August 2008

Deep Release Acupuncture

By Elliot Wagner, O.M.D., L.Ac., Doctor of Oriental Medicine

While watching, awestruck, the opening of the Summer Olympics in Beijing, I thought about how much the Chinese people have contributed to humankind. Chinese medicine is one of the gifts of this magnificent culture to the rest of the world. I feel proud to be a representative of this great medicine in our country.

I almost hesitate to write this, because I'm concerned that what I have chosen to discuss will seem more appropriate to the realm of mysticism than to medicine. But I assure you it comes from my clinical experience, and is very real. I also have a desire to share something that I consider quite rare and precious: a form of acupuncture treatment for chronic physical and emotional pain that is more transformational than medical.

In 1999 I had the good fortune to go to the Victoria Pain Clinic, in British Columbia, and intern with Dr. Michael Greenwood, the developer of a form of acupuncture that is unlike any other that I know. In fact, it has more in common with what Native Americans call "journeying," and to the practice known as "rebirthing," than to acupuncture.

After years of experimenting with it on my own, what I eventually called Deep Release Acupuncture is a specialized form of acupuncture for patients who want to explore the source of severe, persistent or chronic pain. Deep Release is unique because, unlike other therapies, its effectiveness is based on supporting the patient to open to the experience of his or her pain, not, as we customarily do, struggle with or suppress it. This sets up a powerful context, one in which we have often been witness to the resolution of deeply held conflicts, and the beginning of real healing.

Over the past nine years I have used Deep Release to treat patients with whiplash, pelvic pain, chronic back pain, headaches and migraines, and many other problems. I have also treated patients with post-traumatic stress, and the residue of past physical and emotional abuse. I have been able to help people with severe anxiety and depression. What most of them have in common is that they have not responded well to conventional therapy, or wish to explore an alternative to drugs or surgery.

What makes Deep Release Acupuncture unique is its capacity to allow patients to explore states of consciousness that are difficult, during our ordinary waking existence, to access. The value in exploring these states is that, freed from the usual constraints of time and identification with the body, we find ourselves in a space that is both familiar and completely new. One of our recent patients — a young attorney — said, movingly, when I asked him about his experience, "I really can't describe the state, but if there is such a thing as a soul, this must be the window to it." This freedom allows us to view our pain — whatever its nature — with new eyes. For people who have been in the grip of chronic pain, anxiety, or depression, this internal freedom comes as a welcome gift.

Having said that, I now must admit that such states are not always available upon demand. Patients who get the most from Deep Release treatments are those who surrender to it, either because they intuitively understand the process, or because they feel strongly motivated to move past their pain, and find out what the process has to offer them.