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Trauma within, Trauma without….how the current UK climate is affecting our patients and us?

“It is quite impossible to conceive how “experience” in the widest sense, or, for that matter, anything psychic, could originate exclusively in the outside world. The psyche is part of the inmost mystery of life…” Carl Jung

What happens when there is a lot of disruption in the wider field? The field of our political system, our planet, our humanity? And how do we embody best practice whilst providing a space that resources our patients without leaving ourselves as practitioners depleted?

Over the last 10 years in the UK, as other community services come under strain (McManus, S. Meltzer, H. Brugha, T. S. Bebbington, P. E., & Jenkins, R. (2009), there has been an exponential rise in mental health conditions within the UK.  A direct effect of this is that acupuncturists are seeing an increase in patients suffering with anxiety and depression.

As Carl Jung suggests above, what lies without, affects what lies within. For many of us high functioning anxious people, it is possible to ‘keep going’ providing the outer environment is kept steady. But what happens when the ‘environment’ is uncertain, what happens to the people with ‘stories’ of difficulty or lasting effects of an imperfect childhood experience? Things start to shake and sway…just like the wind. And then they seek the acupuncturist out for assuagement.

One of the most recognised and accepted ‘leaks’ of trauma in people, is anxiety and depression, which is perhaps why many experiences fall under this generalised banner. Ross Rosen states in his latest book Heartshock (2019), that “75% of those I treat, have signs and symptoms of past traumatic events.” This demonstrates that this ‘shaking and swaying’ is not exclusive to the climate in the UK but is affecting people globally. Recently a client described their day-to-day dealings in The Houses of Parliament, Westminister London as a ‘trauma ball’. Suggesting that their experience was extremely difficult and building momentum, with much suffering as collateral damage. Some of my patients indicate that their inner life is increasingly difficult, referencing Brexit and climate change as key causes.

CT Holman writes “Emotional trauma…is a pathogen that creates disharmony. If left untreated…it affects the three treasures, Jing, Qi, and Shen.” (Holman 2018, P.22). It disrupts the body’s own ability to self heal and the persons nature to self regulate. Trauma and the memory or re-experiencing of trauma, scatters our patients Qi and if we do not prioritise this, it can be difficult to get positive treatment outcomes and at worse, can pervert the course of treatment.”

I have certainly found this to be true. But can it also be a contagion and how is it effecting us, the practitioner?

So what can we do for both our patients and ourselves during this turbulent time?

Dr. Gabor Mate, a specialist in trauma recommends the four following key stones which I think work well as a focus for practitioners faced with the highly anxious patient.

  • Compassion - Compassion for ourself and the other.  Self love is turning up to possibilities. Stay engaged with things that support your learning. Remember when we feel lost or out of our depth with patients, that something else is possible and “I am worth that possibility”. Breathe. Invite the patient to breathe too. 

  • Courage - look at things for how they actually, start with yourself and leave space for your patient to express how things actually are also. Allow a moment before launching into our modus operandi ‘advice giving’. Be with, ‘not knowing’…not knowing what to say, not knowing what they can do. Practise with courage to just be with patients in the suffering. 

  • Awareness - bring that which is outside yourself, inside yourself. Observe how you feel with a client, then work with that in your supervision.

  • Dis-identify from the experience. Whilst what happens in our patients can create a ripple in us, it needn’t be disruptive to us. Dis-identify with what comes into the room enough to stay resourced and useful to your patient. Unless your awareness reveals your own 'work', in which case, take up the opportunity with your supervisor.

When we find ourselves out of our depth, it can be useful to lean into the wisdom of elders. Acupuncture points that include the word ‘ancestor’ in the title are useful for the patient at this time, to cultivate a sense of a guide within them. Fortunately our work as acupuncturist is underpinned by years of philosophical enquiry. I find this ‘remembering’ offers both practitioners and patients alike, a potent anti-dote to the disconcerting field of chaos - either imagined or actual.

The Hindi Yoga Patanjali suggests there are nine obstacles to mental clarity…

1. lack of effort 

2. fatigue or disease 

3. dullness or inertia 

4. doubt 

5. carelessness/laziness

6. inability to turn attention inward 

7. perverted or distorted seeing 

8. inability to establish a firm ground for practice 

9. inability to sustain a firm ground (regression or being triggered by patients/others). 

 Recently I have been learning about the four ‘Brahmaviharas’ and I am struck by how they overlap with the suggestions made by Dr. Gabor Mate and how they steady my feet in the treatment room.

1. Friendliness toward the joyful

2. Compassion for those who are suffering

3. Celebrating the good in others

4. Remaining impartial to the faults and imperfections of others.

The important question becomes, “how do I resource myself as an acupuncturist?”. Whilst needle combinations etc are important, one could also argue, certainly the buddhists and great yogis would, that mostly, presence is key. How do I bring myself fully to this work? What is needed so that I can act within my full capacity as a healer?

I will leave you with something that the great mindfulness teacher Thich That Hanh says about happiness and suffering. “Happiness and suffering support each other, they “inter- are”, to ‘be is to “inter-be’”, just like the construct of Yin and Yang….they cannot be separated because suffering provides the understanding that allows happiness to prosper.

As the bloom or bust of summer dissipates, the autumn energy provides us with all that is needed for deeper reflection. Perhaps over the next few weeks, you will find time to reflect on the questions here? Perhaps not. Either way I wish you steady feet and sufficient breath - (beyond the eminent election!)

Peace and out.

Charlotte Brydon-Smith.

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