Friday, June 15, 2018

Publishing my "Five Element Compendium" in blog form

I find that I have written many more of my thoughts on my five element practice that have not yet seen the light of day than I thought I had.  The old Viennese astrologer, Dr Oskar Adler, who I have mentioned before in my blogs, always said that each of us has a duty to pass on whatever we have learnt to the outside world.  “We never know who will read what we have written and who will learn from it,” he said.  So in the belief that the more that is written about five element acupuncture the better, I will be using this blog increasingly to pass on my thoughts to whoever wishes to read them.

These entries will form part of what I will call my “Five Element Compendium”. The dictionary tells me that a compendium is a “package of writing”, or “one-volume handbook or encyclopaedia”, which seems an appropriate way of describing what I will be posting. 


Thursday, June 14, 2018

A lesson from JR Worsley: The importance of keeping control in the practice room

A further lesson which I learnt early on from JR Worsley was a very important one that we often don’t confront in our attempts to make the practice room a welcoming place, and that is ensuring that a practitioner must never allow a patient to take control of what goes on in the practice room.  For once we have lost control, it is very difficult to regain it.  Control can relate to many areas of our practice.  It can cover whether we allow a patient to dictate to us which points they will allow us to needle, at what intervals treatments should be spaced, whether or not we need to answer their questions about the treatment we are giving, and whether they choose not to answer our questions.  If we allow the patient to decide how the treatment will proceed, each of these situations is potentially one where we are assuming that they are the ones who know what needs to be done.  This is of course never the case, and is particularly true in the always tricky case of treating a fellow practitioner or somebody with some knowledge of acupuncture.

The following are some examples of times when I have lost control of the practice room in some way, showing how I at first failed to deal with the situation satisfactorily before finally, after hearing JR’s voice, regaining the control I was in danger of losing.

One of these changed totally the way in which I learnt to deal with patients I found difficult.  Of course we should never call a patient simply “a difficult patient”.  Instead, we should always add the words, “a patient I find difficult”, because our perceptions of people always colour our relationships to them.  A patient whom one practitioner finds difficult may be easy for another practitioner to relate to.  So it is always important to chart for ourselves what kind of situation we find difficult to deal with because often, when looked at closely, this will usually tell us more about ourselves and our own prejudices and inadequacies than about the patients themselves who we feel are making things difficult for us.

Analysed in this way, I realised that what particularly irritated me in a patient’s behaviour was often something as apparently insignificant as arriving a little late for treatment or always phoning to check the time of their next appointment, even though I had seen them enter this into their diary.  In such cases JR taught us a very simple procedure.  “Tell the patient what you find difficult”, but we must always make sure to include the words “I find” in what we say: “I find it difficult when….”   This is acknowledging that our feelings are filtered through our own perceptions.  It is then up to the patient to correct these perceptions or to agree that they are true.  This ensures that you avoid pointing an accusatory finger at them, and are instead asking them whether what you feel tallies with what they feel.

At the same time JR’s advice also taught me how important it was to confront any problem you are having with your patient as soon as possible, rather than trying to ignore it, because it is these sorts of problems, however trivial you may feel they are (does it after all matter if a patient is a few minutes late for a treatment?) which can take on a surprising level of importance out of proportion to their actual significance.  They can then cast disturbing shadows over our time with our patient.  For example, before I adopted JR’s advice, I would often be thinking during the treatment itself about how I should be dealing with the situation of the patient arriving persistently late rather than concentrating on the treatment.  Instead I might be cross at myself for being a bit too cowardly to dare say anything, perhaps fearing that I might offend them or that I was endangering the good patient/practitioner relationship I was trying to set up.  In fact the reverse would be true.  I was risking harming this relationship by the very fact that I was delaying dealing with a troubling issue which was getting between me and my patient.  And this was taking up precious time in the practice room which should instead have been spent concentrating upon the treatment.

