Thursday 26 November 2015

Codependency - the Absence of Self-Love

I am often asked which conditions patients most commonly seek treatment for. People are usually really surprised when I say that whilst it is usually a physical pain or symptom which prompts them to seek help, almost without exception there is an underlying unresolved emotional issue which is prevalent and in need of as much, if not more attention.

Of the patients I have seen lately, a common theme has been evident - one of feeling completely emotionally 'empty'. Of those who are in a relationship, they feel unloved or undeserving of love; they do everything for everybody else and deny their own needs; they feel they have no voice, are not listened to or feel invisible in the relationship.

Of those not currently with a partner, they have a history of entering into toxic relationships which they feel unable to leave, or else are made to feel immense guilt at the thought of leaving, often being subjected to intense emotional blackmail by their partner. They often find it difficult to give and receive love and even compliments, and can seem very needy but at the same time are quick to push partners away or exclude them.

In Five Element Acupuncture terms this can be attributed to an imbalance in the Earth element and often can be traced back to a trauma in childhood, where the child's emotional needs were not met by one or both parents, often the mother figure. The child whose emotional needs are not met can become a child who shows little or no emotion, and eventually a person who is totally independent and prefers doing things/being completely on their own, unable to ask for or receive help. They may appear very confident and competent, and can be very controlling.

The irony here is that such patients are actually desperate to feel loved; they often need to be needed and are people-pleasers. In relationships, they become the perfect spouse or partner - bending over backwards to please but often feeling that whatever they do is never enough. They will do whatever it takes to keep the peace and avoid rocking the boat. They will do whatever it takes to be loved, but they will very often never actually FEEL loved as the relationship is frequently very one-sided and toxic.

These behaviours are learned early on in childhood where the family dynamic was difficult - one or both parents may have been an addict or an emotional manipulator. These are signs of CODEPENDENCY - and the overwhelming characteristic is the absence of self-love.

Codependency is a habitual and often addictive behaviour - those exhibiting these traits tend to be consistently drawn to partners who are emotional manipulators or addicts, and repeatedly enter into toxic relationships which are destined to fail.

But it is possible to recover. The starting point is awareness - the realisation that there is a pattern of behaviour which keeps being repeated, resulting in a negative outcome; there must also be the desire to change - a desire to be able to have a nourishing and equal relationship with a partner.

Emotional support through a talking therapy is extremely useful, in conjunction with Five Element Acupuncture, where the treatment would center on nourishing the Earth element so that it feels less 'empty'. Continued support is essential, and can be sought through self-help groups such as CoDA.

Could you be codependent? Click on the links below for more information.

Monday 21 September 2015

Empty Nest? Now What?

Travelling on the M25 today I saw a people carrier stuffed full of gear, Dad driving, Mum reading a Uni prospectus and a soon-to-be uni student fast asleep in the back. It was only just after lunch after all, so far too early in the day for a fresher to be up and conscious!

Hmm - this brings back memories, I thought.

It's a few years now since I was making the self same Uni delivery trip with my tribe, but there will be lots of Mums and Dads out there who will be returning from such a journey to a very quiet and empty house. Once the novelty of owning a house that remains tidy for more than five minutes has passed and the fridge doesn't empty as soon as it's filled, then some parents may well be feeling rather lost.

Kids going off to Uni marks the end of an era and the beginning of a transitional stage in their parents' lives. Some cope very well but others really struggle with letting go of their offspring, feeling a real sense of grief, guilt, worry and a loss of identity.

In Five Element Acupuncture terms, it is the Earth element which is concerned with the caring, nurturing and providing qualities of parents. Late Summer is when the Earth element should be at its peak, but it can become very depleted through years of caring and giving to others (ie children) without adequate replenishment.

If the Earth element is undernourished, then it is unable to feed its 'child' element of Metal, which comes into its own in Autumn. The Metal element is concerned with taking in and letting go - when it is distressed it becomes out of balance and its associated emotions of guilt and grief are allowed to run riot.

