Dr. April L. Schulte-Barclay is a doctor of acupuncture and oriental medicine and a licensed acupuncturist. She has been practicing in Grand Junction since 2004 and is an expert and leader in integrative and collaborative medicine.
Life happens. Sometimes a lot of life happens and stirs the pot considerably. We are on a journey, constantly growing, changing and morphing as life’s happenings around us shift.
In that process, emotions cause chemical changes in our bodies. Those chemical changes cascade through our bodies, resulting in physiological changes. With prolonged chemical imbalances, disharmony can show up as anxiety, insomnia, depression and chronic pain.
Eventually, the same process can even lead to a weakened digestive system, compromised immune system and more.
Thanks to the adage, “it’s all in your head,” I find myself in a peculiar position as a doctor who recognizes the mind and body as connected by a web of chemical cascades caused by our emotions.
The very last thing I want a patient of mine to think is I am suggesting that a symptom is all in his or her head. Quite to the contrary, symptoms are always real. Always.
However, many physical symptoms are often rooted in the effects of emotional imbalance and undue stress.
In the conventional Western medical model, real symptoms that cannot be explained by lab work, an imaging study or a specific cluster of symptoms that definitively point to one disease diagnosis go untouched by a real treatment plan.
A medical doctor may try a prescription drug or two, often in the form of an antidepressant, to see if that alleviates symptoms. Certainly, there are cases where antidepressants are warranted, and they can, in and of themselves, provide space for a person to heal.
In other cases, it is important to consider other options. It is actually an interesting parallel that a common class of drugs, antidepressants, is used to treat everything from anxiety to depression to chronic pain. That presumes that in at least one way, conventional Western medicine acknowledges that our emotional health is tied to our physical health.
Considering the above thinking, it may be easier to understand why I may recommend psychological services in the form of counseling or life coaching for a patient presenting with physical symptoms.
A good psychologist, counselor or life coach can help patients learn the tools to make those emotional shifts, thereby changing the chemical cascades that can lead to a variety of health problems.
Psychologist and life coach Dr. Paula King says the “mind-body connection is both amazingly simple and extremely complex. Simply, every thought and action produces a corresponding release of neurological and biochemical transmitters that affect all aspects of our physical being. More complex is the science behind understanding exactly how these chemicals relate to any specific disease or health issue. It is important to know about this connection and to make choices about your thoughts, words and behaviors that support your health rather than diminish it.”
Licensed certified counselor Leslie Kittel recognizes that “poor emotional health can weaken the body’s immune system, making it more likely to come down with colds and other infections during emotional difficult times.”
By combining two treatment modalities, such as acupuncture and behavioral health, true transformations can happen.
Acupuncturist Koko Evans says, “I value collaborating with behavioral health practitioners. In working with my patients, I notice acupuncture can cause physiological shifts in a patient’s body which, combined with self-reflection in counseling, can cultivate an awareness that true change and progress with his or her health picture is taking place.”
A common response to my recommendation to seek behavioral health services is, “I do not need to take the time or pay for counseling. I can figure it out on my own.”
That may or may not be true. But seeking help from an unbiased professional can cut to the chase. By being proactive and getting out of your head space, changes can be made before further illness ensues. Let’s face it: Diseases are both time-consuming and expensive.
Once patients accept my referral and seek professional behavioral health care, most are thrilled with the progress they experience.
So, next time you experience chronic digestive problems (irritable bowel syndrome, stomach pain, acid reflux, excess gas or bloating after eating) or immune system problems (reoccurring upper respiratory infections, worsened allergies, autoimmune diseases) or more nebulous symptoms like chronic fatigue or chronic pain, think outside of the conventional medicine health box.
Covering up symptoms with over-the-counter, prescription medications or recreational drugs is taking the easy way out, which is not really “out.”
It is important to get to the root of the problem so that you can reclaim your health mentally, physically and emotionally.