Mental Health and Acupuncture


New science, old ideas and why you can’t separate mental health and physical health

Even though we understand intellectually that the mind and body are connected, we’re still defining what the best new ways are to bridge that treatment gap for mental health. New studies are showing that acupuncture and Chinese medicine may just be the way.

the spiritual, the natural and the scientific

In case you missed our Mental Health and Acupuncture lecture, here it is for your viewing enjoyment. In which Beth talks about the holistic perspective of traditional Chinese medicine and the science behind why acupuncture helps.

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Welcome and Introduction

Welcome everybody it’s been a long time. I think too long since I’ve done one of these so I’m really excited to get back into that groove this year and keep bringing you more content about Chinese medicine because let’s be real I just can’t stop myself. So, welcome if you’re joining us live I’ll be keeping track of comments and questions as we go along and I’ll try to answer them as best I can and if you’re watching this on replay go ahead and just put a #replay in there and I will make sure that I respond to you if and when you get the chance to ask your questions because as you all know Educate, Empower and Heal is our tagline we want you to walk away feeling like you know just a little bit more about what it is we’re doing. So without further ado I’m going to begin our conversation today on mental health and Chinese medicine. This is going to just be an overview for you guys because the subject is just too broad to go into too much detail, but I thought we could hit a few of the highlights today. Maybe just kind of whet your appetite for some more. I promise that if there’s something that you like or are interested in, let me know we’ll go ahead and dig into it deeper. I definitely have plans to expand upon some of this content more in future videos so I just wanted to give you a bit of an update here.

Who am I?

My name is Dr Beth Walker Gram and I’m an acupuncturist and a Chinese medical herbalist. As I said before, our company ethos is educate, empower and heal here at Elemental Wellness and so you find that when you work with me personally or in this context that I’m really all about giving you as much information as you can have so that you really feel empowered to make the best decisions that you can for your health. I practice Chinese medicine so most of what I can educate you about in terms of your body has to do with how we organize it according to the theories of Chinese medicine. I know that seems a bit foreign for a lot of people but I promise you even as a born and raised California girl, it makes sense to me sort of naturally. I studied on a five-year full-time course to qualify with a doctor of acupuncture and Chinese medicine so I have spent the better part of a decade doing this with my life and I really do love it it’s just it’s the way that it all makes sense to me. I also have a special interest in using Chinese medicine to treat mental health disorders so I did a rotation in my clinical education doing a lot of work with people who were suffering from mental health problems from anxiety and depression all the way to other forms of more serious mental health issues and I was trained in the San Francisco Bay area and a large population of people living in that area suffer with mental health issues and are living with those. A lot of that stuff Western medicine doesn’t really have a solution for and I found when I was studying Chinese medicine there were things that popped up to me I was like “we have a solution for that why aren’t we using it” so that really piqued my interest in being able to use Chinese medicine to help treat mental health conditions. In addition to what I had during my doctoral degree I also went on to do some more study outside of school in Chinese medicine and specifically its use in mental health so I have continuing education certification in treating trauma and also depression using Chinese medicine so we’ll talk a little bit more about some of that later on.

Holistic Mental Health

I feel like the really important thing to know about mental health from a Chinese medicine’s perspective is and you’re going to hear me say this all the time but it’s a holistic approach to all kinds of Health but also to mental health and I think that’s one of the things that really gives Chinese medicine an edge is that it’s always looked at the integration of mental health and physical health. We’ve never made a separation between those things according to Chinese medicine theory going back thousands of years. So when you’re looking to treat mental health issues, being able to go to a system of Health that looks at those things within the context of holistic medicine is really helpful. You’ll find that it’s both physical it’s spiritual. It’s natural, emotional and we have science now chemical. So let’s keep that in mind as we’re moving forward.

