March 8, 2017 Catherine Hollingsworth, L.Ac.

Symptoms Have a Purpose

The originator of Five Element acupuncture, J.R. Worsley, always insisted that acupuncturists should not be treating symptoms. What?? Isn’t that why patients come to us? To feel better and get rid of the symptoms that are making their lives more difficult? Acupuncture and many other forms of alternative medicine give us a different perspective on symptoms.

The key is in our perception. Symptoms are not the problem. Instead just point us in the direction of healing.

In most cases, symptoms are a sign from our body and spirit that something is not right inside. It is a cry for help. You could think of symptoms as a light on your car’s dashboard. Your car is not going to be fixed if you just tape over the dashboard warning lights. You are likely to end up on the side of the road calling for a tow truck!

In the same way, your body is not going to be rebalanced at the deepest level if you just opt for painkillers or temporary fixes. This is why one medication may lead to another, or why some conventional treatments fail to work or cause new complications. Many of the tools of Western medicine have an important place in our healthcare structure. However, they sometimes create new problems if the cause of illness is not addressed. Alternative medicine has risen to the forefront as a result.

Simply put, the cause of illness or imbalance is usually either a lifestyle issue or an emotional/spirit issue. Many people will seek out alternative medicine because they want to be treated holistically.


Lifestyle issues include improper diet, detrimental work or sleep habits, excessive physical strain, physical trauma, etc. When a patient comes to me for help, part of my job is to help them figure out what changes they can make in their lives to feel better.

Even if I fix someone’s shoulder pain, for example, a bad mattress will keep bringing it back. You would be surprised at how many patients have reduced their pain by changing their work setup, getting a new mattress, or changing the amount of time they spend typing on their phone’s tiny keyboard.

People might ask me, “is it possible that I just need a new pillow?” “Do I need to change my diet?” “Am I just drinking too much?” This type of awareness is key. Treatments will help you feel better, give you a boost out of a chronic situation, or bring you back from acute discomfort. But lifestyle changes will help you stay better.

Emotions and the Spirit

Emotional or spirit issues are more complex, and may come from unresolved relationships, negative perceptions of self, traumatic experiences, or a more abstract energetic imbalance. For this reason, my treatments always have a component of conversation. I like to know what is going on in my patients’ lives, what they are thinking about, what new edges or boundaries they are working at, and what struggles are coming to the surface for resolution.

Some people are more skeptical than others about the mind-body connection, so I often use the example of heartbreak. This is a pretty common feeling that most of us have had at one point or another in our lives. Energetically, something is happening in the acupuncture channel system. And something is physically happening in the body.

There are more examples: stress tightens our shoulders, worry can go right to the stomach. Acupuncture can help to bring emotions and experiences up the surface where we can talk about them and they can be released. This not only frees up your body from physical issues, it also creates space for you to be, feel, and act in new ways.

Alternative Medicine: Seeing the Whole

As an acupuncture practitioner, I make an effort to seek out these causes and to rebalance them, while also assisting the body in healing from the symptoms that are causing discomfort. This is why I spend an hour with each new patient, to find out who they are and what they really need. It takes time to really discover all the factors that are operating in someone’s life, but this is so important for effective treatments. Because sometimes back pain is not just back pain.

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