Acupuncture: Medical Treatment or Mind Over Matter?
by Emily Alcock

I chose to place the outline of the brain in the centre of my image with reference to the theme of mind-body medicine. The brain, much like the centre of the canvas could also be considered as the centre of the body and therefore central to the healing process. Though the concept of a positive mental states having, to some extent, a positive impact upon health was not new to me; the idea that emotions and mental health have significant impact upon the bodies physiology and pathology (explored through the expanding field of psychoneuroimmunology) was entirely new and eye opening. The idea that we as individuals could possibly possess the power to provide natural symptom relief or even ward off future infection by boosting their immune systems I found fascinating.

In my artwork I have portrayed connections between the mind and the body using pins to represent acupuncture needles, which, instead of being placed in their various sites in the body are placed as an outline to the brain. I chose to do this because, after speaking to practitioners and evaluating research, it appears that in many cases acupunctures effects may be due to its influence on the mind and not necessarily directly on the body. The threads originating from the acupuncture needles in the brain which then wrap around the back of the canvas I used to represent the symbiotic connections revealing acupuncture as having a much more expansive and whole person effect as opposed to as only being localised to the tissue into which it was inserted.

The darker lines represent how, potentially, a depleted mental or emotional state can lead to negative connections between the mind and the body, for example stress leading to headaches and a lowering of immune response, whilst the brighter lines represent the positive connections the mind and the body can make and the ways in which this may benefit health through the concept of self healing, whilst the gold flecks represent the positive connections in the mind-body induced by the process of acupuncture.

I have replicated the haphazard way in which the mind-body crosses pathways by using thread, both to represent the uncertainty and confusion over the mechanisms by which acupuncture exerts its effects on the body and also to reflect the individuality of each patient. In reality, the map of the mind-body connections will not be the same for any individual, in some the connections will be clearer, much easier to follow, for others their connections will be even more intricate and complex and so will need to be treated differently. Listening to and engaging with the patients story will help to build a positive doctor patient relationship and facilitate a shared two way flow of information.

Finally, whilst there has been incredible progress made in discovering the ways in which the mind can heal the body, I believe it must be stressed that the medical profession cannot rely on this relationship entirely as it may lead to patients blaming themselves if they cannot heal their condition. This blame may lead to a poorer emotional state thus resulting in further ill heath in a self-depreciating cycle. It is of vital importance that this aspect is taken into consideration in the treatment of patients with mental health issues, in which there is already the stigma and perhaps an underlying belief that patients can simply cure themselves.

Emily Alcock, Whole Person Care, Year One 2016