Shamanic and a language with less stigma

So from the spiritual, I I know you’re all going to kind of look at “spiritual medicine”, but it is spiritual medicine. And I think it’s funny because really the ancient roots of Chinese medicine were shamanic. This is part of the reason why a lot of people discount Chinese medicine as a legitimate practice of Medicine because of course the early writings, some of our earliest written evidence of Chinese medicine, we talk about mental illness within the context of demonic possession. And the treatments were actually administered by local shamans and so this is in keeping of course with much of indigenous medicine throughout the world where the medicine bringers were also the spiritual leaders of the village. But what I think is most interesting about this is that the cultural context within which they can address mental illness, it normalizes its presence. Like, the presence of mental illness is something that’s out of balance rather than a sort of terminal pathology of the individual human, which I think is at the root of some of our modern stigmas against mental health. So, I know that on the front end it’s going to sound like “oh, are you practicing shamanic medicine” and a lot of people do. You can pick up on the roots of that. But we’re going to talk a little bit about that progression because you’ll see how that comes through a lot in our terminology, which remains the same and it does have its roots there but the thing that I like about those roots is that it really helps us to to have language to talk about these things from a cultural context that is not stigmatizing and that I think can sometimes help. And again, that goes back to the holistic as well

All the Beings

So this is a quote from a well-known scholar of Chinese medicine Elizabeth Rochat de Vallee who does a lot of translation work of Chinese medicine texts and she just has really beautiful insight into the language that we use in Chinese medicine and specifically a lot of the schools of medicine that I’ve studied and that I like but this is the “Spirits are the spirits of heaven” and she uses these Chinese characters and words here “tian shen who lead all the beings to appear” and I like this idea of taking the Shen which is our Chinese medicine word for Spirit, and we’re going to break it down a little bit if you want more information on Shen you can definitely go back to one of my earlier lectures on the the fundamentals of Chinese medicine where I talk about the Shen as one of the vital substances because we we use that word in Chinese medicine but I’ll show you a little today it’s not as simple as that but she uses this word, all beings to appear and I think this speaks a little bit to that concept of demonic possession as though those are Spiritual Beings but also talking about our own mental health, the Shen of us right, our spiritual being and that sometimes illness happens when you have the meaning of something that is both not of yourself right it doesn’t belong there it’s not giving you balance and of yourself right this is your own emotional health and I think a lot of times people who suffer from mental illness do feel that way, they feel like there’s a disconnect between that part of themselves and their spiritual personality that is not them and that is them and I think it’s important for us to remember that that’s all Shen. I like that part of Chinese medicine.

Natural medicine, gentler herbal formulas

Chinese medicine is natural medicine and as theory evolved, our TCM Theory evolved. We began to incorporate more of the natural world into our models so by 200 BCE the natural theory had replaced these spiritual theories these shamanic practices of the earlier days of the medicine and it was sort of now administered by people who were Physicians. Not spiritual leaders so much so but as I was saying earlier the root of that, the language that we use to talk about the things still kind of remained the same so you’ll have a lot of names and labels that we have for points or herbs where we use the language of the spiritual medicine because it’s it’s still there it’s still a piece of the evolution and it falls within that holistic construct of the qi system and this is where we begin to see that Shen that I was talking about before in that quote. You see a soul, the mind, the spirit. It’s also during this time that we begin to see syndromes that we actually can recognize as actual psychiatric conditions. So many of our diagnostic practices from today even, come from this period of time where um where we were looking at the natural world to help us identify the cause of illness and we still use a lot of that today. I particularly like the the herbal treatments from this period so there’s a lot of our classical texts that make up part of our education that have a lot of herbal references and I like them because when you’re looking at formulas to treat mental health or psychiatric illness, a lot of the herbal treatments that we use in comparison to modern psychotropic medications you can get from your doctor or even the symbols that we use from Western medicine where you’ve got like ethenogenic medicine and things like that. Herbal medicine that we use today, modern or in traditional Western context as well but the Chinese medicine formulas tend to be really gentle. So one of the biggest complaints I hear people talking about in terms of the treatment that’s available to them is that they don’t like the way their medicine makes them feel or they’ve got negative side effects. A lot of the the Western herbal medicines we use to treat mental health are really harsh I mean they can be beautiful too but they can also be very powerful physical experiences and not everybody’s up for that that Journey so I really like the way we use herbal medicine in Chinese herbal medicine to treat mental health because I just find that it’s a bit of a gentler road to go.

