Alternative medicine as an adjunct to psychotherapy
Western Civilizations advance towards more and more specialization has led to a science of medicine where thoughts and feelings are given little or no role in the etiology or treatment of disease. Sigmund Freud’s medical training and early experiences gave him much insight into how the workings of the unconscious mind could be related to physical symptoms. Yet, most of modern psychology and psychiatry, while calling him the “Founder”; ignore much of his teachings and reinforce modern medicine’s separation of body and mind. A separation, that to this day is still heavily influenced by Cartesian philosophy and Newtonian physics. However, most early schools of medicine, including Hippocrates, The Rambam ,and classical Chinese and ayurvedic medicine recognized the interconnection of body mind and spirit. Many innovative western researchers such as Hahnemann, Reich, Selye, Levine and Sarno have also come to the same conclusion.
It may be of some interest to psychologists that Samuel Hahnemann, the founder of Homeopathy, was curing serious mental illness at a time when most insane asylums were little more than dungeons. Even for physical illnesses, homeopathic medicines are often prescribed on the basis of a patient’s mental or emotional state.
Dr. Sutherland, the found of Cranial Osteopathy, would use a football helmet with special screws to impede movement of the cranial bones, simulating lesions in the cranial sutures. His wife would dutifully note down his emotional and behavioral changes. Many years later, another osteopath discovered that most of the patients that he treated who suffered from depression had a characteristic “Triad of compression” (lack of mobility in 3 important joints) –the atlanto-occipital, the lumbo-sacral, and the spheno- basiliar junction.
Dr. Milton Trager in teaching his unique approach to movement re-education would emphasize that every restriction in the physical body has corresponding restriction in the unconscious mind. He would exhort his students “if we don’t reach the mind we haven’t done anything. Our hands are just a tool to project feeling to the unconscious mind. “
Chinese Medicine has long taught that unexpressed emotions can be stored in the internal organs i.e. liver – anger, kidneys – fear. This disturbs the flow of vital energy through the acupuncture meridian and sets the stage for future illness. Chinese medicine also recognizes two organs that have no physical correspondence in western medicine yet place a crucial role in helping a person to keep clear energetic and emotional boundaries as well as healing from emotional and sexual abuse.
A modern osteopath and acupuncturist, Dr. Frederic Smith found that while the soft tissues of the body can contain much suppressed emotional material, the bones usually do not. The one exception he found was the emotion of shame. When he was able to clear that energy from the bones through his innovative technique of Zero Balancing, his patients invariably experienced a deeper, clearer sense of self and autonomy (atzamot, etzem,atzma’i !)
Hans Selye in his world famous research on stress; discovered what he calls the General Adaptation Syndrome. He found that the body initially responds to any physical or emotional stress or trauma in much the same way, by activating the sympathetic nervous system, the proverbial fight or flight response. Many acute emotional disturbances such as anxiety, hysteria are associated with this state. If the trauma is resolved quickly then the body returns to homeostasis. If not, the Body Mind maintains a long term “yellow alert” draining our energetic resources and maintaining many of the chronic emotional problems that most often send people into therapy. free floating anxiety, O.C.D., insomnia, emotional instability, some types of ADD, phobias, neuroses, depressions and many tendencies toward addiction. This constant “yellow alert” can also lead us to be easily restimulated into a full blown “red alert situation”; a re-experiencing of many aspects of the original trauma.
The G.A.S. is primarily moderated by the limbic system and other lower brain centers that are largely beyond the control of our conscious mind. This makes it difficult for psychotherapists, whose primary tools are verbal and conscious . While many are quite skilled at helping people deal with the emotions, behaviors and symptoms that keep reoccurring because of this “ trauma vortex”; rarely is the problem reached at its source. All the more so with medical doctors who usually don’t recognize the bodymind connection and whose only tools are usually drugs and surgery.
So how can alternative medicine help?
To begin with, almost all methods of alternative medicine recognize the interconnection of Body, mind and spirit. However, each method has its own particular access point, i.e. chiropractic, the spine; acupuncture, the energy meridians; craniosacral therapy, the meningeal membranes; Rolfing, the connective tissue, etc. However the goal of any qualified alternative practical healthcare practitioner should be to integrate all parts of the body and positively influence the mind and the emotions as well. Most body and energetic therapies are able to bypass the conscious mind and more directly address the causes and effects of trauma than verbal therapy can.
Many body and energetic therapies are effective in bringing back old memories and releasing suppressed emotions that are stored in the body. For example, bodywork, through the soft tissues; acupuncture, through the meridians and internal organs; CST and Network Chiropractic, through the dural system; movement therapies, by making unconscious movement patterns conscious; and homeopathy, by stimulating the person’s own innate healing response on all levels, etc. All of these approaches facilitate greater integration between the body and the mind, a deeper awareness and connection to the self, greater emotional balance, and very often an opening to or deepening of spiritual growth.
