As practitioners, we know that our role is to help our patients heal.
We’re used to focusing on their needs and facilitating their process of awareness and growth.
What many of us often overlook is how our own health and internal balance contributes to our patients’ progress.
The therapeutic relationship is a two way street and our personal growth and awareness as practitioners is paramount to creating and maintaining a healthy and sustainable space for our patients to flourish.
The 5 elements are an excellent tool to help you understand your patients, but also to increase your insight into yourself.
Here’s how knowing your own elements as a practitioner can enhance your clinical abilities and lead to happier, healthier patients.
#1 Increase your diagnostic accuracy
We all have blindspots when it comes to diagnosis, and the biggest ones happen when practitioners:
- don’t know their own elements
- their elements are way out of balance
Constitution, or the 2 of the 5 elements that influence us the most, is a filter through which we view the world. It doesn’t represent our authentic self. If we’re unaware of that filter, we become enmeshed with our elements and unable to see past their specific view of the world.
This lack of perspective makes understanding others who are different from us much more difficult and our patience may run thin with some patients as a result.
If we’re blocked internally, we’ll be blocked in our ability to diagnose
If our elements are out of balance, we’re stressed, or we’re just unaware of our own elements, we often can’t see our own constitutional elements when they walk through the door and sit in front of us.
We’re blinded by our own heuristics. It’s kinda like those funny videos of dogs who won’t walk through a doorway because they think there’s a piece of glass there. They can’t tell what’s right in front of them.
The elements are a roadmap to our strengths, struggles, how we’re going to respond to stress, our core motivations, and even our pet peeves. When we know them and they’re in balance, we’re more able to accurately diagnose our patients because we’re doing so from a neutral position rather than an activated or skewed one.
Case Study: In denial about my own elements
In my first year in practice, I was struggling to diagnose a specific patient who came to see me every two weeks. For the life of me I couldn’t figure her out.
At the time, I was receiving counseling and 5 element acupuncture every other week and I felt like I was doing my own work to show up in a balanced state for my patients.
Well…. I was also in complete denial about my secondary element being earth. I had a very biased idea of the earth element and felt like being earth meant that I was needy, annoying, and weak.
My practitioner was aware that I was earth secondary, but he allowed me to come to the conclusion myself rather than forcing it.
One visit we tried a wood constitution treatment because I liked wood element traits better. I didn’t feel any different.
The next treatment we tried water points. No dice.
Finally I begrudgingly had him try earth points. I felt a calm wash over me within seconds of the needles being placed and almost fell asleep on the table. I remember thinking, “well, there’s no denying that response. The body doesn’t lie.”
From that point forward I started to reconcile my own self hatred of those earthy parts of me. I started to integrate what I had shoved away and denied for years as too sensitive and too caring, and realized that my compassionate, supportive, and receptive nature were strengths.
The next time I saw the patient I couldn’t diagnose I realized she was earth almost instantly and began treating her earth points.
If there are patients you just can’t seem to understand or get a handle on, get your own treatment. Do your own work. Get curious about why they’re such a mystery to you.
There’s a reason your clinical insight is fuzzy and it’s not always about the patient. Your own filters and how the two of you are working (or not working) in relationship contributes massively to the diagnostic process.
# 2 Decrease your personal triggers
As practitioners, it’s crucial that we be aware of our own biases and vulnerable areas. It’s normal for them to get activated when we’re seeing patients, but we have to know they’re there so we can separate them from the actual events taking place.
When you’re aware of your elements, it becomes clear how you think about the world. When you bump up against a different understanding of the world in your patients or in your personal life that’s at odds with your own, it can trigger old defensive patterns, likely associated with your own elements.
If you know your elements, you’ll immediately understand what’s happening and be less likely to be pulled into a confusing vortex of reactivated trauma, judgment, guilt, and other emotions that will color the entire encounter and make diagnosis and treatment much more challenging.
|Wood||Engage and argue logically but on the edge of anger|
|Fire||Disassociation, leaving the body and not being present to engage with the heart|
|Earth||Collapse and allow whatever is happening to proceed with little regard for yourself|
|Metal||Become rigid and hide behind a wall of shut down|
|Water||Rise up, make yourself big and intimidating to make sure people understand your way|
Knowing your elements provides a deep understanding of not just your defenses, but also how your particular element is going to shape your perspective and behavior.
If we don’t understand ourselves, how can we accurately understand others?
Insight into ourselves creates a bigger and more robust container that we can hold for our patients in their healing process.
When we know our elements, we’re less likely to:
- project our own issues into a therapeutic encounter
- take things personally or out of context
- judge our patients for their struggles and challenges
Case Study: Naturopath triggered by water elements
A naturopathic doctor friend of mine took a 5 element course that I taught a few years ago. A month or two afterward I spoke with her and she told me that she’d had a major realization.
She had learned that her primary element was earth and was noticing more often the warning signs of when she was becoming imbalanced. She’d focus too much on her family and patients as a way to avoid caring for herself, she’d avoid conflict and just allow others to do whatever they wanted while sacrificing her needs, and she’d use more sugar and coffee to get her through the day.
This new awareness helped her to gain insight into when she was being pushed to those limits. She told me that she was able to identify that water element people triggered her defenses the most rapidly. Patient encounters with them were draining and she had a hard time holding onto her boundaries and would often collapse and let them run the appointment.
She was approaching each visit with an ultimate goal of creating peace, harmony, and meeting her patients with a compassionate ear with no pressure to follow her recommendations.
In other words, she was treating every patient like they were her own earth constitution.
When she reflected on what she had learned in the 5 element course, she realized that she was challenged by water people because they had a completely different agenda and set of needs within their appointment.
