According to my Chinese herb teacher, Ted Kaptchuk, author of The Web That Has No Weaver, originally the most potent herbs were considered the most psychoactive. In fact, the use of herbs for physical problems only comes later. First and foremost, herbs were understood and appreciated for their ability to change one’s state of mind.
And for many of the ancient Chinese, changing one’s state of mind was paramount in one’s health. Changing someone’s mind changes how they live and changing how one lives has everything to do with how health one will be.
This is preventive medicine par excellence. In fact, one dominant theme of Chinese medicine and Chinese medical culture is that giving advice on how to live, what we call, “life coaching” or counseling or psychotherapy of various sorts, is the highest form of medicine. Again, change the mind that changes the lifestyle and its habits and everything changes. If therapy is necessary, either the advice was not very good, the patient did not follow the advice or they never got good advice in the first place.
In the U.S., depression, anxiety and a variety of psychological disorders are, if we review the sales figures for psychological medications and the statistics of incidence that goes with them, pandemic.
What is it about the way we live, the way our society is structured, about our lifestyles and family lives and work lives and public lives that generates these kinds of distress in such great proportion.
One does not need to be perfectly healthy to be happy; although, anyone who is ill in any way will tell you that it is not all that easy to keep the spirits up under health duress. Yet, common sense does seem to inform us that happiness and health are mutually reinforcing. And signal that with one we will more than likely find the other.
So, distressing psychological moods are probably fairly good markers for proverbial ill canaries in the proverbial mine. If we can effectively and genuinely help with the signal, help the canary, using Chinese herbs for psychological problems, we might, in some small part, help the miners out of the environmentally hazardous mine.
That does not mean that we make a happy canary in an unhealthy by giving it giddy herbs or emotional pain killers. That is not change, that is palliative care, appropriate in hospice, not for all times.
And Chinese herbs are best used for psychological disorders with good counseling. While herbs may be giving a form of internal advice, genuine wisdom and emotional intelligence is required as well.
My special training is in the psychological use of Chinese herbs. I also have a Western university Master’s degree in Psychology. I am also currently writing a book that integrates Chinese Medicine with Western Psychology.
I feel comfortable treating a variety of psychological problems with Chinese herbs, whether it is depression, anxiety, manic depression, autism (my graduate thesis was on autism) and the long list of other psychological disorders that some of us suffer with. Whether the distress is relatively mild or fairly severe, Chinese herbs can be a great aid in psychological change for the better.
When especially severe and patients show suicidal or other violent tendencies or other acute or chronic extreme problems, Chinese medicine is not nearly as effective as psychiatric medications and, sometimes when necessary, hospitalization is required and referral is in order.
As always it is important to know the limits of this medicine. But in any but the most severe cases, Chinese herbal medicine is, to my mind, far better for long term health, psychological and physical that some of the current kinds of pharmaceuticals.