When the Metal element is depleted, then in turn it cannot feed its 'child' element of Water. If Water is out of balance its associated emotion of fear becomes out of control, allowing worry and anxiety to develop.

So called 'Empty Nest Syndrome' can therefore be explained in Five Element terms as an imbalance in the positive energetic cycle. Treatment would entail nourishing the patient's Guardian Element so that it in turn can further nourish the distressed elements.

If this imbalance is left unchecked, then there is the tendency to adopt certain habits or lifestyle factors to fill the void that has been left by the departing offspring, eg comfort eating, drinking, smoking and other excesses. These measures serve as coping mechanisms and may well suffice for a short while, but often there comes a time when they're just not enough - before long, a habit becomes an addiction, and an addiction becomes a problem.

Saturday 25 July 2015

Even Plants Like 'Acupuncture' Treatment.

Finding myself with an unexpected free afternoon the other week, I turned my attention to my houseplants. I had noticed that some of them were starting to look a bit stressed, and being around stressed plants really saps my energy.

One particular culprit was a large parlour palm which I had rescued a few months ago from the 'Reduced' section, where it was looking rather jaded and in need of TLC. It was parched when I bought it, so I gave it a good drink, some liquid feed and sat it in a light and airy spot, but it still looked sick. In fact, nearly every week I was having to cut away shrivelled leaves, despite watering it regularly.

This poor plant obviously needed more than I was currently giving it. The plant's needs were not being met and I needed to take a closer look at why the things I was doing weren't working.

So I decided I'd try re-potting even though the pot it was in was of adequate size, but some fresh compost never goes amiss.

When I eased the palm out of the pot, I found that the compost was dry, tired and had lost its structure. It fell away easily as there were no roots holding it together. After teasing away more of the old compost it became clear that the plant had previously become pot bound when it was in a much smaller pot and had subsequently been re-potted at least twice. However, when it had been transferred into progressively bigger pots its roots had not been teased out of the root ball, and so they were still tightly packed together and completely unable to free themselves in order to grow into the new space. The root system was being strangled and was clearly incapable of supporting an abundant top growth. No wonder the palm was struggling.

I see a clear parallel between this plant and my patients. Just as a plant will get by for a while with water and liquid feed, patients usually respond initially to Western Medicine prescribed drugs. But often there comes a point when this superficial treatment is not enough and both will fail to thrive.

At this point, Western Medicine would up the ante - turning to multiple, stronger or longer acting drugs to cover up persistent symptoms. My plant didn't respond well to the 'let's throw more at it 'approach ie being plonked into ever bigger pots - this proved to be completely overwhelming and its roots remained in a tight cluster, unable to branch out. It needed to have its roots gently untangled, to be given fresh compost and a smaller pot initially to encourage new growth at a steady rate before moving into a larger size.

Patients can react in this manner too, becoming easily overwhelmed by treatment or drugs which may be too much, too strong and too soon. They can retreat within themselves, unable to break out of their habitual, internal, emotional maelstrom created by their current illness and their past traumas. Any change to the status quo requires energy, a resource which patients often have precious little of  when they present for treatment, and so they need to be able to reach out for help.

Patients need to give themselves permission to be coaxed out of the stranglehold their illness has on them; they need to feel safe, supported, reassured and nourished during their period of physical and emotional recovery and expansion; most importantly, patients need to allow themselves time to heal. Chronic illness is our body's way of telling us that our lifestyle isn't working for us and we need to change something - change requires energy and time, and can't be rushed.

Five Element Acupuncture treatment provides a safe and nurturing environment in which patients can explore the deeper issues surrounding their illness, to whatever depth and pace they are comfortable with.. It utilises a specific needling protocol to enable the patient to let go of the emotions associated with past traumas, thus freeing up the body to begin the process of self-healing.

Patients are very much like plants - they need sound roots in order to thrive.

Monday 22 June 2015

New Car Rave!

I've got a new car - yipee!

Well OK, not NEW new, rather new DIFFERENT - and very shiny and clean, with that 'new car smell' and immaculate blackened tyres.