They responded well to conflict and were fine instigating it. They wanted to be led with confidence, not offered 3-4 options and the decision placed back in their lap. Strong leadership gave them reassurance that she knew what she was doing and allowed them to release some of their fear and start to trust her.
When she understood that this dynamic was happening, she stopped blaming herself for not being a good enough provider. She started mirroring the energy of her water patients’ and stepping into the role of a leader. She held strong boundaries for them and gave them the reassurance that they craved.
She told me that she felt more capable of managing her relationship with them now because she understood who they are and why she was personally challenged by them. She now tailors her behavior to them and feels less stressed and more empowered in her clinical interactions.
The main side effect of knowing your elements is increased compassion and empathy – both for yourself and for others. When you know yourself, you know where you end and someone else begins. You’re able to hold your needs and your patients’ needs at the same time and discern which is which.
When you have this clarity, it’s much easier to decrease your own reactivity and show up for your patients in a way that benefits you both.
#3 Attract more of your ideal patients and retain them
You’ll likely see your own constitution the most in practice. It just makes sense that you’ll attract folks that are similar to you.
Many of these people might be your ideal clients in that they feel easy to work with. You’re on the same page about everything, conversation flows, and you might even share similar interests. Those interactions will leave you feeling more energized than drained.
If you’re in denial about your elements or actively dislike aspects of your elements, you’ll likely be irritated with patients who are your own constitution.
Many times our biggest triggers happen when we’re reminded of something that we don’t like about ourselves.
When you have the larger organizing principle of the 5 elements behind you, why certain interactions are smooth and others are not becomes very obvious.
You’re better able to spot folks who you work well with and those who you don’t. Then you can start writing your marketing materials to the particular element(s) that you know you vibe with.
The more you can attract and retain your ideal patients, the more sustainable and your practice will be
Marketing is a giant filter that if used correctly can help you fill your days with people you love to work with. You’ll feel fulfilled and satisfied rather than burned out and overwhelmed.
What I’ve noticed is that most healthcare professionals don’t know how to use this filter.
On their website they list conditions they like to treat, where they graduated, and a couple hobbies they enjoy.
It’s all very impersonal and stiff and potential patients often have no idea who the real person is behind the website when they make an appointment.
Providers are well served by creating information about their practice and themselves that engages the people they would work the best with. This means putting more of your personality and your point of view in your marketing materials.
It can feel very vulnerable and odd putting your authentic self out there
But when you do, you filter out folks who don’t resonate with you and ultimately your skills and time are better put to use because you’re serving those who do appreciate your message.
You’re saving potential patients time and money by offering them the clarity they need to make an informed decision about your practice and you’re saving yourself the effort and energy of working with someone who isn’t a good fit.
Case Study: Therapist whose ideal client wasn’t her own element
A therapist friend of mine and I talked about the typical folks she sees in her practice. She’s studied the 5 elements and I asked her which element she really liked to work with. She said that she found she had an affinity for two elements and interestingly, one wasn’t part of her constitution at all.
She said she loved working with fire people, which is her primary constitution. She viscerally knows their difficulties with staying present and forming deeply intimate relationships. Since she understands her own fire element she’s well equipped to help those whose fire element is out of balance.
She also enjoys working with water people. Her secondary element is earth so I asked her why she liked water patients. She told me that both her mother and sister are water constitutions so she’s had a lifelong study of the element.
When she learned that she didn’t share the same primary element as her mom and sister, it was a turning point for her.
She began to see their differences in a whole new light. She understood why her needs often weren’t met when her mom and sister seemed satisfied with the situation. She developed more compassion and understanding for both herself and her family.
She found that she was able to easily diagnose water constitutions, despite their strong ability to remain secretive and hidden. She also found that her natural levity and joy as a fire element was excellent medicine for a water person’s serious and intense nature. She knew how to meet their needs while also keeping her own boundaries intact.
Because she’s naturally attuned to both elemental energies, she attracts mostly fire and water clients and enjoys supporting their unique needs.
Most of her marketing is focused around fire folks, but she finds that how she naturally presents her authentic self also draws water clients to her and she feels fulfilled helping the folks she’s the most capable of supporting.
When we understand ourselves better, we’ll understand our patients better and be able to assist them more deeply on their healing journey, whether that’s working with us or encouraging them to find a provider who can meet their needs better.
How do you find out what your elements are and help them stay in balance?
When you’re a practitioner it’s not enough to just know your elements. You also have to balance them regularly because they’ll get knocked out of balance frequently when you’re treating patients at the mind and spirit level.
Holding space at that depth requires a lot of energy, commitment, and compassion and it can be draining and easily create imbalances, especially if you’re a newer practitioner.
Here are my tips:
#1 Get your own 5 element treatments
Ideally you’d be able to see another 5 element acupuncturist regularly. If you don’t have one in your area, see other holistic practitioners whose skill set you resonate with. Any medicine that helps you to feel like a more authentic version of yourself is worth pursuing and will help you to show up for patients in a more authentic way.
If you don’t know your own elements yet and would like to but don’t have access to a 5 element practitioner, check out my free 5 Element Personality Test. You’ll learn your primary and secondary elements.
#2 Spend time in nature
Spend time with each element and observe how you feel in its presence. Is it calming? Overwhelming? Pleasant? Grounding? How do you feel in the forest versus at the ocean? On a mountain or in a lush valley?
The more time you spend with the elements, the more in tune you’ll be with them and yourself and the more capacity you’ll have with your patients.
If you’re interested in adding the 5 elements to your practice…
Awesome! I offer a clinical mentorship for professionals so they can learn to diagnose and treat their patients according to 5 element theory. Join the waitlist here!