Another layer was added to the incident of the patient arriving late.   After I had told her that I found this difficult, I noticed a slight change in our relationship which I had not anticipated.  She apologized and promised to make sure that she arrived on time, but actually started to arrive much too early with a rather defiant look on her face, as though challenging me in some way, which I found both puzzling and disturbing.  Something in the situation had obviously unsettled her.  It took me some time to realise that, instead of just accepting the simple fact that she needed to arrive on time, she had interpreted what I said to her as a sign that somehow she had lost face with me, and saw my comment as a reprimand which she was annoyed by.  She was telling me this not in words but in the rather defiant and slightly triumphant look on her face as she persistently arrived much too early for the next few treatments, as though saying, “See, I’m being a good girl now and doing what you told me to do, but I’m not happy with your ticking me off in this way.”  In effect, I felt she was acting like a sulky little child, and showing me an unexpected side to her character.  She was a high-flying business woman, and I had no doubt she was the sort of person who would always make sure that she arrived well on time for any of her important business meetings.  So why not with me?  Did I represent somebody who evoked a relationship where the roles of who was in charge were blurred or difficult for her to deal with, the obvious person being, of course, her mother, since I am quite a bit older than she is?

I may seem to be making rather heavy weather of this slight, but clear change in our relationship, but it made me uneasy enough to view her name in the diary with some trepidation, as though I knew there was yet another issue here that I was not dealing with properly.  It really felt that there was a hidden struggle for control going on between us in the practice room.  We have talked this through now, and she agrees that the situation of me being her therapist and she the patient somehow made her feel as though I had taken on the superior role, and she has always found that difficult, in whatever therapeutic situation she had been in.  And it turned out that it did indeed remind her of resenting her rather controlling mother.  I think we have now talked this through sufficiently to move on, but it has left a slight feeling of discomfort in the air between us, which I hope will be dispelled in time.
Often it is just this feeling I have that something is not quite right between the patient and me which leads me to understanding my patient better.  Sometimes, of course, the opposite can happen.  If a patient feels that we are moving on to emotional ground which they find too uncomfortable to deal with and wish to avoid, these become the times when a patient may suddenly stop treatment rather than confront what is causing the unease.  And I, as practitioner, may not be adept enough to work out a way of helping me get round this particular obstacle to treatment.

Another issue which can often cause us problems is the extent to which we allow a patient to become involved in treatment situations.  This becomes a particularly difficult area in five element acupuncture if we start discussing with our patients which particular element we have decided to treat them on.  I know that different practitioners have different opinions about the wisdom of doing this.  Some do not mind at all going through with their patient the reasons why they have chosen a particular element.  I am not convinced, though, about some of the practitioners’ motives for doing this.  Hidden deep within this decision may be the practitioner’s often unconscious need to get some reassurance from the patient about the treatment we are offering them.  We may feel we are on the right track if the patient appears to agree with our choice, or our confidence in our diagnosis may be undermined if the patient shows disbelief at our choice.  In both cases, we are in effect allowing the patient to influence the diagnosis, a bad idea when we consider that they are not trained to recognize the elements as we have been, and also because they may have a predilection for one or other element from their rather superficial knowledge of them.  By letting our patients influence our choice of element may well be because we may unconsciously be revealing our lack of confidence in our own diagnosis by drawing the patient in to help us.

I remember clearly the day during my training at Leamington when a group of students went up to be diagnosed by JR, and arrived back depressed in the classroom, because he had diagnosed quite a few of them as Earth, when they were convinced they were Fire, Fire apparently having a better press for them than what they regarded as the neediness of Earth.

