Page 2 - Applying TCM Principles to Western Psychotherapy
Teaching qigong and taiji to mental health patients provides excellent examples of this healing process. A fifty-year-old male patient is receiving treatment for outbursts of anger and irritability that interfere with his close relationships. He also suffers from beginning arthritis in his hands and knees. He has received training in karate and is physically fit. During initial individual training in taiji, he has difficulty practicing "push hands". He remarks, "I feel I need to fight harder. If I do this (the soft movements of taiji) I will lose, and appear foolish". This man responds to challenge with fear and then anger, which encourage him to abrupt violent movement; this disrupts the natural flow of qi.
He also has difficulty receiving tuina and qigong treatments because they are not "hard" enough. Initially his movements are hard and rigid, his myofacia is in spasm and lacks suppleness. His personality is harsh and judgmental, and he is quick to argue and verbally attack. Combining traditional counseling techniques and principles with qigong and taiji practice illustrates to this patient the psychological and physical alternatives to his rigid combative orientation. His personality naturally gravitated to the more explosive discipline of karate but with training he began to develop an affinity to the graceful, gently powerful disciplines of taiji and qigong.
Simultaneous with this change to his physical orientation he experienced a "softening" of his personality. Strength is essential to this man, so to achieve this softening in his personality he had to know that there would be no weakness involved in any suggested change. As he integrated the principles of balance and energy flow into his physiology he was able to integrate these principles into his personality and actually improve his effectiveness in dealing with other people. In his qigong practice he was able to flow energy through his joints experiencing a reduction in rigidity and a corresponding decrease in arthritic pain. It is very important to me as a therapist that the fundamental personality of the patient is respected and preserved. By including the practice of taiji and qigong, this patient was able to change the behaviors that were interfering with his relationships, improve his arthritis while maintaining the values that were most important to him.
At the opposite end of the scale is the thirty four year old female patient who suffered from depression, anxiety attacks and fibromyalgia. She is a successful professional person and enjoyed an affluent lifestyle. Despite this she had frequent anxiety attacks and bouts of depression and feelings of helplessness that interfered with her daily work and personal routines. Typical of an individual with anxiety disorders her breathing was shallow and centered in her upper chest. Including taiji and qigong practice along with counseling, this patient experienced a typical response. In individual training utilizing "horse stance", Xia Dantien breathing and gentle push hand movement this patient burst into tears and exclaimed, "I'm frightened, I don't want to fight, I'm going to get hurt". This patient's posture was also rigid; the myofacia was tight and hyper tense with chronic myofacia pain. Different from the previous example, the male patient who was braced to fight, this patient was chronically braced to flee. This chronic state of tension and bracing contributed to, if not, caused the states of anxiety and fibromyalgia and contributed to the psychological depression. Using the philosophies of Daoist and Buddhist qigong and taiji as well as some of the movements of aikido and its philosophy of peaceful reconciliation through strength and balance helped this patient move from fear to confidence. This patient was also able to maintain her fundamental orientation towards pacification and peacefulness while acquiring a physiological and psychological sense of mastery and safety.
Combining of physical and psychological therapy is essential to the treatment of these types of chronic ailment. Both patients had lifelong histories of concomitant psychological and physiological trauma and illness. Both received prior unsuccessful treatment for their physical and psychological ailments. Both also reported satori (enlightening) experiences subsequent to a series of visits that combined talk therapy reinforced by physical qigong or taiji exercises followed by tuina massage or chiropractic. Common experiences are reported as feeling as if the "anger just left me" during qigong practice or "I suddenly felt in control" during push hands taiji. When the physical movements and mental concentration of qi practice are combined with the mentally cleansing thoughts of holistic psychotherapy the entire energetic matrix of the patient can begin to be restored.