An acupuncturist’s view of whole-person healing

December 06, 2022 | by Ryan Davenport, DACM, L.Ac
Categories: Healthy Driven Life

What does it mean to treat the whole person?

Many of us grow up learning that our health is primarily associated with our physical bodies. If we have stomach pain or a headache, many of us assume the problem has to do with just that part of our body and sometimes it may, but often it is more complex.

Conversely, if we are under a lot of stress, depressed or perhaps been diagnosed with a mental health condition, we are told or assume the problem is in our head or with our emotions, but again, these concerns are often more complex and should be viewed as such.

Many years ago, as a student, I learned about the concept of Cartesian dualism, or mind/body separation, which largely originated in the 17th century and has influenced Western thought and medicine since that time. This means the mind and body are viewed and treated as if they are separate from each other.

In reality, a person's health is a dynamic interplay between social, physical and psychoemotional factors. In acupuncture and Chinese medicine, we view the body and mind as inextricably connected and treat it as such.

If we return to our previous example of a headache or pain in the stomach, an acupuncture provider will view these symptoms as a manifestation of a disharmony in the person which could be caused by several interconnecting factors.

For example, in the case of stomach pain, the cause may be an inflammatory diet, food poisoning, an upsetting job and home life, or it may involve all of these factors. Until the root cause or causes are relieved, the health problem will remain.

It is the job of the acupuncture provider, in partnership with the patient, to determine the root cause of your problem, make a diagnosis, develop a treatment strategy and provide the correct therapy.

Sometimes the health problem is simply physical in nature and the correct therapy will be used, but it could also be psychoemotional and social, as well as physical. By viewing the person as a physical, social, emotional and spiritual being, it allows us to see and treat the whole person.

Let’s return to our patient with a stomachache or, more precisely, epigastric pain. Once a diagnosis is made and it is determined that no additional referrals are needed, a typical treatment plan will likely involve some or all of the following:

  • Acupuncture: This involves shallow and relatively painless insertion of tiny needles into specific points on the body to affect change and restore a normal physiological dynamic. Research on acupuncture has increased exponentially over the past 30 years.
  • Tui Na (push/pull): This is a form of Chinese massage. When appropriate, I teach or perform tui na techniques for pain. In this case, it would be a type of abdominal massage.
  • Chinese herbal medicine: In some ways, Chinese herbalism represents the internal medicine of traditional Chinese medicine. Many of the herbs used for digestive complaints have anti-bacterial, anti-viral, anti-fungal and or digestive-stimulating properties. A licensed acupuncturist who is board certified in herbalism can safely administer these formulas.
  • Diet suggestions: Eastern nutrition shares many common elements with Western nutrition as both view what we put into the body as the foundations of health; food is also medicine. Assessing a person’s diet and suggesting changes plays an important role in recovery and maintaining health.
  • Lifestyle suggestions: This may involve learning relaxing exercises, such as Tai ji and Qi Gong, yoga, or meditation and breathing techniques, as well as gardening, hiking, seeing family or even aerobic exercise. Other suggestions may include improving a patient's social environment and referral to a mental health provider or career counselor.

Achieving true health and wellness involves treating the whole person and understanding the interconnected elements that influence health. The notion of wholeness is embedded into the philosophy of acupuncture and Chinese medicine and guides how we view and treat our patients.

Ryan Davenport, DACM, LAc, MA works in the Integrative Medicine Clinic at Edward-Elmhurst Health. He is also an Associate Professor of Chinese Medicine and holds a MA degree in Anthropology.

The acupuncture providers at Edward-Elmhurst Health focus on treating the whole person. Learn more.

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