Acupuncture Treatment Strategies to Support the Shen

Acupuncture for Trauma

Twelve months into the Coronavirus pandemic, there are very few of us who haven't struggled with these circumstances in one way or another. Whether we have faced COVID-19 infection ourselves or with loved ones and patients, or have experienced income loss, isolation, and upset routines, the stress of these times has affected everyone.

As practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine, we understand the importance of balancing emotional and psychological health. Shen disharmony not only affects our emotional experience, but can also have a significant impact on our physical health. What follows is a discussion of four acupuncture treatments to harmonize the emotions and balance the Shen.

The External Dragons Treatment

Coming from the Worsley Classical Five Elements Acupuncture tradition, the External Dragons treatment is a powerful tool for clearing away symptoms of post-traumatic stress precipitated by overwhelming external events. It is equally effective in addressing circumstances that took place yesterday or ten years ago. According to the Han Dynasty physician Zhang Zhong Jing, the Tai Yang Meridian protects the surface from invasion of external evils, and this includes both physical as well as emotional/psychological evils. The majority of points for this treatment are found on the Tai Yang Channel, and include UB 11, UB23, and UB 61.

This is a very specific treatment that can be used to remove unwanted or repetitive thoughts and behavior patterns resulting from traumatic events. It should be noted that the treatment does NOT open the patient up to re-experiencing the original traumatic event. Having said that, it is helpful to discuss with the patient the connection between precipitating events and their current behaviors and experiences, as well as making sure to check in with them following the treatment.

The patient may lie either on their side or face down for this treatment. I believe having the patient on their side is more comfortable and allows for a deeper experience. It is also helpful to encourage the patient to affirm their desire to let go of past events at the start of treatment. The needling order is: Du20, UB 11 right then left, UB23 right then left, UB 61 right then left, with gentle stimulation at each point upon insertion. The needle retention time is 25-28 minutes. Needles are removed in the same order as with insertion.

The Aggressive Energy Drain

Referred to as the “AE Drain”, this Classical Five Elements treatment opens the Zang organs to release accumulation of negative emotions. These emotions include anger, grief, hopelessness, fear, loneliness, melancholy and annoyance. The Zang organs house the Six Shen and they can accumulate negative emotions long-term. This emotional holding can interfere with the patient's access to and healthy expression of the six Shen, and often predisposes the patient to unwanted emotions.

The treatment is on the Zang back Shu points, and face down positioning is necessary. The needling technique is especially important in obtaining the correct result. The points include UB13, UB14, UB18, UB20, UB23, and the needling order is right to left for each Zang organ beginning with UB13. Needle insertion is as superficial as possible while still allowing the needle to stay in the skin. If after the insertion of all points, redness appears in the area of UB15, then this point can also be needled as well. Finally, if a patient presents with extremely negative emotions, bilateral UB 67 can be added last. Needles are retained for 25-28 minutes, and needles are removed in the order of insertion.

The treatment is best suited for patients who either present with a negative emotional disposition, or who complain about this experience. The treatment does not induce the patient to re-experience past emotions, and after treatment both practitioner and patient notice a clearly palpable change in the patient's emotional presence and demeanor.

The Chong Mai Treatment

This acupuncture treatment directly accesses the psychological and emotional aspects of the Chong Mai, one of the Eight Extraordinary Meridians. Translated as the "Great Way", the Chong Meridian treatment opens the patient to a more direct experience of the Shen of the Heart. The Heart Shen is our highest Self, and holds fundamental aspects of identity, meaning in life, and the unfolding process of self-discovery in this lifetime.

The treatment is done in the supine position, and points are inserted in the following order: Right side Spleen 4, left side Pericardium 6, Stomach 30, Kidney 16, Kidney 21, Ren 15, Kidney 27, and Ren 22. Pericardium 6, Ren 15 and Ren 22 are not on the Chong channel, but harmonize this treatment. The needles should not be stimulated after insertion, are retained for 28-30 minutes and removed in reverse order to insertion. This treatment is contraindicated before and during menses, during pregnancy, and when there is an external pathogen present. The treatment can be deeply transformative, particularly if the patient is relatively stable and not in an acute state of panic or fear. During times of difficulty and uncertainty, treating the Chong Mai can assist a patient's return to a deeper feeling of self-knowledge, and can facilitate a sense of security that one is on the right path and that all things are as they should be.

The NADA Protocol

Any discussion of acupuncture treatment for anxiety and stress would be incomplete without mentioning the five-point detoxification method known as the NADA protocol. This simple and effective treatment utilizes ear points exclusively and can therefore be used in nearly any setting. The results of the NADA treatment include a reduction in the feelings of depression, anxiety, anger, poor concentration, and emotional trauma. Additionally, it has shown to increase energy, promote a sense of calmness, well-being, improved quality of sleep, and can also assist patients in discovering a renewed sense of inner quietude and strength.

The ear acupuncture points include Shen Men, Sympathetic, Kidney, Liver and Lung, and are done bilaterally. The treatment can be carried out with the patient either sitting upright or lying down. Treatment may include only the NADA ear points or can be used in combination with other body points as determined by the practitioner. Needles are retained for 30-40 minutes. This treatment is fundamentally palliative in nature, quieting the Shen and calming the nervous system.

These four treatments offer a variety of ways to help our patients with emotional and psychological complaints. The effects of these treatments are to return the patient to a deepened state of peace, acceptance of circumstance, and a feeling of being reunited to the peace and security of the higher self within.


Mark W. Frost, MSTCM, L.Ac. is chair of the Herbal Medicine Department at the American College of Traditional Chinese Medicine in San Francisco, California. Professor Frost teaches in both the Masters and Doctoral Programs, serves as a clinical supervisor in colleges Community Clinic, and has had a private practice in San Francisco for over 30 years. He is the author of numerous articles on Chinese herbal medicine and has presented at several TCM conferences since 2014.

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