Psychotherapy is an art. The best psychotherapists are energy healers, skilled in transforming the energy of hopelessness, anxiety and despair to the energy of possibility, creativity, and growth. And the best psychotherapists teach their clients practices that allow them to keep doing the transforming work on their own.
Psychiatry pretends to be a science. Psychiatrists prescribe combinations of powerful drugs that affect the brain chemistry of people in pain. Too often, it appears that these psychiatrists are rolling the dice, hoping for a lucky result. Some people do experience relief of their symptoms, and are able to resume productive, normal lives. Unfortunately, many people experience symptoms becoming worse, leading to years of suffering. Family members of young adults who commit suicide sometimes blame the tragedies on what one survivor calls “pharmaceutical poison” for the loss of their loved ones.
Robert Whitaker’s Anatomy of an Epidemic: Psychiatric Drugs, Magic Bullets, and the Astonishing Rise of Mental Illness in America chronicles the nightmare of the over-prescribing of psychiatric drugs, especially to children. I believe this book should be required reading for those licensed to practice psychotherapy. It’s our responsibility to minimize careless tinkering with the brain chemistry of our clients. If we can recommend paths to healing that minimize the risk of long-term drug-induced pathology, we will be fulfilling our duty to not harm people who ask us for help.
I speak and write about one time-tested alternative, because I’m trained as an acupuncturist. Chinese medicine is not a panacea, and emotionalhealing with Chinese medicine is not a quick fix (even though an acupuncture treatment can rapidly transform a person’s subjective experience of their emotional world.) Over time, treatment with acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine can be an ideal complement to psychotherapy in healing of acute and chronic depression, anxiety and panic attacks. Traditional diagnostic techniques can identify how a person is out of balance, and energetic treatment with needles, herbs, and recommended activities can catalyze a growing ability to experience a sense of calm and harmony.
Dr. Stephen Cowan is a pediatrician who treats children labeled as ADHD or Autistic with strategies derived from Chinese medicine. Rather than drugging children whose behavior reflects an inability to control their impulses, Cowan encourages us to understand the sort of child we are seeing, and how to improve their self-esteem and attention by nourishing their strengths. Dr Cowan’s essay on “Healing Emotions in Children” in my book Before Pharmaceuticals: Emotional Healing with Chinese Medicine contains ideas crucial to people who work with and live with children.
Most adults alive in the 21st century recognize that living a healthy and balanced life in our modern world is not so simple. Rapid changes in American culture since the 1950s bring us to a present time when the stability of extended family living in close proximity is no longer the norm. Greater mobility brings greater stress and confusion. Self-healing practices like qigong provide a daily opportunity to enjoy awareness of the living processes of our own bodies. When we feel overwhelmed and our stresses begin to negatively impact our well-being, we can visit an acupuncturist (or other traditional healer) for an experience that will help us return to health.