I’ve had acupuncture before at a physiotherapist clinic and for the most part, it was good. It certainly helped me release some physical tension in my body and relaxed me somewhat but when I had Traditional Chinese Acupuncture, the effect was something completely different.
I stumbled across a good acupuncturist in Bali and for some reason the first time I came across him, I didn’t end up booking a session but when I ended up in his presence again (at Hubud, a co-working space in Ubud, Bali) I decided that this might be a sign and I booked a session – trusting my intuition here was the best thing I did because this treatment at that time brought around a whole mindset change. My Therapist for this session was Ben Elan who’s services include Narrative Counselling and Classic Chinese Medicine (Acupuncture and Cupping). He offers a very holistic care service with talk therapy, and energy work based on the intuition and agreement of client and therapist, the way I believe all therapies should be.
My review is set into three parts – description of the session, how I felt directly before and after the four sessions and my overall review.
There were four sessions in total and they were spaced over a course of 4 weeks with a week between treatments. The first session lasted 90 minutes and involved a thorough consultation period, where I explained the physical pain on my left side, how long it had been there, significant life events, and of course the most recent traumatic events. Ben asked a series of questions and I answered them in as much detail as I could. As I’ve talked out the traumas and my life events so much I’m quite happy and open to explain everything and give a therapist as much information as they need so that they can use their experience and knowledge to assess how best to treat me. After the initial 90 minute session, the following 3 sessions they took on average 60 minutes each, as the consultation period was more of a review of what had happened in the last week since the last session, however we would usually find that some additional life information would pop up and provide more of an insight to Ben and his decision of how to treat me for that session. Following the consultation period, I would lie on the massage couch, on my back while Ben took my pulse on both of my wrists one at a time. This usually took about 5 minutes per wrist and would give him an idea of how my energy was running through my body – not being an expert in Traditional Chinese Medicine I don’t have much of a clue what this means, but when he explained to me what he could feel my pulse his assessments were a clear representation of how I felt inside. For example he explained that he could feel a haze, which is normal after trauma because it’s a way of protecting the body. That falls in toe with how I would sometimes feel completely numb to certain things, as though I was unable to access certain feelings. After this, Ben would tell me how many needles he would like to use and where he would like to place them and then he asked me if this was ok with me. Of course, it was, that’s what I was there for but it felt very empowering as a client to be asked if this was ok, something I always appreciate.
There were never more than five needles used and the number of needles depended on my current state of mind, my pulse and what Ben believed was safe and appropriate for that session. During one appointment he only used two needles because he was concerned that I might have a strong reaction if I had more than that, which wouldn’t be good if I wasn’t ready for it. “It’s like if you pull a scab off that’s not really healed underneath yet, the wound will just scab over again” he said. I liked that analogy and he was spot on because even with two needles I had a strong reaction after that session. It was a positive strong reaction but it felt very powerful, three needles might have overwhelmed me.
For those who haven’t had acupuncture before and might be concerned about the needles, I can assure you that they don’t hurt more than a light scratch. They’re not the type of needles used in syringes; in fact they’re a lot thinner, at most they feel like a scratch when they penetrate the skin and then there’s a somewhat dull ache when the needle hits an energy point. The needles would usually stay in for about 20 minutes, and then Ben would remove them and ask if I’d like a glass of water. Just like all therapies, it’s important to drink plenty of water to flush out toxins in the body once the energy (physical or meridian) has been moved around. After the session, we would usually have a chat about what I might expect to feel and he would assure me that I could contact him if I felt unsure about anything, which was really reassuring.
Throughout the four sessions Ben worked on a variety of things and having a sequence of sessions with one practitioner was really beneficial because we could reflect on how I’d felt the week after the treatment. During the first session he concentrated on my general energy flow and placed needles accordingly to see how I would react, I felt fine straight after and very relaxed that evening. During the second session he started to get a bit more strategically, I guess he had a good idea of how I was reacting to the acupuncture. For this session he concentrated on my left side on the pain that I regularly experience – the ‘heart protector’ area because the muscles there seemed tight and overworked (can you blame me after the year I’ve had??). After this session I was quite emotional and did have a few strong emotional releases throughout the week following this appointment. On the third session he simply placed two needles on my right wrist and elbow to help open up my heart energy flow and this is where I had the strong reaction. Straight after I was full of energy and in a very positive mood which lasted for quite a few days before I then had a bit of an emotional rollercoaster, but I felt physically less tense and happy within myself, something which I had lost in all the numbness. The final session was a more of a general session to get my energy flowing and I also had some suction cups on my back because I was experiencing the beginning of a cold. Suction cups apparently help rid the body of toxins. After the final session I felt sleepy and exhausted, but that was probably more because I was becoming ill rather than the acupuncture, however processing all those emotions, at that intensity and speed probably was starting to tire me out after four weeks.
