood system. Repressed anger can often be at the core of depression. Other mental/emotional associations with an imbalanced Wood phase include courage (lack of or too much) and difficulties around decision-making. Wood imbalances can manifest with visual symptoms, temporal or vertex headaches, muscle spasm, brittle nails, inflexibility (physical or emotional) and a dislike of wind. If these signs dominated your picture, your Wood imbalance would the focus of acupuncture treatment and lifestyle modification.

Imbalance can propagate just as easily from the emotional level (psyche) through the musculoskeletal level (somatic) to the organ level (visceral) as from the visceral to the somatic to the psychological. So, for example, a longstanding physical problem with the Liver organ can eventually manifest emotional signs within the Wood phase (somatopsychological). Conversely, longstanding emotional problems within the Wood phase (anger) can ultimately manifest with physical symptoms in the Wood/Liver/Gall Bladder system (psychosomatic). At the spirit level, the Wood phase (the Liver in particular) is associated with the spiritual faculty the Ancient Chinese called the 'hun', often translated as the 'ethereal soul'.

Many other important Traditional Oriental Medicine concepts shed light on you as a whole person. For example, an assessment of the state of your 'Blood' (as a TOM concept, not a Western Medical concept) may reveal a history of heavy menstrual bleeding, dry skin, a thin pulse and a tendency to be cold all the time. In this case, your depression may be rooted in what TOM would call 'Blood Deficiency'. Blood is considered the foundation for the spirit in TOM since Blood is Yin and the spirit is Yang. If Blood is deficient, the spirit is not anchored properly, producing feelings of anxiety and uneasiness. This imbalance is treatable with acupuncture, herbs and dietary modifications.

Everyone has heard of Yin and Yang. This is another central concept in Traditional Oriental Medicine. TOM has long recognized the manic (Yang) and depressive (Yin) aspects of mental illness. These are specifically addressed in a number of ways.

Seasonal depression may, according to TOM, have a lifestyle component. Oriental Medicine stresses the importance of living appropriately for each season. Our lives are very out of touch with the seasons. Central heating in winter and air conditioning in summer send mixed signals to the body. Cold salads and tropical fruits in February are seasonally inappropriate. In part, seasonal depression may respond to some degree of seasonal realignment in your lifestyle.

Traditional Oriental Medicine has much to offer in the realm of emotional healing. It works optimally when combined with psychotherapy, counseling or some active pursuit of personal growth. Some studies have shown that when psychotherapy and acupuncture are combined, results are better than when either is used by itself. One of the biggest problems I face in my practice is that most people seek help from TOM as a 'last resort'; after they have tried many other things and have been managed pharmaceutically for years. My job is made more difficult by the presence of very entrenched patterns often combined with longstanding medication side effects. Traditional Oriental Medicine works best when used as an 'early resort'.

Daniel Schulman practices Chinese and Japanese Acupuncture in his Charlottetown clinic.

Back | Next | Contents | Home