Five Element Acupuncture for Depression

Kathleen's picture

Most acupuncture that is practiced today is called Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and focuses on the physical ailments the body expresses. Did you know that there is a whole new branch of acupuncture that is being offered at Acubalance? Kathleen (that’s me!) is a practitioner of Five Elements Acupuncture (5E) which is a time-honored tradition that uses the principles found in nature to bring the mind, body, and spirit in alignment. This ancient tradition focuses on unraveling the root causes of illness to correct imbalances and encourage the body to heal itself. When the mind, body, and spirit are all in balance, this allows for a deeper level of healing that brings about a sense of emotional peace as well as a relief of physical symptoms.


My patients have scheduled Five Element-focused acupuncture sessions for the following reasons:

  • “I have struggled with depression and anxiety all my life and the only way my doctor wants to support me is by putting me on more medication. I’m ready to make some changes in my life to support my overall wellbeing.”

  • “I am at a crossroads in my career and I feel unmotivated about where I should go from here.”

  • “I had a traumatic experience as a young adult. I find myself holding onto this and it is disrupting my current relationships”

Why is Supporting the Spirit/Emotions So Important?

Our nervous system exists in two “modes”. The sympathetic mode is what is commonly referred to as the “fight or flight” response. This is an absolutely necessary survival reaction that our ancestors developed because there were times when we had to fight off predators and hunt for our food. These days, we utilize the “fight or flight” mode to be productive and juggle all the different hats we wear. Physiologically, our bodies respond to this stress by stimulating cardiac muscles to pump blood to the limbs and brain, and activating the adrenal glands so we can think and work our way out of potentially life-threatening situations.


The parasympathetic mode works in opposition to the sympathetic because it is our “rest and restore” response. This is the part of the nervous system that is activated when you sit down with a cozy cup of tea in front of the fireplace or when you are in a state of relaxation or meditation. Physiologically, the parasympathetic nervous system response is designed to conserve energy, activate endocrine activity and redirect blood flow to the digestive system and reproductive organs.


The sympathetic mode is absolutely necessary at times. The problem happens when we are at an elevated level of stress for an extended period of time due to stress. The stress can be from direct stimuli in our everyday busy lives, but it can also be from suppressing our emotions and traumatic messages or events from our past. Our bodies are wiser than we give them credit and instead of trying to suppress signs or symptoms, I work as an interpreter for your body to translate how you may be holding onto stress or trauma. Instead of asking “Why do you have anxiety and insomnia and how can we eliminate these symptoms?”, I find myself wondering “What story is your body trying to tell us through these signs and how can we find balance between the body, mind, and spirit?”. When all three parts are in alignment, then we find a natural state of peace that allows us to transition gracefully from the sympathetic state (fight or flight mode) to the parasympathetic (rest and restore mode) that does not require anxiety medications.

What is Five Element Theory?

Five Element Theory is a Chinese medical system in which we take the examples found in nature and observe how they manifest in the whole spiritual and somatic human experience. The Five Elements that are expressed in the Chinese system are Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water. When the framework of the Five Elements was being developed, the ancient Chinese lived in direct interaction with the forces found in the Five Elements. They experienced Wood (Mu 木) in the trees growing around them. They felt Fire (Huo火) in the sun that warmed their backs and fed their crops and in the fires that warmed their homes and cooked their food. They interacted with Earth ( Tu ) by tilling the soil beneath their feet. They smelted and assigned value to Metal (Jin 金). They quenched their thirst with Water (Shui 水) and observed how it was the life-giving source for everything around them.


I have a blog series where I focus in on each of the Five Elements in detail here (I'm still working through them):

WOOD - Spring is the Season of Renewal and Growth

EARTH - Late Summer is the Season of Abundance

METAL - Autumn is the Season of Reflection


Five Elements in the Human and in the Energetic Body

“Nothing on earth or within the universe is unrelated to the Five Elements and Man is no exception”

- Ling Shu chapter 64


Humans are an integral part of nature. One cannot speak of the human experience without speaking of the Elements that surround us. We are influenced by the forces of nature that surround us. Just as we affect nature, nature affects us. Humans are direct reflections of the natural environment that surrounds us. Even if you live in a city, your body has an instinctual need to flow with the rhythms of nature. When we do not allow for this flow, imbalances occur. Five Element Theory takes inspiration from the natural world that surrounds us to bring balance to the microcosm of our individual human experience. For flexibility, we take notes from the trees and Wood Element. Even the broadest, tallest, most solid redwood tree must be able to bend and sway with the winds and external forces that buffet its form in order to stay standing. Sit beneath a tree and gaze up at its branches for any length of time. You will see that it is in an ever-shifting dance with the winds. It needs flexibility; otherwise even these great giants will fall. The human experience is the same. No one has control over many of the events that will show up in your lifetime. To be in balance is to be able to maintain our core stability that embodies the strength of a redwood tree while still having the ability to dance with the unknowable factors that come our way. The human experience is simply a microcosm of Nature and the Five Elements.


As a Five Element acupuncturist, I am often asking questions like:

- “How can I support this person?” NOT “How do I fix this patient?”

- “What is the story that this person’s signs and symptoms trying to tell us?”

NOT “How can I silence or ‘fix’ the signs and symptoms?”


Health is viewed through a wider lens than just the physical body because only then can the broader patterns and the roots of disharmony emerge. Health is harmonious when the Five Elements within our own bodies and human experience are balanced and able to flow with the Seasons both outside and within us. Disease emerges when we live out of harmony with the Elements and ignore the messages that our bodies are trying to express to us.

Setting Intention for your Five Element Acupuncture Session

A Five Elements acupuncture session is a bit more emotionally involved than a TCM acupuncture session which primarily focuses on physical imbalances. These sessions are designed to help clear emotional blockages or baggage that you’ve been holding onto so it is helpful to come armed with 1 or 2 intentions to work on.


If you would like to schedule a complimentary 15-minute phone consultation or a Five Element Acupuncture session with me, please give the clinic a call at (604) 678-8600.




Kathleen Lee FABORM, RTCMP, L.Ac. MTCM


Acubalance Wellness Centre