5 Elements and Balance

Next I’m going to talk a little bit about the Five Element Theory. Again I have other videos on this if you want to go back to my fundamental series you can look at some videos on Five Element Theory so I’m not going to go into it heavily today but a lot of the medicine that we use in a modern context comes back to this system of organization so you can re-watch my Five Element Theory fundamentals lecture and and I think pay specific attention to the generation cycle and the controlling cycle as I explained them. Because of course, the overview is, everything in life can be ascribed to an element and those five elements live in a cycle where they either form a circle where they generate each other or they form a star actually is the pattern that we use in that same configuration where one element will control or insult the other and using those models we can sort of apply that because each element has its own associated emotion right and in Five Element Theory there’s a whole school of acupuncture based on Five Element Theory and in this school each human has a pre a predominant sort of constitutional element that they hold and live their life with. And so, through taking pulses and things like that you can make your diagnosis and then you have your acupuncture treatment and and the cool thing about that is that Five Element acupuncture is almost all about balance so we even call it the four needle balancing technique so it’s fewer needles very few needles and then it’s all about balance and generally when you’re using the four needle technique you’ll go back and you’ll put a needle in and then you’ll check the pulse to see if the pulse is responded so you tend to get quite rapid effects that you can feel immediately in a pulse when you’re using this technique. I like the fact that it’s got balance that it’s coming from nature. I love the fact that we’ve got emotional context there within the Five Element Theory. I love the Five Element theory of diagnosis just in general but it’s a major part of how we use Chinese medicine to treat Mental Health.

6 Shen

The next piece I think it’s really important to go into, you’ve heard me use this word Shen a few times. And I sometimes hint at the idea that there’s more than one and in fact there is that. The Chinese character Shen as Elizabeth Rochat de vallee has been trying to explain it to us for a long time and I’m still not sure we all understand but I think it’s important to remember that there’s complexity to it and I like the way the five element Theory kind of breaks that down a little bit because we can associate a different aspect of the Shen to each of the different internal organs and get a more complete picture of what that word generally encompasses. So Shen, as it were, when we use that word, generally is actually referring to the emperor Shen or the shen of the heart. And that is about your visage, the the way your spirit shines through your face. Awareness, vibrant fluid intelligent. It’s all about Clear Eyes, responsive facial expressions. This is a “clear Shen” and that’s all about the heart. And of course because it’s the emperor Shen it is the leader of the Shen and everybody else kind of serves the emperor in this context. The next shen that we have is the jun and that is the will and it’s associated with the kidneys and this is the intention and effort required to accomplish things and so you’ll begin to start seeing ideas of pathology with the jun come into effect if you start looking at it within terms of depression or something like that where you say “I just don’t have the will. I just can’t get out of bed” we now know that whatever is affecting you is now affecting that jun of the kidneys. The next is a Yi or the intellect and this is associated with the spleen and this is like the conceptual mind. So this is how you form intentions and unconscious like thought. How you form intentions? You exercise discernment right, but a Yi that’s out of balance will elicit unconscious internal chatter so you’re gonna have overthinking or you’re going to be really pensive. But if it’s actually in in concert with its own Spirit it’s going to be intelligent and understanding. So we look at balances or imbalances within that particular aspect. Your Po is your corporeal Shen or probably what most people would refer to as the soul. It’s the piece of your body that’s you that dissolves when you die and it’s the thing that’s attached to your your body. So it’s the thing that lives with you. So if you’re an atheist, the Po is your soul. But if you have other spiritual inclinations, you believe in an afterlife, the soul is the Hun. Which is the Ethereal soul and that is the piece of your consciousness that exists beyond death. So in order to really understand the Shen you have to understand that there’s more levels to it, to that word than just mind or Spirit. There are five of them. They all associate with different organ systems and then ultimately, because the five elements are a very Taoist theory, when you unify them together, a unified Shen, when all five of those Shen are operating in harmony, it’s the unified mind of the Tao. That is what people are searching for: The Way of the Tao. So Shen, it’s Chinese medicine it gets a little complicated but ultimately it’s elegant and we love it for that.

