By Susan Tretakis – I wish I had known more about Traditional Chinese Medicine when I was pursuing my graduate and post-graduate psychology degrees. I wish – as I was indoctrinated with “scientific” treatments for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) – that I knew enough – and was brave enough – to possibly raise my hand to question why we were creating a generation schooled in “Reading, Writing and Ritalin”.
Perhaps if I knew then – and more people knew then – what TCM can do for both children and adults who suffer from ADHD – we would not have seen refrigerators in every school nurse’s office double in size to be able to store routinely prescribed medications for our elementary, middle and high school populations.
Today, the psychiatric world identifies ADHD as a chronic condition that affects millions of children and may follow them into adulthood. ADHD includes a combination of symptoms, including but not limited to, difficulty in sustaining attention, hyperactivity and impulsive behavior. In children, the symptoms are grouped into three groups: inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. In adults, these symptoms become more age-specific. Sandbox conflicts becoming office skirmishes, chronic tardiness to class becomes chronic lateness to work. The child who has trouble waiting for his her turn and interrupts others may very well become the adult who cuts off other in traffic “to make that red light” or the colleague or supervisor who never lets anyone finish a sentence.
And throughout its tenure, ADHD brings to both children and adults poor self-esteem (easy to develop if you are always being corrected), anxiety (what will I do wrong in this class/in this meeting, this day?) as well as continual mood swings and depression.
I can accept the science that there are certain risk factors for ADHD. Research points to genetic connections, such as a link between a parent and / or sibling who also displays such characteristics. Science speaks to linkages between ADHD and environmental toxins such as lead. There’s evidence that maternal drug and alcohol use – as well as smoking during pregnancy – all of which may lead to premature births – being a link to ADHD. Studies are on-going about the effect of certain preservatives and sugar and their link to ADHD.
All of this makes it easy for us trained in behavior modification to advise students and parents on what to do and how to do it for themselves and their children. All of this makes it easy for us to conduct staff development activities to inform and assist teachers and other school staff on how to teach, treat and work with these children and adults. For those of us not trained as behaviorists but as medical doctors, all of this makes it possible to prescribe a variety of medications from childhood into adulthood.
It bothers me that different types of children can end up being diagnosed with ADHD. It bothers me that we tend to buy into absolute diagnoses blindly. It upsets me that some of my friends and yes, colleagues, have what is nearly an obsession with quick, pharmaceutical cures.
To be perfectly candid, Traditional Chinese Medicine makes an excellent case that children today are simply reflecting society. It can be said that ADHD is simply a “new societal normal”. Adults are working more and longer than ever before. More and more families are living together. Workloads are up as are distractions. Adults fear and worry about their health and the possibility of mounting health care costs. Their increasing stress and irritability are evident to their children who have their own issues. Children and adolescents are dealing with their “new normal” of safety concerns, growing concerns about appearance and social skills. Society has created a giant, out-stretched hand open to receive those magic pills to make everything “all right”.
I wish I knew about the TCM “5 Elements Theory” when I was studying for my psychology degree. I’d like to think that both my early practice and my later staff development activities would be greatly enhanced.
The Five Elements Theory is based on the belief that all natural processes and phenomena can be classified as belonging to or manifesting one of five basic “elements:” Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, or Water. The theory holds that every human, in his or her essence, belongs to one of these five “types” which colors how one asserts oneself in the world, what one finds attractive or repelling, how one copes with stresses, and how one seeks comfort.
- Wood types are very physical. They’re the leaders. They’re competitive and want to be first. They always want to win, to be in front. Natural leaders, they can usually win the enthusiasm of peers. Since they live primarily in the physical world, they often act out physically when stressed, becoming aggressive, argumentative, “in your face.”
- Fire types are jovial pleasure-seekers. They like to relax, socialize and have fun. They often seek thrills and excitement, and love to entertain others. They’re fascinated by sensory stimuli and often get carried away by the “carnival” of light, sound and image that the world presents. They often dislike school because it is not fun; the dislike grows as they get older and the workload intensifies.