Last week I parted company with my ageing Toyota and switched allegiance to a young whipper-snapper of a Honda. What's more, I really pushed outside of my comfort zone and switched from petrol to diesel.

This is really big cheese for me as my Earth element has the tendency to be very resistant to change. We with Earth Guardian Elements are renowned for being stubborn and can seem almost stuck, not necessarily through arrogance of knowing that our way is the right way or the only way (that would be characteristic of the Wood element) but more due to the feeling of safety in what we know.

Earth's belief of 'I know what I like and I like what I know' makes us very reluctant to try anything new. I must admit that I had to push myself to drive this new beast the day after I picked it up - I was quite content to look at it sitting pretty on the driveway for a whole day before I snapped myself out of my rut.

I remembered what the salesman had told me about this car's eco features - a green light comes up on the speedometer if you're driving economically, blue if you're not. Also, it will tell you when to change up or down a gear according to the engine revs.

Visions of grannies sucking eggs came to mind, as after all, I had driven my husband's diesel car fairly frequently over the years, and I knew what I was doing, didn't I?

But I duly paid heed to the bells and whistles - and just as well, because only then did I appreciate that actually the driving techniques for diesel and petrol cars are very different, and with this came the realisation that I'd been driving both in exactly the same manner for all this time.

And so I ate a big helping of humble pie! I'm now very aware of the wrong assumptions I had made and how blinkered I had become, and also set in my ways. This new car has prompted me to think more laterally and to increase my awareness so that I can learn to drive it far more sympathetically - and hopefully economically!

Extending this scenario to acupuncture practice, it is important that we challenge ourselves with new ideas often so that we don't become too comfortable with over-familiarity and we are able to keep our minds and hearts open. Regular CPD and reflective practice in Supervision are key to ensuring this is so.

Wednesday 10 June 2015

Observing the Five Elements

The ancient, classical Chinese acupuncturists believed that a unique combination of five distinct elements constitutes an individual's make up, namely Fire, Earth, Metal, Water and Wood.

Each element brings certain virtues, strengths and weaknesses to the person's character. Through a combination of nature and nurture, each of us develops a special relationship with one particular element, known as the Guardian Element.

It is nature of the Guardian Element which determines how we conduct ourselves in our day to day life, how we interact with others and how we react in certain situations. It is also the Guardian Element which literally gets knocked for six when life throws its traumas at us, throwing the element and ourselves out of balance energetically, leaving us feeling physically and often emotionally unwell.

The key aspect of Five Element Acupuncture is that treatment is directed specifically at the patient's ailing Guardian Element rather than at any specific symptom, ie it tackles cause rather than effect.

So how then do we determine a patient's Guardian Element?

This happens usually by means of close questioning and careful observation during the initial consultation with the patient.

This careful observation takes years of practice to perfect - as a practitioner I am constantly looking, listening, feeling and sensing clues which will direct me towards the patient's Guardian Element. Generally, the more out of balance the patient, the easier it is to fix upon the Guardian Element - in fact, it is as if it is shouting at me for help! So my discipline is to quieten my mind and to pay heed to all of my senses.

I find that social occasions are the perfect training ground for me and I often find myself 'people watching' - observing, noticing and assessing, and trying to pin down those elusive Guardian Elements.

At a family BBQ recently I watched my loved ones with mild amusement as I noted their conduct and reactions as we were all mucking in to prepare the food.

Number 1 offspring wanted to make a specific recipe and rushed out to not one but two supermarkets to get exactly the right ingredients - action, little flexibility = Wood.

If it was left up to me, I would have looked in the cupboards, changed the recipe and made something with what was already there - resourceful = Earth

Number 2 offspring went to Waitrose and only bought upmarket, branded goods - quality = Metal

Number 3 offspring went round chatting to everyone, making sure they were all OK and had drinks - communication, hospitality, entertainer = Fire

Number 4 offspring went back for second and third helpings and was starving again after a couple of hours, whilst also keeping a careful watch on the little ones - caring, nurturing, providing (especially food) = Earth

Husband controlled the BBQ (very expertly, too - nobody else gets a look in!) loved having everyone around and played with the little ones - leadership, comradeship, inner child = Wood.