8 Extraordinary meridians

Anybody who knows me has talked to me about Chinese medicine particularly mental health Chinese medicine knows that I’m a bit of an eight extraordinary meridian’s nerd um my my training in this is uh I loved it I just I love the way it explains how a human forms and so I kind of refer to it as TCM embryology um and there are specific acupuncture treatments that really refer to each of these uh meridians and so when we’re treating mental health we can go specifically into these meridians and work with points on them to move and change and it’s just they’re really deep and they’re formative I guess is the right word to use so the first ones that form we’ll go over it quickly are the do and the red the ren is that mothering Meridian you know babies are born sort of all crouched up in that fetal position so that’s the nourishing that’s the run on the front of the body as they begin to um oh and that’s attachment right we have that strong attachment that’s what’s associated there as you begin to straighten out anybody who’s seen a newborn baby does takes about a week they start to unball they’re no longer little peanuts they become little leggy things um that’s the do right and we call that the governing vessel and it really is also associated with your will right this is again we go back to that concept of the the Shen right where we’re looking at will to move about your world it’s a very Dynamic and creative Force like you all of a sudden go oh I want to move right and that’s the that’s the do and then quickly thereafter you have the development of the Chong which is this upright Rod that kind of runs through the body and that really is part of the purpose so it’s really connected with with your purpose and and you know that that the the independence of the of the youness of you right um and so the trong is sort of where where we sort of begin to be people we’re not just still like you know unattached baby that’s you know needs nourishment or like a willful thing that has no Direction the trunk is where we get that and then around that same time we also develop our dime Meridian which is called The girdling Vessel and I like to call that your trauma pocket because it’s it’s where you kind of Tuck the things that you’re not really able to manage at the time and so we do also tend to work quite a bit with the dimeridian when we’re dealing with situations of trauma so you know trauma Pockets your dye and then you get into the way mind there’s a yin and a young we might and those um those really give you more structure right we start to have external structure there concept of self and personality and really self-love like coming to love ourselves um I don’t know if it’s necessarily I feel like identity lives somewhere in between the way my and the chioma but like it’s the beginnings of that and then when you finally get to the chaumai um the yin and the Yang Chao um you get that character like the piece of you that kind of gives you that that solid uh solidity and Surety like you know the content of your character and and also connects you with your higher purpose right your higher spiritual awareness of yourself within the context of of the universe really even beyond the world or yourself so it begins to take you out of yourself and it takes until your mid-20s for the chaumai to actually fully develop um so we see that kind of tracks biomedically with like prefrontal cortex function for instance which we know that your prefrontal cortex doesn’t fully finish developing until you’re in your early 20s unless you have ADHD in which case it likely doesn’t finish forming until later than that even so um yeah I just love looking at these sort of formations and then when we start looking back at people who are processing you know either historical trauma or different kinds of barriers that are kind of coming between them and a really fulfilling uh emotional and spiritual life we can go back into these eight extraordinary meridians and that embryology and see if we can’t um you know just kind of I like to call it pulling strings do you know what I mean as though you’re playing a harp where you just kind of pull that string and that string and allow them to work in concert within your Consciousness to help you make sense of those things I also like it because uh you don’t have to talk to anybody like we have some intake we talk about whatever you want to talk about we have a few questions we ask and then I put some needles in and you hang out for a half an hour in your body and you let your body talk to you and your brain talk to you because as I usually tell people you are the highest Authority