Pre-session sense check – (20 April 2016, the day before my first session)
Physically – At the start of the four sessions, I still had the grappling pain on my left side. The pain would stem from the back of my neck, across my shoulder, spreading across the front and back of my chest, under my arm and down my left arm, down to my ring finger. I’ve had the pain on and off for about 6 years, which was about the time that I started to feel unsupported emotionally (this ties in perfectly with what Louise Hay’s book You Can Heal Your Life has to say). It goes on and off but intensifies at times when I feel vulnerable or scared. Generally, I felt a little fatigued at the start of the 4 weeks but that’s something I was coming to accept after experiencing the emotional traumas – processing is exhausting.
Emotionally – I still felt like I was in a bit of a flux emotionally. Ok one minute then not the next, confused most of the time as to whether I was feeling clear headed or not, and in general still a little numb sometimes. During the time I was having the acupuncture sessions I was in a period of ‘time out’ to specifically work on process things as they came up and working on accepting and expressing my emotions. I was knee deep in a messy process and I wasn’t sure when I was going to be done so I was just taking things one day at a time, and Bali allows for this which I am grateful for.
Post session feeling – (23 May 2016 – 3 weeks after my final session date, 2 May 2016)
Physically – It was during the third session that I felt a physical release in my left shoulder. I had two needles in my right arm and they were placed strategically to help open up my heart – the physical pain that I was experiencing was from my heart being tightly protected (and who could blame me after everything that I’d been through). I remember this session vividly because after it I was full of energy and I felt like a whole weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I felt light again and I had forgotten what it felt to be like that, that pain that used to come on and off over the last 6 years has dissipated completely and it’s remarkable to feel so free from it.
Emotionally – Just before the last session of acupuncture I remember feeling like I was just bored of my trauma story now. I had a complete mind shift in the last week of the acupuncture sessions (and last week in Bali) and I felt like I was making decisions with a clearer mind, one that wasn’t so muddled up by emotional stories playing scare tactics in my brain. A mind that wasn’t fogged by emotions, judgements and should I or shouldn’t I. Since the last session I have felt more open, refreshed and comfortable in my own skin to the point where I feel like I can be here for others – a state which I haven’t felt for a long time.
I was having the acupuncture sessions during my last month in Bali and it was a time when I had decided to stay in one place and work through my emotions, so as well as having the acupuncture I was also talking through a lot of things, dancing and expressing myself creatively. However, I know that acupuncture has a strong effect on me and I think it was the tool that I needed to help speed up my recovery journey and get me to the point where I felt empowered to move forward to the next chapter of my life, whatever that may be (stay tuned). As well as working with a therapy that I know I respond to, a lot of this also comes down to the therapist and in this case I couldn’t have asked for someone more intuitive or safe than Ben. He has an air about him which creates a space of emotional safety and I could feel this from the moment that I met him, almost like that comforting feeling of someone you trust placing their hand on your shoulder. I found him to be professional and supportive throughout the treatments and the ability for him to hold space for himself and for me, his client was something that he was able to do very successfully. This is extremely important as a therapist because without this security then I client cannot relax into their hands, inhibiting their own recovery by holding back. Ben allowed me to feel safe enough to express my emotions and vulnerabilities fully, which I know aided my response to the treatment even more.
Acupuncture worked for me and I was lucky enough to find a very intuitive therapist which is key to any treatment. It’s something that is worth exploring and I would highly recommend it for someone who is going through any emotional or physical pain. Going to an acupuncturist who is also a trained counsellor was also very beneficial. I’m unsure as to whether all Traditional Chinese Acupuncturists are trained in counselling but it is definitely worthwhile finding one who is and arranging to have a series of sessions to allow for sense checking and reflections. Check out my 3 step guide to finding the right therapist if you’re ready to start your own healing journey.