We can learn so much by saying less and seeing more!

Monday 27 April 2015

Just Because We're Therapists Doesn't Mean to Say We're Sorted

“As practitioners we offer our patients guidance, support and encouragement - it seems a good idea to offer it to ourselves” Isobel Cosgrove, Acupuncturist, BAcC Member and Supervision Trainer

I have never felt so alone as I did the day I finished my training and qualified as an Acupuncturist. As I set out on my career, working in solo, I no longer had my tutors at hand for mentoring nor my peers to bounce ideas off or to share uncertainties with. All I had were my own two feet - and a short amount of time to learn to stand on them.

Back then, patients were few and far between - and why should I assume it would be any different? I'd been qualified for all of five minutes so how could I possibly expect to have a queue outside my treatment room door from day one? 

Any seasoned businessman will tell you that if you can survive the first three years of any new start up, then chances are you're on to a winner. However, that time can be filled with confidence wobbles, fear of failure, escalating outgoings and a pittance for an income - tough times indeed. And because we're therapists, people seem to assume that we're able to cope far better than most because we've got a handle on everything, we don't get stressed or anxious and  - because we're 'sorted', right?

Not right! Yes, we're therapists - but we're also human. We too get it wrong sometimes, lack confidence and can struggle as much as the next person. But I have found there to be in some therapists a reluctance to ask for help, either because of arrogance, fear of appearing to lack skill or knowledge, or an unwillingness to continue their personal and professional development.

As therapists, we owe it to ourselves as well as to our patients to look after ourselves properly (if we don't do it, who will?), to further our knowledge and hone our skills, to be able to receive as well as to give and above all to maintain a sense of humility. After all, to be invited by our patients to join them on their journey of self-discovery and self-healing is indeed a privilege. We ourselves are not the healers - our job is to facilitate, to open doors so that our patients can consider the options available to them in their own time; ours is not to lead the way but to stand just behind in order to offer a steadying hand if and when necessary.

As an Acupuncture therapist, I practice what I preach. I do look after myself - very well actually, but this hasn't always been the case (I learned my lesson the hard way!). I ring fence several hours in every week and set these aside as 'Me Time' - yoga, pilates, massage, my own acupuncture treatment, reading and most importantly, supervision and mentoring.

However, in my efforts to take better care of myself I have encountered a number of therapists offering different treatments, several of whom I have had issues with of some kind or another. I admit that many of the issues were my own, but there were definitely some which were down to bad practice and people skills on the therapist's part. These were people who I assumed, or at least hoped were 'sorted' - in reality, some of them would have really benefited from working on themselves before working with their patients. 

Tuesday 10 March 2015

Taking the Stress out of Dealing with Stress

BBC news this week contained the worrying report on mental health charity MIND's recent online survey of emergency services personnel which found that 87% of respondents had experienced stress, low mood or poor mental health at some point whilst working within the emergency services.

A further worrying fact was that despite this greater prevalence of poor mental health, only 47% had admitted to taking any time off due to ill health. This suggests that emergency workers find it harder than other professions to say when they are not at their best, but they carry on regardless.

Whether this is down to embarrassment or an unfailing sense of duty, this line of thinking is not helpful - neither to the professional nor to the people they are trying to help as everybody here is getting the thin end of the wedge.

We've all heard the saying "Healer, heal thyself". How true is this.

It is only when we look after ourselves that we can look after others to the best of our ability. Anybody who is running on empty are doing just that - running - out of steam and helping no-one, least of all themselves. In fact, they are running towards burnout and a very long time off sick, and an even longer period of recovery.

MIND has initiated Blue Light Time to Change, a government-backed pledge for front-line mental health support for emergency personnel. And not a moment too soon.

