Is intention our greatest gift? by Efthymios Foteinos

My therapeutic approach is an integration of psychotherapy, traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and five element acupuncture. It can be a tricky process balancing these modalities but one that is worth it, judging not only from the results but the journey of my patients too. I have experienced so many profound moments in clinic – first, people have the opportunity to understand themselves better, and then often experience positive responses from the needle-work, on the couch.

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Emotions, psychology, the mind and the spirit have always been topics of great interest to me. What has been a challenge though, is understanding the difference between the roles of an acupuncturist and that of a psychotherapist and easily blending them in practice. 

In psychotherapy training, there is great emphasis on the responsibility of ‘healing’ being solely that of the client’s. Thus, my role as a psychotherapist is to primarily hold space. In doing so, I help clients identify any issues, connect with themselves, find out what they want to do, if they would like to change something and then shed light on how to potentially achieve the desired outcome. 

In my role as an acupuncturist, however, I have felt a greater responsibility to be the ‘healer’. Due to the nature of the emphasis of healing being placed upon the needles, the acupuncture points and therefore ultimately the skill of the acupuncturist. I allowed this great pressure of responsibility to evolve, heightened by my infancy in my acupuncture career having only graduated a couple of years ago. With Covid-19 added into the mix, my opportunity to gain the clinical experience I’d have liked at this stage has been restricted. Despite patients returning and reporting positive change in their symptoms, I would often catch myself doubting my skills. I couldn’t shake this “winging-it” feeling. 

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After reaching out to colleagues, I realised this imposter syndrome, is a common pattern. I found comfort in knowing I wasn’t alone. My classmates shared these doubts and pressures. The same people who I had seen in college, and lived the journey with them. I know how hard they studied, I know they are bright people; their minds sharp. I’ve observed them in practice and I know their skills and techniques are excellent. All in all, I know they are fantastic acupuncturists!

It is easier to be objective when it is not yourself you are thinking about. It was easier for me to recognise that the self-doubt felt by my colleagues was due to a lack of experience and not due to lack of skills. These open conversations have helped me to have the same compassion and understanding towards myself. 

However, I still felt that weight of responsibility to ‘heal’ my patients. 

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A few days ago I attended my supervision group and raised the issue of this sense of responsibility, of having to ‘fix’ the person in front of you. The essence of this discussion was that we are the means, the vessel, the tool of the healing. And ultimately, it is the patient’s own qi, their own body which is doing the healing. We use our senses, to see, to hear, to listen, to smell, to touch, in order to make a diagnosis and understand what needs re-balancing within them. We use our knowledge to plan the most appropriate path for the individual in front of us. We use our skills to perform the treatment in the best way. And that maybe, what makes the biggest difference is our intention. 

‘Intent is the building block of the outcome’
My favourite quote by spiritual teacher Jonah.

This truly resonates with me and I believe we can apply this saying everywhere in life. But when it comes to the intention in the treatment room… Is our heart in the right place when we welcome someone inside? Is our focus on them alone while we are listening to them? Are we present, entirely?

‘The Ling Shu, Ch.8 states: For every needling, the method above all is not to miss the rooting in the Spirit’.

Larre and Rochat de la Vallee, 1995, p81

Who’s rooting in the Spirit, I wonder? The patient’s or ours? 

Healing, I believe, manifests when two spirits come together. One is there for the other, in order to create the space for the healing to happen. Of course knowledge, skills and techniques are important. They make us better vessels. But this understanding, that we are just the means for the person to heal themselves is comforting and empowering in equal measures. 

Efthymios Foteinos
Efthymios Foteinos

Ef is a psychotherapist and CICM graduate practicing acupuncture in Athens, Greece.
I studied acupuncture at the College of Integrated Chinese Medicine in Reading which was an amazing and life-altering experience

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