5 Element Theory

Unlike Traditional Chinese Medicine, which deals in pairs of opposites for a diagnosis, Five Element acupuncture uses the elements. The five elements are wood, fire, earth, metal and water. Each symptom relates to one of the five elements and each person has a predominant type.

For example, if a patient has back pain, the back pain is a symptom that relates to the water element, suggesting that somehow this element is out of balance. However, the person can be a wood type, or a fire type or even a water type. The underlying “type” of the person suggests the direction of the treatment and points.

Five Element practitioners typically spend a great deal of time on the first treatment, interviewing the patient. This is to understand more about their constitutional type. The past illnesses and syndromes are important for the practitioner to make a diagnosis. Memories of past events are important as well. When it comes to the memory, it is not only what the patient chooses to share when memories are solicited but their view of the actual event.

The practitioner may also take on a number of different interviewing styles to see which style the patient relates to the easiest. This can tell a lot about the constitutional element of the patient. The practitioner will also look at the body type, smell the patient and listen to the sound of the patient’s voice to gather information for the treatment.

Practitioners in this tradition typically use fewer needles than their TCM counterparts. On the west coast, however, true five element practitioners are in the minority. There are some websites devoted to the five element tradition and some practitioners have listings on these sites.

Many practitioners love the concept of Five Element theory, wanting to heal patients at a deeper level than just the physical. Some practitioners, however find that the reliance on pop psychology like categories for each patient to be superficial.