- Earth types are all about the social world. They view their worth in terms of interpersonal relationships, and constantly seek social contact. They want to fit in, and often play the role of peacemaker. These are the constant-talkers who get in trouble because they can’t contain the need to connect with others. Quiet study periods are torture to them.
- Metal types are highly sensitive and detail-oriented. They see things few others do, and have an innate sense of order, beauty and perfection. They seek control and like to see their visions met. They value precision; where a Wood or Fire type might gloss over details, a Metal type digs right in. The downside is rigidity and inflexibility. They get stuck in their own vision of right or wrong, leaving no room for others.
- Water types think and feel very deeply. They live in the realm of ideas and imagination, and have only a modicum of interest in the physical, practical world. They’re natural wisdom-seekers, and have a rather advanced interior world for their age. They often seem to be “off somewhere.” They’re not particularly concerned with punctuality, and respond to time-pressures and other external demands by disconnecting, staring out the window, or retreating to their inner world.
While there is much more than what is written here to understand about each “type”, it is important to understand that all people manifest all of these elements to some degree. Once you begin to observe yourself – and others – you can identify predominate traits. TCM practitioners believe that in a healthy child or adult the elements are balanced with the predominant tendency kept in check by the other four. However, in a culture fueled by stress as well as personal and professional competition, individuals at each age tend to default to their predominate element. Becoming “unbalanced” is somewhat simple after a day of classroom issues, office issues, technology issues, financial issues, political issues, health care issues and so on. For me, as someone trained in what pharmacotherapy can do for ADHD, I can’t help but to think that there is no one drug that is effective for all five personalities in the extreme. Traditional Chinese Medicine by its very essence treats the individual – not the disease.
“Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is a complete system that evaluates each patient individually and addresses specifically to their personality, problems, and bodies. Treatment of ADHD through acupuncture and oriental medicine is looked upon much differently than western medicine, which sees ADHD as a complex neurodevelopmental disorder. According to Chinese medicine, ADHD is either due to insufficient nourishment of the spirit, spirit agitation by some type of heat, or orifice obstruction by static blood or phlegm. Static blood may also interfere with the normal engenderment of blood and hence lead to insufficient spirit nourishment.”
Science doesn’t spend much time on the “nourishment of the spirit”, but perhaps, in a country where ADHD is somewhat of a phenomenon we should. The US leads most countries in the use of drug therapy for ADHD at all age levels. Less expensive than western medicine, Traditional Chinese Medicine can reduce medical costs. Critics point out that TCM takes too long to effect change. Perhaps our “need for speed” is part of the overall problem. Perhaps we should look for complementary methods of balancing our children and ourselves.
“In recent years, acupuncture has become a popular complementary therapy for children and adults suffering from ADHD. Auricular acupuncture, specifically, has been proven most effective. The ear may be used alone or in combination with body acupuncture to solve countless illnesses through the stimulation of specific points on the body with micro-thin needles, electricity, laser, or other devices. Since the ear may be stimulated through noninvasive procedures, it is the favored treatment for children. Based on clinical research, both Chinese herbs and acupuncture can be used as an alternative therapy to treat ADHD.”
While I was promoting the relatively recent use of bio-feedback to my peers and ADHD clients, I wish I knew then that researchers would conclude that acupuncture increases the benefits of biofeedback treatment as well as being an effective stand-alone treatment. I wish I knew then that both sedative and tonic Chinese herbs, much safer than drugs both in short and long term use, would be proven to show improved focus, memory and learning ability.
As a clinician, I fully recognize the optimal treatment of ADHD requires dietary, environmental and behavioral changes. But now, after all of the science and psychology classes, after all of the internships and externships, I can clearly see the gaps in my education. Today, I can easily see how a comprehensive therapeutic program, including acupuncture and Chinese herbs for ADHD, can very likely serve a primary treatment for both children and adults with ADHD.
I didn’t know all of this back then; but I can share this information now. If you or someone you know is suffering with ADHD, The Acupuncturists would like to help. They are skilled acupuncture physicians serving the cities of Margate, Coconut Creek, Coral Springs, Tamarac, Parkland, Deerfield Beach, and West Boca. Call for a free consultation today.