the western science

So that kind of brings us to the third part of my talk tonight I think I’m tracking on time I think I’m doing good um and that is it TCM is also scientific medicine I know I started off I’m like oh it’s shamanic people used to think people were possessed by the demons and they did and it is and that’s fine and also we now know in a modern context that it’s scientific we have modern research that shows us how acupuncture affects brain activity function chemistry right so more and more um we’re showing that it’s positively affecting brain activity in the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala and the hippocampus we’re using things like functional MRI imaging to get that information we know that it affects our brain chemistry we’ve done studies that talk about how it affects your neurotransmitters like serotonin and norepinephrine and dopamine which are just a few many more than that um it also works on an endocrine level and it helps deal with um the the hypothalamic pituitary Axis or the HPA axis I’m not going to go into that today because it’s just too much too much science you guys will like glaze over if you haven’t already um but basically if you’ve watched my lecture on stress which you can also go back and watch you’ll understand that that HPA axis is really important in regulating your autonomic nervous system and your stress responses and so what it does it sort of inhibits that that response to help you manage those stressful feelings that come with things like anxiety and it also works on an immunologic level we know now that a lot of mental health is exacerbated by by inflammation and immune issues and so we um we know that from an immunological level it works with il-6 and tnf and and helps your body regulate um those those systems so that you have like increased immune function with decreased inflammation and that’s great um and then the other thing that I just love about it so many studies uh were coming up there was a meta-analysis and and the general feeling was that like that it’s rapid that it works quickly that it has long-term effect um and that it actually has an enhancing effect um on whatever other treatment you’re having so if you’re if you’re taking medication it’s a safe thing to use um to increase and enhance the effect of your medication and the other thing that’s cool is those same studies are also talking about how few side effects people actually have so not only is it safe to use with your medicine it’s not going to inhibit the medicine’s effect it’s not going to exacerbate the medicine’s effect but it’s actually going to help it work better and you aren’t subject to all of the side effects that well I mean if you’re having medication you’ve got those but but there’s no additional side effects that are added with the addition of acupuncture to help you treat your mental health issues which I think is great


I just have to say this right acupuncture is safe when administered by a well-trained acupuncturist make sure you bet your practitioner make sure they have the education and the training a two-day course is not a course on how to safely insert needles there’s a lot of bad press on on people who aren’t acupuncturists doing damaging things with needles so there are side effects anybody who’s been in my clinic knows that um I I make sure that you all understand what that what the possible effects are but a well-trained acupuncturist should be able to avoid those so um yeah uh I like this because this came from a an article on anxiety it says that studies show that acupuncture is more effective than pharmacotherapy and comparable to talking therapy speaking of anxiety making it a helpful referral Choice moreover research has revealed several known biochemical and biophysical mechanisms that may offer an explanation of how this ancient modality works

Polyvagal Theory

and that’s just sort of like your snapshot of what I’ve been talking about here which is that we know that it’s effective we know that it’s safe and we know now some of the mechanisms behind how it’s working and one of those mechanisms as I refer as I mentioned earlier has to do with the the central nervous system the autonomic nervous system and there’s a a lot of research that we’ve done into in the vagus nerve there’s some new psychological research coming out about polyvagal Theory which takes its name from the vagus nerve right and that the vagus nerve is a primary component of the parasympathetic nervous system uh and so uh polyvagal theory has identified like a third piece of this system right that’s referring to social engagement and this is the new psychological model with regard to mental health is that we now know know that it’s not just about neurotransmitters but there’s also like a psychosocial component where we talk about your environment and we talk about your coping mechanisms and other things that you have at place or beginning to look at it even from a western context we’re looking at mental health from a more complex and multi-layered approach and I think polyvagal theory is kind of coming in there to fill that that place where we go oh yeah you know we do know about the the parasympathetic nervous system but you know it’s only part of the explanation um and so for those of you who don’t know parasympathetic nervous system we’re talking about your fight flight a freeze response right and there’s some really interesting stuff going on right now one of the courses that I’m trained in in terms of using acupuncture for trauma response specifically post-traumatic stress disorder where we use the Five Element Theory uh to sort of differentially diagnose PTSD and we can use acupuncture and acupressure to um and the polyvagal theory to help put people back into a state where they can they can use this social engagement system to help work through their trauma so um it’s just an interesting new piece of science that we’re using to kind of work through and it’s a beautiful melding of of Chinese medical Theory and and Western medicine

