It’s all in your head

I was listening to an older, more experienced acupuncturist talk to a group of students the other day.  He was talking about a patient who was rather obsessed with their illness, and who was causing himself more problems by being so.  This practitioner went on to say that most of our problems come about from our minds, 90-99%.  When I hear something like that pronounced with certainty, I have to bite my tongue.  I was raised with that ethos, and while it might be helpful to some, I don’t find it useful.

Where do you go where you are just a mind?  When do you leave your body behind as your mind leaps around on some ethereal, completely mental playground?  What has happened to you when you’re just a body, inert with no mental function?  One always tags along with the other, sometimes unwanted, like a younger sibling trailing behind their idolized older sister.  There’s nothing we can do about it, Mom told us to watch after them, however annoying they can be.  With this necessary and unavoidable entwining, why do we insist on a disorder being solely of the mind, or residing only in the body?  Stress, anxiety and depression can cause illness just as chronic pain or sickness can make one become depressed, stressed, or anxious.  

When we’re experiencing a symptom in our body or mind, we’re feeling it.  Be it real or imagined, it’s there.  If a person is making up an illness, there is something going on with that person that isn’t right and that needs attention.  They don’t need to be dismissed or told they’re not feeling what they’re feeling.  “It’s all in your head,” is neither sympathetic or empathetic, and it sure isn’t a treatment for a person who’s equilibrium is off in some intangible way that they are trying to communicate.  People deserve to be listened to without being questioned if what they’re saying isn’t really true.  I’m not talking about letting someone lead you down the garden path, but about allowing for someone else’s truth to be the truth, especially in how it impacts the health of their body and mind.  

As an acupuncturist, I have a unique opportunity to spend time with patients and to treat both the physical and the mental aspect of each complaint.  Every meridian in the Chinese system has it’s own association of both bodily and emotional symptoms, and this style of medicine allows for the two to be deeply enmeshed.  Though these two aspects of us, body and mind, can sometimes seem at odds and disconnected from each other, they depend on each other for their health and wellness.  We’re an extraordinarily complex animal, and there still exist uncharted continents of medicine where our current understanding doens’t suffice.  It doesn’t do us justice to relegate symptoms or pathology into one or the other of mind and body.  We should embrace this intricacy of our selves, and as a practitioner of a holistic medicine, I strive to honor it in each individual I have the opportunity to treat.