Trauma within, Trauma without… how the current UK climate is affecting our mental wellbeing by Charlotte Brydon-Smith

There is a lot of uncertainty within the wider UK climate at the moment, both politically and environmentally and it is affecting the mental wellbeing of us all. As practitioners, how do we embody best practice for our patients, without leaving ourselves depleted? 

Over the last 10 years in the UK, there has been an exponential rise in mental health conditions.  As a direct effect, acupuncturists are seeing an increase in patients suffering with anxiety and depression. 

For many high functioning anxious people, it is possible to ‘keep going’ providing the outer environment is kept steady. But when the ‘environment’ is uncertain, things can start to shake and sway. 

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. Patients often indicate that their inner life is increasingly difficult, referencing Brexit and climate change as key causes of anxiety. 

 What lies without, affects what lies within.  

According to CT Holman, emotional trauma is a pathogen that creates disharmony. If left untreated, it affects the three treasures: Jing, Qi, and Shen. Trauma disrupts the body’s own ability to self-heal and the person’s nature to self-regulate. Trauma and the memory of, or re-experiencing of trauma, scatters a patient’s Qi. As practitioners, if we do not prioritise this, it can be difficult to get positive treatment outcomes. 

Lean into the wisdom of elders.  

Acupuncture points that include the word ‘ancestor’ in the title can be useful for the patient at times of trauma. Fortunately, the work of an acupuncturist is underpinned by years of philosophical enquiry. This can provide a potent antidote to the disconcerting field of chaos. 

Mental clarity is also important for dealing with trauma and uncertainty. As practitioners, we can teach our clients to focus on elements that will help them improve this. 

 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)

How does trauma affect the practitioner?  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 as a focus for practitioners faced with the highly anxious patient: 

Compassion – for yourself and others.  Exercising self-love, staying engaged with things that support your learning. Remembering the possibilities when feeling out of your depth or lost. Breathing. Inviting the patient to breathe also.  

Courage – seeing things for how they are, allowing space for your patient to express how things actually are. Acknowledging the suffering, rather than jumping straight in with advice and a possible solution. Just being with the patient in their suffering.  

Awareness – observing how you feel with a client and working with that in the capacity of your supervision. 

Dis-identify from the experience – recognising what happens with patients can create a ripple effect, but knowing it need not be disruptive. Staying resourced and useful to your patient is your priority.  

How do I resource myself as an acupuncturist?   

Whilst needle combinations are important, one could also argue, presence is key. Bring yourself fully to this work. Arm yourself with whatever it is you might need so that you can act within your full capacity as a healer. The four ‘Brahmaviharas’ may help ground you within the treatment room. These are:  

  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

“Happiness and suffering support each other, they ‘inter– are’, to ‘be is to ‘inter-be, Thich That Hanh.  

Just like the construct of Yin and Yang, happiness and suffering cannot be separated because suffering provides the understanding that allows happiness to prosper. It is important that as practitioners, we understand this, as well as the appreciation that we live in a world where it is impossible to ignore the traumatic effects that the wider experience can cause. 

Charlotte Brydon-Smith is a clinical supervisor at the College of Integrated Chinese Medicine

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