This brings me to the always tricky problem which rears its head once we approach treating a fellow five element acupuncturist.  Here there is not just the compulsion we all seem to feel to support our treatment choices by drawing an acupuncturist/patient into discussing what treatment is needed, but there is the additional problem that a practitioner often has their own fixed idea about their element, assuming that somehow their own personal understanding of themselves makes them better qualified to diagnose themselves than their practitioner.  The opposite is true.  We often like to flatter ourselves that we possess emotional qualities which we admire, whilst ignoring those aspects of ourselves which have a less attractive side.  So we are not good judges of which is our dominant element, or even of the elements of our nearest and dearest.  I remember very vividly completely misdiagnosing one of my children, choosing to interpret his behaviour in a selective way which fitted my somewhat erroneous perception of him, much coloured, and I realise therefore distorted, by my love for him. 

We have to accept that all of us have a tendency to regard one or other element in a more favourable light than the others, however hard we try not to, because events in our personal lives have shaped our approach to the elements.  All this has proved an excellent lesson for me not to treat those to whom we are too close, although this can sometimes not be avoided, particularly if there is no other five element practitioner geographically close enough.  The important thing is to be aware of the drawbacks, of which there are many.




Never let a patient take control in the practice room

It is interesting how often somebody asks me a question or tells me about something which has happened in their practice which illustrates something I have just written or am thinking about.

I just received the following email from Hongmei, a five element acupuncturist in Singapore:

Last Thursday I had a small issue. One of my patients has been doing the 5 Element treatments for nearly 5 months. I strictly followed the procedure.  But last Thursday she urged me to squeeze her in (that day I was fully booked). I agreed to let her come to see me after my normal work hours. She was very bothered by her sleepless night, and asked me to do the CV GV for her. She had it first time in mid April , and then another time in mid May. Two weeks later I did some other treatment (clearing a different Entry/Exit block, CV14 and Earth source points). She said after this treatment she did not feel well, could not sleep and easily got upset. She asked why and wanted only the CV GV. I explained to her again how 5 Element acupuncture worked. I refused to do the CV GV for her again after I took her pulse , and suggested another treatment. She got very upset and refused to do what I suggested. I let her sleep in my clinic for a while. She then decided to do nothing. I let her go. But I felt awful. I was very tired. My energy was not good. I did not handle it beautifully. But it’s a good lesson. I am learning.”

In reply to this email, I just sent Hongmei the following extract of something I had just written, with the title “Never let a patient take control in the practice room”, a particularly appropriate piece to help Hongmei at the moment, I feel.

A further lesson which I learnt early on from JR Worsley was a very important one that we often don’t confront in our attempts to make the practice room a welcoming place, and that is ensuring that a practitioner must never allow a patient to take control of what goes on in the practice room.  For once we have lost control, it is very difficult to regain it.  Control can relate to many areas of our practice.  It can cover whether we allow a patient to dictate to us which points they will allow us to needle, at what intervals treatments should be spaced, whether or not we need to answer their questions about the treatment we are giving, and whether they choose not to answer our questions.  If we allow the patient to decide how the treatment will proceed, each of these situations is potentially one where we are assuming that they are the ones who know what needs to be done.  This is of course never the case, and is particularly true in the always tricky case of treating a fellow practitioner or somebody with some knowledge of acupuncture.”

Reading through what she has written carefully, I see that there are a few things that I would like to point out which might help in future, apart from the obvious fact that she seemed to allow her patient to interfere in the treatment more than is wise. 

1. We shouldn’t need to explain our selection of treatments to our patients, because this is to draw them into the practitioner role, something which it is always unwise for us to do. 
2. Then there is rarely, if ever, a need to clear a CV/GV (Ren Mai/Du Mai) block more than once, provided we are sure we got the points the first time.
3. There are many reasons why patient say that they don’t feel good after a treatment.  It’s unusual, because all the elements like being helped, but often it is a way of a patient trying to control the treatment, and should not be regarded as evidence that we have given the wrong treatment.  Patients have all sorts of different motives for not wanting to acknowledge the success of treatment.
4. “She refused to do what I suggested.”  As soon as a patient refuses to allow us to do the treatment we think is necessary, we must immediately stop treatment (after all they are in effect withdrawing their consent to any further treatment).  At this point, Hongmei should have told the patient she could not help her any further.  She should certainly not have let her “sleep in (her) clinic for a while”. Allowing the patient to sleep in the clinic sounds as if Hongmei was worried by her patient’s reaction, and was trying to placate her – never a good idea

