The Roots of Traditional Chinese Medicine in Depression Treatment

In traditional Chinese medicine there is historical precedent for the treatment of so called “shen” (Heart-Mind) disorder, or disorder/dysregulation of the spirit, which is also considered sas distinct but not separate from the cognitive function of the brain. According to Dr. CQ Yang, PhD, LAc, in his self published book shen disturbance, which takes a thorough look at how TCM approaches mental-emotional imbalance, the Nei Jing-Yellow Emperor’s Classic (100-2– B Ev) is the first book to develop and discuss in an organized fashion the diagnostic theory and treatment of the human Shen (spirit) and its imbalances. He further states that it still is the most comprehensive elucidation of TCM Human Shen and its imbalances in the lexicon to date.  Dr. Yang had gone to considerable effort to translate the enigmatic, Chaucer-like Nei Jing Classic into the language and approach of modern TCM diagnosis and treatment.

a passage has been selected from the Yellow emperor’s Canon of internal Medicine (Wu, 1997, pp 73-75), which makes a connection from the Classical text to their TCM application in modern treatment.

“Yi Jing Bian Qi Lun” (“on the therapy of Transferring Thought and Spirit”) Yellow asked, “I am told that in ancient times, when a physician treated a disease, he only transferred the patient’s thought and spirit to sever the source of the disease. In nowadays, the patient is treated with drugs internally and acupuncture externally. Nevertheless, some os the diseases are cured, but some of them cannot be cured and why is it so?” Zibo answered, “In ancient times, people lived in the cave of the wilderness surrounded with birds and beasts, they drove away the coldness by motion of themselves, and evaded the hot summer by living in the shade. they had no burden in hear in admiring the fame and gain, and had no fatigue in the body for seeking a high position, thus, one can hardly be invaded by exogenous evil in this calm and plain environment. So, when one contracted disease, both drugs for curing inside and acupuncture for curing outside were not necessary, but only transferred the patients emotion and spirit to sever the source of the disease would be enough.

“But the case in nowadays if different, people are often bothered by anxiety in the heart inside, and hurt by the toil of the body outside, together with the careless[ness] of the patient to viol[ate] the changing rule of the weather sequence of the four seasons, and the coldness and heat of morning and evening. [.] When the thief-evil invades unceasingly, the patient’s viscera and bone marrow will be hurt inside, and the orifices and muscle will be hurt outside. If the disease contracted is a slight one, it will surely turn into a serious disease, if the disease contracted is a serious one, the patient will surely die. therefore, the disease nowadays cannot be cured by severing the source of the disease only.”

This selection applies to the investigation of depression treatment with TCM modalities by supporting the notion that treatment for any disease cannot be accomplished by “transference” alone but instead presents the idea that “nowadays” people need both herbal medicine and acupuncture for a complete course of treatment. From a historical sense, it’s also interesting due to its “precognition” of both its view of “modern man”, with his self-imposed stressors, anxieties, conflicts, which all contribute to increase his (her) susceptibility to “invasion” by thieving evil ai’s; and because of its reference to the use of so called “transference” to treat disease.

The suggestion has been heard that the meaning or method of the term “severing by transferences” refers to a process of providing an explanation of their disease tot he sufferer. Explanation is considered the treatment method through the process of a person receiving an explanation of their disease mechanism, and thereby a greater understanding of the cause and state of their disease, that knowledge will provide chiefly for the transference of their thought and spirit. Regarding the treatment of Shen disorder, this interpretation may be accurate and also does pay homage to the western bio-psychological paradigm.

The problem for us as English speakers is the exactitude of our language and how that generally leads to the condition where what is left out or unstated specifically is largely not said; whereas perhaps the Chinese pictogram is more richly descriptive of what is meant by “the transference of thought and spirit to sever the source of the disease”. Perhaps since they could no longer successfully perform this method in the time of the Nei Jing, they had no idea what was entailed in that exact process or its meaning at that time. One may surmise, as has been stated in modern psychological theory, that thought makes the connection to the “disease source” and therefore the disconnection or severing of the thought from its “evil” source would be a complete healing process.

This transference method is, or was before the advent of bio-chemical therapy so prevalent today, similar to the standard technique of psychological care into the late 20th century. In most cases, involving the treatment of psychological disease today it also is no longer a matter of simply identifying the source of the problem to achieve successful therapeutic outcomes. Because of the time and expense involved in that “hands on” type experience, it is not easily managed due to such a great patient volume. Thus the great usage of synthesized drugs have become the standard of care.

By Fritz Hudnut, DAOM, LAc.
Published in Acupuncture Today, August 2015, Volume 16, Number 8