When we interact with others, there is a constant exchange of energy between us. Health practitioners (whether they be acupuncturists, massage therapists, energy workers, talking therapists, or others) are regularly in contact with people who are struggling in some way. This can easily lead to practitioners feeling emotionally drained, burnt out, or in some cases taking on the symptoms of their patients. Understanding the energetics of the treatment encounter and how to build resilience to the effects from your patients can improve treatment outcomes and help you have a long and healthy career.
Energy, for the purposes of this article, is basically the flow of information. Physics describes different kinds of energy (kinetic, gravitational etc), and it is the same within the human body. Information is transmitted via the nervous system, endocrine system, cardiovascular system and more. Information is constantly flowing around from one place to another, ensuring everything is kept within the correct limits.
There is also information exchange between people. Some of this we are aware of, and some is subconscious. Beyond verbal and non-verbal communication, we also emit pheromones and are surrounded by our own personal microbiomes. According to Daoist medical theory, there are two energetic fields that surround the body, a wei qi field and an auric field. It is through these fields that we exchange information with our external environment.
When we interact with other people, there is a certain degree of information/energy exchange happening and there is a tendency for our systems to synchronise. You might think of this as being similar to the entrainment of electromagnetic waves that are close to each other. In this way, we are influenced by the energy of those around us.
However, this information exchange is not always equal. That is, more information will often flow in one direction than another, according to the strength of each field. During any kind of treatment, the practitioner is a figure of authority and the patient is receptive to the treatment given. This creates a gradient of energetic flow from the practitioner to the patient. The more powerful the practitioner, and the more receptive the patient, the greater the gradient.
What will then happen is the practitioner’s energy system will act as a model for the patient’s, and the change will predominantly happen to the patient. For this reason, it is important that as practitioners we maintain our own health. We may also find we are less effective at treating problems that we suffer with ourselves.
On the other hand, if the practitioner is not confident, or is particularly empathetic, or the patient is particularly dominant, the gradient of information flow can be reversed. While incoming information can sometimes be diagnostically useful, it is also potentially dangerous, as the practitioner will begin taking on the patient’s imbalances.
Sometimes, especially if they are sensitive, practitioners will feel sensations during treatment that mimic those of their patients. This is an example of information flow from patient to practitioner. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the gradient of flow is reversed, as there will always be some information going in both directions. However, the practitioner should identify and be able to resolve the changes in their own system for two reasons. Firstly, they don’t want the changes affecting their own system, and secondly as this will act as a model for the patient for how to resolve the imbalance.
All of these dynamics are happening all the time, in all interactions in life – there is no special technique needed. However, there are certain skills that practitioners can develop to enhance the energetics of their treatments.
- Sensitivity – developing an awareness of their own energy system will help practitioners to become more sensitive to changes in themselves and their patients.
- Ability to ‘sung’ – to let go, to release.
- Developing the correct attitude – being receptive but not absorbing, being compassionate but not too empathetic, developing confidence.
- Shielding – depending on what this entails, it is not necessarily so useful during treatments, but may protect from incoming negative energy during daily life.
- Strengthening their own energy system to:
- enhance their health and provide a better model for their patients, and
- increase the gradient of energy flow from them to their patients, which will also make them more resilient to incoming information.
- Purging – after treatments, practitioners should clear out any negative energy or pathogens they may have taken on during treatment.
I will be running a workshop to go a bit deeper into the theory and teach some of these essential skills. This will take place at Paadena Studio in Suckley on 19th January. You can see more details on the classes and workshops page.