What I admire about Hongmei’s account of this interaction with her patient is her honesty in seeing that she did not handle the situation well.  When she reads the remainder of my blog from which the extract above is taken (see my next blog), she will see that I give my own examples of how I, too, have often lost control in the practice room, and therefore failed to help my patients.  We all live and learn, as I do after all these years in practice.

Monday, June 11, 2018

A new approach to my blog

I have been particularly interested in looking at the important milestones in my acupuncture life (see my blogs of 1 and 2 June).  I now see that what I want to write about will fit well into the structure of different entries in this blog, though each may be a little longer and a little fuller than they have usually been.

My next few blogs will continue to list some more of the lessons I received over the years, including those from my time studying with JR Worsley.

Each element needs to love and be loved, each in a different way

I recently received an interesting question from Pierre in France, an acupuncturist who is fascinated by learning as much as he can about the elements:

“I have a new question about Fire CFs.
We know that they want to share, and to give love. And they suffer if their love is not received. But do they need more than the other CFs to be loved or is it just a human need, regardless of the CF?"

After much thought, this was my answer:

“It is a human need for everybody to be loved, but each element expresses its need for love in different ways.  Fire more than the other elements enjoys the act of loving.  It warms its heart, so it will find it more difficult than other elements if there is nobody around for it to love.  It is not only that Fire wants to receive love.  I think its greater need is to offer love.  Other elements don’t have the same level of need to offer love.

Your question has made me think, and I may write another blog about this, because what you asked raises interesting questions about all the elements.”

What he asked set me thinking about the ways in which the different elements do their loving.  Whatever our element, we all have a Fire element, with the Heart deep within it, which wishes to love and be loved, but this need will be tempered by each element’s specific needs.  So what do the non-Fire elements want from their loving? 

I have come up with the following simple definitions of how I see the other elements’ relationship to love:

Wood takes love for granted
Earth needs love
Metal accepts love
Water craves love for reassurance
And Fire, as I told Pierre, wants to give love

 I am sure that other people will have very different ideas from mine, particularly people who are not Fire people themselves, but then everything we feel has to pass through the filter of our own element.  My thoughts are therefore unashamedly coloured by my Fire element, I expect.


Saturday, June 2, 2018

Lessons from the master

(This blog will form part of my next book, where I expand upon the profound lessons I learnt when observing JR Worsley with patients)

When I am teaching, as I have been recently over a busy two weeks in Beijing, a question I am asked often serves as a reminder of some important incident which took place during my training or my early years as a practitioner, which I now see set me thinking quite differently about my practice.  Each of these incidents proved a catalyst, opening up new directions to my thoughts.  I am surprised to find how many such important events have occurred in my acupuncture life, and appreciate now that without them I would not have made the often unconventional detours I did.  Much of my development as a five element acupuncturist, and reflected now in my writings, has been based on what could be considered the rather unconventional approach I have adopted when measured against that of many of my peers.

I have often thought that the tone was firmly set early on when I was asked to teach an evening class about acupuncture at a London evening institute at a time well before complementary practices were in such common use as they are today.  This was also when I had only just qualified.  It meant that I was free to develop my own thoughts about my practice unhampered by others, since there weren’t any others around doing what I was doing.  I found myself talking about five element acupuncture to a very wide range of lay people, and therefore had to couch my thoughts in very general terms, rather than assume that my audience and I spoke the common language familiar to all acupuncturists.  I taught at several of these institutes during the first few years of my practice, allowing the differing groups of people who came to my classes to influence how I expressed myself and how far what I was learning from my practice could be translated into a language they could all understand, from the builder, the retired postman, the young student, the bank clerk and the unemployed people who crowded into my classes evening after evening.

