Foundations of Classical (Worsley) Five Element Acupuncture

Classical five element acupuncture, as taught by the late Professor J. R. Worsley, is thought to have had its base in ancient acupuncture theory from the period of around 200 BC. It was through this era that the idea of the elements and their corresponding character types is first thought to have surfaced. Over the last 50 years Worsley had combined this with ideas from other schools of acupuncture to create what is now known today as classical five element acupuncture.

Although sharing much with modern TCM it is also very different in theory and aim and encompasses more than the commonly taught Five Phase Theory. To understand this school of thought and the way a five element acupuncturist views treatment there are certain protocols which must be understood.

The diagnostic foundation of classical five element acupuncture is the theory of the causative factor or CF. The CF is thought to be the root cause for most of a patients presenting symptoms. It is thought that through birth or early childhood a constitutional weakness develops in one of the elements. Over time, this weakness has an effect on the other elements through the Sheng (mother-child) cycle. The CF is the element which is the foundation for the imbalances a person may experience and becomes the focal point of the treatment.

As an example lets look at a patient who's CF is Metal. This diagnosis means that Metal (the mother) has been hit hardest in childhood. This can be either through environmental or emotional causes but eventually it will affect its ability to pass on energy to the Water element (the child). The Water element will now also be distressed and show symptoms as it struggles from the weakened preceding element. In time, following the Sheng cycle, this lack of flow continues around the cycle until all the five elements are struggling, the patient is in distress and arrives at the clinic with their list of symptoms. Instead of chasing this list of symptoms coming from the distressed elements, the acupuncturist goes right for the heart of the problem - the CF - which in this case is Metal.

Once a CF is determined the acupuncturist can choose points on the effected meridians (in this case the Metal meridians - lung and large intestine) which will impact all the other meridians through the sheng cycle. By strengthening the CF the patient should see improvements in their Metal related symptoms as well as those arising from other effected elements.

Determing the correct CF, then, is a crucial part of classical five element acupuncture. The skill required of the acupuncturist is through thorough questioning, listening and observing to ascertain which of the symptoms is primary and which are secondary, which are coming from the mother and which are coming from the child, which element is the causative factor?