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TCM Doctors Take on Emotions

Football fans are experiencing a gamut of emotions as they endure the highs and lows of the ongoing 2006 World Cup.

However, they must beware that extra anger could do harm to the liver, increased happiness may be bad for the heart, too much fear could hurt the kidney, and increased sadness could impair the lungs.

This dose of emotional advice comes from the legendary Huang Di, or "Yellow Emperor," in his medical compendium written some 5,000 years ago.

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) practitioners have been well aware of the relationships between the mind and body for centuries, even though a group of European philosophers established psychology as a scientific discipline after the first article on mental wellbeing appeared in Europe in 1840.

So it was not surprising when some TCM practitioners came up with what they termed "TCM psychology" in 1985.

They went a step further this past weekend by establishing a TCM Psychology Committee under the World Federation of Chinese Medicine Societies in Beijing.

Over the years, many psychologists and TCM doctors in the United States, Japan, Singapore and Europe have embraced the integration of TCM ideas into Western psychology.

They believe that, although the term "psychology" never occurred in TCM classics, the ancient Chinese medicine practitioners accumulated rich clinical experience in the treatment of psychological diseases.

TCM emphasizes the influence of emotions on organ function and the occurrence and development of diseases.

In "Huang Di Nei Jing" "Yellow Emperor's Medical Compendium," the oldest TCM classic that became available in print about 2,000 years ago most of the articles discussed symptoms or ideas related to today's Western psychology. "The book has laid a theory foundation for TCM psychology," said Yang Qiuli, a research fellow with the Psychology Laboratory of the Chinese Academy of TCM.

According to TCM, emotions are actually qi movements, which are induced inside the body when confronting other human beings. These qi movements can be both beneficial and harmful to different organs.

TCM considers that all internal or chronic diseases are caused by the seven major emotions anger, shock, joy, fear, brooding, anxiety and sorrow.

Each of the seven emotions has a corresponding vice and virtue and the job of the TCM practitioners is to transform the "vice" emotion associated with the disease to its "virtue" counterpart.


Many TCM therapies to regulate, control and harmonize the movements of qi are still applied today. These include herbal medicine, qigong (deep breathing exercise), acupuncture and music.

Traditionally, herbal medicine has been closely associated with treating psycho-spiritual aspects of disease and mental imbalance, according to Zou Yizhuang, secretary-general of the Chinese Mental Disease Institute.

For example, depression or mood swings are commonly accompanied with "liver qi stagnation," which could lead to a feeling of tightness in the chest. The prescribed herbal formula of Xiao Yao San could help regulate the liver qi and alleviate the psychological symptoms.

Qigong has already been widely practised in the world for the purpose of relaxing and resistance on stress. It is said to be effective in treating anxiety, depression and phobias. Now it is also applied in clinical psychotherapy.

A 17-year-old girl from Hebei Province once had her legs injured in a traffic accident.

After treatment, all medical check-ups showed that her legs were fully healed, but for months, the girl could not stand up. Her family later brought her to a qigong master, who told the girl that her legs would be normal after he emitted energy into them.

After the qigong master finished his treatment, the girl could reportedly walk again.

"The miracle is simply a result of a mental hint. It is the qigong master's actions and words that finally dispelled the girls' worry for her legs. Qigong applied in TCM psychology is very similar to the hypnotherapy in Western medicine, but there are also differences between the two," said Wang Weidong, a well-known qigong psychology expert at Guang'anmen Hospital.

For example, the qigong instructors use few words during the treatment but instead use techniques like gestures of emitting energy.

Comparatively, instructors of hypnotherapy basically depend on their words to give patients hints, or sometimes they will combine tools and actions with words to strengthen the effect of their hint.

Acupuncture has been widely applied nowadays at home and abroad to treat somatic symptoms generated by a psychological problem.

According to Alexander Meng, a doctor at the TCM and Acupuncture Department of the Kaiserin Elisabeth Hospital in Vienna, Austria, he applied acupuncture to treat around 7,500 patients with neurological pain in a year.

Sixty per cent of his patients' chronic pain was related to their psychological disorders, he said.

"Most patients feel good and fall asleep during a session of acupuncture treatment. Patients with phobia and depression felt their symptoms were much alleviated after acupuncture," said Meng.

The TCM practitioners have also been using musical therapy to treat diseases for 2,000 years.

Huang Xinyong, a psychology professor from Singapore College of TCM, is a strong supporter of the therapy.

"Chinese classical music generally has beautiful melodies and gentle tones. It can make people forget their troubles, broaden their mind, and promote their mental health," said Huang.

The five tones in ancient Chinese music are called Gong, Shang, Jiao, Zhi and Yu, respectively similar to the modern tones, do, re, mi, so, and la.

According to Huang, the five musical tones correspond to the five internal organs, Gong to spleen, Shang to lung, Jiao to liver, Zhi to heart and Yu to kidney.

TCM doctors believes the heart governs people's happiness. When people are sad and desperate, they could listen to some music of the Zhi tone, which is cheerful and lively and can restore the regular qi flow in the heart. Similarly, the liver governs people's anger. When people are fired up, they could listen to some music of Jiao tone, which is warm and soothing.

Huang himself also loves composing music and finds that therapeutic as well.

"When the music notes skip in my brain, I feel like my mind is cleaned," said Huang.

Besides just listening to music, he suggests singing or composing music could also help alleviate psychological disorders.

(China Daily June 28, 2006)

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