This allowed me a freedom to be cherished, something I did not realise until later, for I was able to develop my own ideas quite independently of other professional acupuncturists, and quite unhampered or inhibited by opinions about the practice of acupuncture which might well have differed from mine.  When I rejoined my fellow acupuncturists two years later as part of my first advanced training course under JR Worsley, I brought the often rather odd ideas I had developed into my time with him, a time which proved to be the most exhilarating of all my years of acupuncture training.  It also proved to be a time of heightened tension in the five element world as it coincided with JR Worsley’s own fight to keep the college he had nurtured so carefully for the past 20 years untainted by the introduction of other less traditional forms of acupuncture as he felt strongly it would be.  Eventually he lost this fight and had to resign, and this led almost directly to my starting the School of Five Element Acupuncture (SOFEA) with the express intention of continuing his work of spreading the practice of this branch of acupuncture, and often, to my delight, with his active support.

I took every opportunity I could to observe JR in his interactions with patients, and was fortunate that the time of my postgraduate training with him coincided with his last years at Leamington. There was therefore a rather febrile atmosphere at the Leamington college during my last years there, with acupuncturists lining up on one side or the other of unfortunately an increasingly hostile divide.  Sensing this, I made every effort to stay as close to JR as I could, attending all his seminars and taking many patients to private consultations with him.  I view these few final years at Leamington as forming my own personal apprenticeship to the master of five element acupuncture.

It was during this period of intense activity that I experienced many of the seminal moments which have set my acupuncture practice on such a fulfilling course.  In particular I am now enjoying reliving some of the profound lessons I learnt when studying with JR. The first of these occurred when I was sitting in the classroom at the Leamington college during a lunch break watching a video of JR with a patient, in which he was asking the young patient a question.  I remember her looking puzzled, thinking for a minute, and then saying, “I’m not sure how to answer that”.  Unnoticed by me, JR had come into the classroom, and was standing behind me.  I heard him murmur, “Only a II CF would say that”.  Translated into the acupuncture language in common use now this meant that only a Fire person who was Inner Fire (the Small Intestine is given the Roman numeral II in five element acupuncture) would express herself in those terms.  Not only did this teach me a lot about the distinctions to be made between Outer Fire’s much more articulate responses to a question and Inner Fire’s verbal hesitancy as it tries to sort out its thoughts, it also taught me a lot about myself, and has continued to do so over the years, for it has made me, an Inner Fire person, so much clearer to myself.  So, I asked myself, was this the way I respond to questions, with the initial brief air of puzzlement this patient showed, before finally sorting out an answer to give which satisfies the Small Intestine’s need to pass only what is pure on to the Heart?  Now, whenever I try to work out whether a person’s Fire element is that of Inner or Outer Fire, I always draw on the image of this girl’s puzzled face to help me decide.


Thursday, May 31, 2018

Planning my 8th book

For my next book, I have decided to write about the most important milestones in my acupuncture life over the past 40 years, many of them associated with what I learnt at the feet of JR Worsley.  I have been surprised to find that these include so many of what I call seminal moments, particularly spread around the early years of my practice, which have acted as catalysts, directing my understanding of what I was doing along new paths.  Drawing these together now, I realise how fortunate I was to form part of the last cohort of JR’s postgraduate students at Leamington, at a time when I was very aware, particularly throughout the last two years of my Masters’ course there, that storm clouds were gathering over five element acupuncture’s head, for a while threatening its very existence.  For a time after I left, these almost obliterated five element acupuncture’s right to exist as a legitimate stand-alone acupuncture discipline.