fMRI and electroacupuncture

So I mentioned fmri or functional MRI studies and these are the things that really get my science brain going I start to really geek out because um you know they’re doing studies right now where they’ll they can put you in an MRI machine and that you can like see like MRIs as it’s happening so it’s a video of the MRI where you get to watch what’s happening in the brain while needles are being put in the body and so you kind of get this real-time you know image of like where the activity is is firing and so we know that you know it’s happening in the amygdala it’s happening in the hippocampus it’s happening in the prefrontal cortex and so and so this picture that you see here is is a brain on acupuncture Electro acupuncture right so you’ve got your control at the bottom and then you’ve got a hundred Hertz of acupuncture stimulation and two Hertz of acupuncture stimulation and then the top one is manual acupuncture but you can see in the two Hertz images how much more activity we have in different parts of the brain and so I just it’s it’s the thing that we haven’t been able to use for a really long time where people say oh how do you have you know scientific evidence acupuncture works it’s like well look what happens when you put a needle in somebody and connect it to some electricity and see what happens in their brain right and then we go oh but you know it helps with depression and it helps with anxiety and and they go how do you know like what’s the amygdala and it’s the hippocampus that’s all and it’s all these areas of the brain that we know are heavily involved like neurobiology knows that these parts of the brain are heavily involved in in how our bodies process things like depression and anxiety and so um these are some of the cool pieces that are really coming into play but I feel like this kind of evidence is really only begin coming like more to the Forefront in the last five years so we’re still kind of catching up a little bit but this is the evidence that makes me really excited from a scientific perspective.

Questions and Closing

So I’m just going to end here and say that today modern Chinese medicine marries the spiritual natural and scientific treatment of illness and I really like that because because we’re not just pieces and parts of you know flesh I mean our whole human beings and science I think is like catching up a little bit so that thing that Chinese medicine has been saying for a really really long time so um if you guys have any questions um I’ll hang out for another couple of minutes and um and see if you want to talk and if not that’s cool if you’re catching us on the replay this is going to go ahead and be oh hi Joy you’re welcome thanks for coming um if you’re catching on the replay go ahead and you know shoot me an email as always I’m here my practice is Elemental Wellness there’s a link to the the website in the comments it’s I do free 20-minute consultations so if you’re not sure if Chinese medicine is right for you give me a call um and I I promise I’ll be honest like if I don’t think it’s for you I will tell you um and um and I’ll answer any questions you have because it’s really important that you all feel comfortable and confident with you know your health because it’s your body and it’s your health and I’m passionate about that so um thank you for joining me today I hope you all have a lovely afternoon and um we’ve rescheduled these lectures so I’m going to keep doing them but I’m going to do them once a month so third Thursdays at 4 P.M you can come catch me here um and we’ll hang out and if you’ve got questions I’ll answer them and um if you have an idea for a topic if you were like this is my wonder what Chinese medicine has to say about that send me an email leave a comment um on the video and we’ll add it to the list um other than that I think this is just going to launch us off on our mental health lecture spree so probably the next couple ones are going to be more in depth about how we use acupuncture I’m not sure if we’re going to make them by syndrome if we’re going to talk about like you know depression or anxiety separately or if we’re going to talk about the Chinese medicine Theory like if we’re going to dig deeper into those so let me know if you have a preference right do we want to talk about it from a western diagnosis or do you talk about Chinese tools um and with that said I wish you all a very good evening and I will talk to you soon bye

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