Life issues, belief systems, negative self-images, and emotional rigidities become “somaticized” in our physical structure and unconscious habitual movement patterns. Body work, energy work and movement work can often free up these patterns much more quickly than verbal therapy, especially if these patterns were a result of preverbal trauma. Also, as the psychotherapist helps the client to move past these limiting patterns, alternative therapies can give his client a direct experience of the desired change. Experiences of feeling more grounded, “connected”, “centered,” “lighter,” “freer,” having clearer boundaries, feeling more open and flexible, more loving to self and others, are all very common responses to body work, energy work and movement work and can be reinforced by a skilled therapist to be quickly and deeply integrated into a client’s life.
Some patients turn to alternative medicine specifically to work on their emotional issues, while others come for physical ailments and then, in the process of treatment, become aware of the emotional aspect of their problems.
Here are some brief cases:
A mother brought in her baby (her 11th child), complaining of general fussiness and digestive distress. She suspected that this was caused by the antibiotics she took at the time of her birth. I treated the baby with craniosacral therapy but found no particularly significant imbalances. The mother, however, seemed quite stressed out and since it was quite clear to me which of her five elements was out of balance (even without directly examining or interviewing her), I offered to do a complementary treatment for her; of one acupuncture point. The results were remarkable. In her words “I’ve been suffering from many negative emotions for years, despite several years of efforts and different therapies to change that. After a few minutes session with Yaakov Wieder there were miraculous results. A pool of negative emotions that I carried for years suddenly evaporated. With minimum follow-up work and a homeopathic remedy, the wonderful effects have lasted for many months with no sign of letting up and have had a tremendous impact on my whole family (many of which she has already sent for treatment).”
A recently married Avreich came for an “emotional tune-up.” He had been on medication for ADD/ADHD since first grade and had seen several therapists over the years. He said therapy gave him some tools to deal with his turbulent emotions, but felt like it never quite got to the source of the problem. He found that the imagery of the five elements was very helpful in his understanding of how he was out of balance. After a few acupuncture treatments and a homeopathic remedy he slept through the night for the first time in ten years. He also reported feeling generally calmer and less chaotic. During subsequent treatments he discovered just how driven he had been by sexual obsessions from an early age and has now made much progress in that area. He is now off ADD medication for the first time since he was a child, with no decrease in his focus or learning capacity.
A thirty year old man was working with a therapist primarily on the issues of boundaries, letting go, and general emotional rigidity. At the same time he was undergoing treatments of five element acupuncture. One day his practitioner treated him on the metal element, the lungs and the colon (the organs of elimination). The next day he was walking in the woods on a clear and completely windless autumn day. He noticed that the leaves were falling, but not in the way that he always remembered leaves being tossed by the wind and thrown down to the ground. He watched silently as the trees just effortlessly let go of what was no longer needed and for the first time in life he felt and understood in the depth of his being that possibility.
A middle-age man was referred to me by his therapist for back pain. In the course of treatment it became clear that he was suffering from much emotional turmoil. He had been to psychiatrists and had been on and off psychiatric medication through the years. He was divorced from his first wife, the mother of his children, and now was enmeshed in a completely dysfunctional marriage. After significantly reducing his back pain after only three treatments I suggested that the work could be helpful for his other struggles. Acupuncture and homeopathy, in conjunction with CBT, he is off medication, he has gained the clarity and inner strength to divorce his second wife and is in the process of gaining the self-confidence and clarity of direction to move on positively with his life.
A middle age man, happily married with several children, came to because he was feeling disturbed by homosexual thoughts and fantasies. Much to my surprise after only three treatments of acupuncture, they were totally gone, with no need for follow-up treatment.
Middle-age woman, suffering from amenorrhea, fears and migraines, came to Yaakov Wieder after trying several other alternative therapies. Although treatments continued for longer than expected, benefits were seen continuously. Sessions brought up much inner anger and confusion with many strongly-held false beliefs, which the patient had been led to believe as a result of a dysfunctional and abusive childhood. As each belief was carefully examined, it was able to be discarded or released, making way for the truth. Along the journey to health, the fears slowly dissolved and the migraines became more sporadic. The patient was able to love and accept her children and connect in a previously unknown way. Her marriage underwent a complete metamorphosis and her life became calm and secure. The amenorrhea was never resolved, but she went on to conceive naturally without any intervention, something she had always needed before.
For a beautiful essay on how a middle-age woman healed from severe childhood abuse through the gentle rhythmic motions of Trager body work. Please see Carol Sakai’s article that can be found on the Trager section of my website.
In summary, mental and physical states are inextricably connected. Whether the practitioner is a psychologist, body worker, or an acupuncturist, working with this awareness will enhance his results. Whenever possible, I believe cooperation between therapists creates a synergy that is of tremendous benefit for the client. I encourage my clients who are working with a therapist to bring the issues that they are working with to deepen my work with them and to speed up the process of psychotherapy. If a patient comes to me on medication I encourage them to continue being supervised by their psychiatrist. In the end, every case is an individual and the amount of verbal therapy in relation to the amount of body work that is needed varies greatly. What is always helpful is the free choice and conscious participation of the client and the flexibility and openness of the practitioner.