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Depression and the Five Elements

By Stephanie Schneider-Guild, L.Ac.

Depression & Chinese MedicineAt the turn of the century, health care seems to have come light years from the days of leeches, country-side doctors and a lack of remedies for ailments such as polio, rubella and the German measles. Yet, the world of medicine finds itself in an enormous quagmire because mere survival in the fast-paced modern world requires a step back into the shadows of time where the magical healing powers of nature and traditional medicine reside. One of the predominant manifestations of present day life lies in the emotional/psychological realm resulting in depressions, anxieties, and all sorts of other related dilemmas. The focus of this article, however, will implement the theories and principles of Traditional Chinese medicine in diagnosing, differentiating and treating depression in accordance with the five elements.

In order to gain clear insight into the many multi-faceted aspects of depression, it is crucial to look at it from every perspective. Therefore. it is vital to glimpse into the world of western medicine to provide one model regarding the complexity of the human mind. and its functioning.

According to many western medical resources. depression may be the response of the body to an overwhelming and constant stress that seems to the patient to be insurmountable. This stress could be life experiences, food or nutritional deficiencies or excesses, allergies to environmental factors, and numerous other so-called stressors. Regardless of the etiology of the depression, the majority of western MDs diagnose the patient's condition as a depression. The symptomology must be rather significant. Among symptoms falling into the category of a depressive illness, there must be at least five of the following symptoms for a period of at least two weeks. These symptoms are:

  • In each of the elements discussed, there are specific clues and hints as to which element is predominant in the given case. It is helpful to ask questions that may evoke the necessary information in order to reach a diagnosis. One must use tact, empathy and a direct approach that is not overly involved, while still maintaining a concerned and caring disposition. The use of the five elements is only a tool in diagnosing and dealing with a case of depression. The elements afford practitioners an added sense of comprehension and clarity in a patient's case. However, it is important to focus on the most comprehensive and effective means of treatment. As alternative health care practitioners, it is also crucial to recognize the importance of dealing with the patient on a psychologically therapeutic level. In most cases of depression, there are unseen, underlying triggers that we as acupuncturists are not trained to deal with. Hence, it requires a delicate balance that always keeps the patients' best interests foremost in mind.

    In conclusion, depression must be dealt with on every level of the person's being. The theoretical model of the five elements can be useful in diagnosing and treating a patient suffering from depressive illness. As stated previously, it is vital to assess the severity of a depressive's condition, and tend to their individual needs. In any case, the five element approach can be seen as one perspective in dealing with these conditions.

    Stephanie Schneider-Guild, L.Ac., MTOM is a graduate of Pacific College or Oriental Medicine and maintains a private practice. She can be reached at (914) 351-2723