If this pledge kicks off, then it will be a great start in the process. But even better would be pro-action rather than reaction. All people in caring  professions or emergency roles would benefit greatly from receiving regular non-judgemental support, allowing time and space for reflection and exploration of issues associated with their working practice.

But what if, as in the case of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) the stress is so severe or the memories and flashbacks are too painful to revisit through talking therapy? Five Element Acupuncture is the answer - the needles will do all the work if the thought of talking is just too overwhelming or frightening, and can be carried out with the minimum of patient/practitioner interaction if so desired.

Jo Banthorpe practices Five Element Acupuncture in Ipswich and is also a trained Supervisor and Mentor, offering support to those working in therapeutic, medical and caring professions and especially to those working in isolation.

Monday 23 February 2015

What Can Acupuncture Do For Me?

Many people would only think of turning to acupuncture for pain relief and indeed, it can be very effective both in the short and long term. Often, but not always, the number of treatments required will depend on the duration of symptoms.

But apart from alleviating joint and back pain, what else can acupuncture be helpful in treating?

The emphasis of Five Element Acupuncture is on treating people rather than symptoms and in so saying, I will happily stick my neck out and say that acupuncture can be useful in treating ANY condition and absolutely EVERYBODY, without fail, would benefit from having some treatment. 

The key is however, to have a realistic outcome in mind. In some cases, a complete cure or cessation of symptoms will never be possible in which case the intention of treatment will center more around management and of the condition and the movement towards acceptance of the current reality.

Symptoms and pain arise as a consequence of our energy being thrown out of balance as a direct result of the traumas which life has dealt us. Whilst we may be able to function adequately in this state of imbalance, the body exists in a state of duress and is often unable to self-heal.

Five Element Acupuncture can help with the management of physical symptoms and medical conditions as well as enabling reconciliation of emotional issues and an increase in self-awareness. Most importantly, it allows the individual some invaluable 'me' time for reflection, replenishment and relaxation - something that each and every one of us could do with on a regular basis.

Wednesday 4 February 2015

What Exactly is Five Element Acupuncture?

Five Element Acupuncture, also known as Classical Acupuncture, is quite distinct from the more widely practiced Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Although the Classical method of healing originated in China over 2000 years ago it was almost lost in the 20th century in favour of TCM, but thankfully is now seeing a resurgence.

So what then is the key difference between TCM and Five Element Acupuncture?

Contrary to its name, TCM is not as traditional as it sounds - it is a Westernised and standardised version of Classical Acupuncture, and is concerned with treating specific symptoms and syndromes with a specific combination of needles.

Five Element Acupuncture on the other hand, is a very ancient system of healing based on the early classical texts and beliefs from its Chinese origins. Its emphasis is on treating people rather than their symptoms, and as each person is an individual then no two people are treated in exactly the same way, even if they present with similar medical conditions.

These different schools of thoughts can be likened to the difference between using PC or Mac, or to cooking with electricity or gas - the desired outcome is similar, but the operating systems are not the same.

The ancient Chinese believed that a unique combination of five distinct elements (namely fire, earth, metal, water, wood) constitutes an individual's make up. Each element brings certain virtues, strengths and weaknesses to the person's character. Through a combination of nature and nurture, each of us develops a special relationship with one particular element, known as the Guardian Element, and this lends an emphasis to the way in which we conduct ourselves and our interaction with others.

It is the Guardian Element which bears the brunt of the majority of our life's stresses and becomes out of balance, showing its distress by allowing symptoms and pain to arise. Each element shows certain characteristics when in a well-balanced state, and inappropriate or extreme characteristics whilst imbalanced.

My role as a Five Element Acupuncturist is to determine the patient's Guardian Element by way of in-depth questioning and very close observation. Treatment is then tailored specifically with the intention of reinforcing the Element, so that a better emotional and physical balance can be reinstated, gradually enabling symptoms and pain to subside.

Five Element Acupuncture advocates the use of as few needles as possible in any one treatment. This is because each needle carries a distinct message and the body can easily be overwhelmed, particularly in early stages of treatment.

For further information regarding treatment, please visit