Thank goodness that I now feel that that threat, though very real at the time I founded the School of Five Element Acupuncture in 1995, is now rapidly receding in the light of China’s enthusiastic welcome of five element acupuncture back into its homeland over the past seven years.  So where some years ago what I write might have been tinged with sadness at the hard battles I have had to fight to keep five element acupuncture alive in this country, now it is with joy that I am bearing witness to a complete reversal of its fortunes.  And I hope that I am not being too arrogant to revel in the thought of what SOFEA, its graduates and I have done to achieve this.  As JR said, “They will want five element acupuncture back in China soon”, and that is what, thankfully, has happened.


Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Another heart-warming email, this time all the way from Israel

It is unusual for me to receive two such accolades for five element acupuncture as I have done so close together over the past few days.  I blogged about one on 31 March, and here’s the second one from Anton Aridan, an Israeli five element acupuncturist.  As with Jo’s, what Anton has written makes all the hard work Guy and I do so life-enhancing and worthwhile.

“I have just read a touching email, that you published in your blog, from a student of yours expressing gratitude. This moved me to express mine, for I have been wanting to do this for quite a long time now and just been kind of shy.

I am now re-reading your book 'Keepers of the Soul', the one that inspired me at first time to come to London and learn from you. Now, after some little bit of experience, what I discover is just the truth of whatever I have read or heard from you. I see how patients so willing to move to discuss their emotions instead of pains. I see how they appreciate that I listen for them carefully, instead of rushing to do a treatment. I started seeing the slightest changes in patients after a successful treatment.

Some days ago a new patient came with very bad knees. She told me such a horrible story of her life that I decided to add the CV14 point just after AE drain on the first treatment, because I thought her spirit really needed some support. And, of course, I finished with her source points. After the treatment I told her that I was not sure if I could help her knees. She said that she was sure I could not help her knees, but she felt so much better in herself that she would come for treatments just for that. Again the truth that you teach, being honest with the patients only helps. And feeling better in themselves is sometimes all that patients really seek for.

I feel like I have found my place in five element acupuncture. I want to thank you and Guy very much for passing with such passion whatever you know to anyone, who wants to learn.” 

Saturday, March 31, 2018

A heartening tale of simple five element treatment

I have just received the following most heart-warming email from a fellow five element practitioner, which, with her permission, I want to share with everybody interested in receiving confirmation of how effective simple five element treatments can be.

“I thought you might be interested to hear about the success of my low cost clinic at Quay Place in Ipswich.

You may remember that you kindly wrote a reference for me to start working at this venue. It’s a heritage and wellbeing centre managed by Suffolk Mind.   I’ve been working there for just over a year now, offering a low cost clinic on a Tuesday afternoon/evening.

The sessions are aimed at people with mental health issues who are currently waiting for a referral or for counselling/cognitive behaviour therapy, or who feel overwhelmed by the thought of talking therapy. 

I offer 30-minute sessions on a 1:1 basis, for £17. I’m absolutely amazed and humbled by the response and the number of people who come - my 5-hour clinic is consistently fully booked.

I’m using very simple five element treatments - IDs, EDs, AE and source points with minimal talking.  People who come are extremely stressed and traumatised and cannot cope with in-depth TDs - they just need to relax and let the needles do the work, with minimal intervention.

The treatment gives these patients a degree of consistency and a plan of action, and a feeling of autonomy in that they are being proactive in addressing their condition.

There’s nothing worse for these patients than hanging around and waiting for the mental health service to get its act together- it’s demoralising and disempowering. These treatments give the patients hope and a vision for change - and that’s vitally important in their journey to recovery. 

My home clinic is also extremely busy and I’ve had to change my way of working in order to accommodate more patients. 

I’ve recently had patients seeking treatment on the advice of their hospital consultants - how amazing is that?!  It seems that the Western medics are finally getting the message!

I am eternally grateful to you and Guy for your inspiration and support early on, which has enabled me to gain confidence in my practice, so that in turn I can help others to help themselves.”

Thank you, Jo Banthorpe, for sharing your rewarding experiences with me, and for allowing me to pass on what you have written to encourage other five element practitioners  How lucky we are to be engaged in such life-enhancing work.