The Acupuncturist & the Shrink

An Interview with Marianne Fuenmayor

by Sean Grover

“How do you feel?”

Oh brother! After twenty years of asking that question to my psychotherapy patients, I guess I had it coming to me.

My situation is a little precarious. At the moment, I’m lying face down on an acupuncture table with more than a dozen needles poking out my lower back. “Actually, I can’t feel anything. Is that normal?”

The woman doing the needling, Marianne Fuenmayor (good luck pronouncing that) speaks in a soothing voice. “There’s a lot of blocked energy here.”

For some reason, I immediately feel defensive. Hey lady, just fix my back. Of course I don’t say that. Instead I say, “What do you mean blocked energy?

She continues, “Well, when energy is blocked in one particular area, muscles get tighter and tighter until they lose sensitivity. Blood flow is restricted…tissue starts to degenerate. The body has difficulty healing itself under these circumstances.”

Whoa! My plan was to give acupuncture a whirl, then dash back to my office. I never expected a lesson in trapped energy and tissue degeneration. To be honest, it sounded hokey to me. I mean, honestly, was there any medical research to back this up?

Then something amazing happened. On the walk back to my office, I noticed how much better I felt, better than I had felt in months. The pain was lessened, but there was more to it than that. I felt relieved; like exhaling after holding my breath a long time.  I thought that maybe there was something to this 3,000-year-old idea of sticking needles into painful areas.

Then the words of one of my teachers came to mind:

“Happiness is not the absence of pain or difficulties. It’s your perspective that determines everything.”

I have to admit, my perspective at the time was dismal. Living with chronic pain wore me down; western medicine offered no real relief; painkillers and potential surgery were not attractive options. What did I have to lose?

The following week, I returned to Marianne. And I left the session with the same wonderful feeling. So, I booked an appointment for the following week, and the week after that…and the week after that.

In no time, I could move again; bend over, carry things. Oddly enough, I felt greater emotional flexibility too. I felt less rigid and uptight; I had more patience, more humor. I wondered, “Had the tightness in my back also been causing uptightness in my attitude?”

Each week, I looked forward to seeing Marianne; looked forward to laying on her needling table, looked forward to her asking me questions about my life. We were a great team. We worked together to find the sources of the physical pain, while also exploring its emotional side.

What did the pain mean symbolically? Was the pain trying to tell me something? What feeling was being stored in the muscle?

For instance, Marianne suggested that my back pain represented some frustration I was having moving forward in my life. And boy, was she right.

I began to realize that the acupuncture treatments were not only about curing my back pain, but more importantly, they were about healing my life. I couldn’t maintain the same intense schedule, the poor sleeping habits, or the enormous workload I had become accustomed to. I had to commit to taking better care of myself.  That was the real message my body was sending me.

Without me realizing it, working with Marianne triggered a revolution in my lifestyle. I cut back my hours, got more rest, added yoga and swimming to my activities, and revamped my diet. Soon I was my old self again; no, I was better than my old self. I was younger.

“When your perspective changes, everything changes.”

Acupuncture gave me a fresh outlook. Today, when it comes to needling, energy work, or exploring feelings that are trapped in muscle tissue – thanks to Marianne, I’m a true believer.

An interview with Acupuncturist Marianne Fuenmayor

Recently I dropped in on Marianne at her Fourteenth-Street studio and discussed her views on healing and acupuncture.

SG: What do you think acupuncture treatments are best for?

MF: Well, I’d have to say, when it comes to curing chronic pain, acupuncture has a lot to offer. People often consider acupuncture after they have exhausted all that western medicine has to offer. These days, painkillers are prescribed an awful lot. It’s important to remember that only drugs mask the pain. They don’t prevent the pain from returning and they don’t address the causes of it, which could be imbedded in a person’s lifestyle.

Getting rid of the pain is only fifty percent effective; there is likelihood that if we don’t find its source, it will return and some other bodily problem will emerge. What’s going on mentally is often reflected physically; they are mirrors of each other. For me, acupuncture is about healing the whole person. I think this is where we’re headed in this century.

Can you say more about that?

MF: Early in the 20th century, western medicine began to separate the mind and the body. Western doctors became good at their specialty, and made big advances in each sphere. But the body and mind were still studied and treated separately. I think in the 21st century, we are bringing the mind and body back together and aiming for a higher level of healing and living.

For example, for a long time, doctors focused on curing, or often just temporarily relieving, symptoms rather than healing a person’s lifestyle. It wasn’t until the end of the 20th century that we started to deal with smoking, drinking, diet, exercise, refined sugar, toxins in foods, etc. We’ve made a shift toward a more holistic viewpoint – preventing illness by living healthier. That’s what I think the 21st century will be all about.

How do you approach acupuncture?

MF: Well, the first thing I do is listen very carefully to what patients are telling me and place it within the context of the Five Elements and the channel system. During the treatment I always talk to patients, listen to them, and explore the connection between what’s going on in their lives and how it’s manifesting in their bodies. I see true healing as a collaborative process. It’s not enough for me to understand what’s causing your discomfort; you have to understand it too. What could be triggering your headaches? What is the emotional source of backaches? I often find that fear is the foundation of chronic pain.

For example, when I start working with someone, I always look for the tight muscles and loose muscles. One of the working principles of acupuncture is to reestablish balance in the body by reenergizing the loose muscles and relaxing the tense ones, which reenergizes and rejuvenates the body’s ability to heal itself.

When you have an injury, an imbalance occurs in the body and the whole skeletal structure starts to work around the area. It starts to compensate. Posture changes, your center of gravity shifts. This kind of compensation negatively affects the whole body.

When muscles are tense, blood flow is restricted and tissue starts to disintegrate. Warming, relaxing and needling the muscle increases blood flow. New tissue is built by blood. Needling gets the attention of the white blood cells, and carry away damage tissue so the red blood cells can help to build healthy tissue.

When good internal balance is restored, the body starts to remember what healthy movement feels like and recovers the freedom that was lost.

Can you explain energy work?

MF: Energy moves through the body by way of pathways called meridians, or channels. When energy gets blocked, or stagnant, we can needle locally at the pain and at the end of the channels. Unblocking energy allows for a freer flow, promotes healing, and relieves pain.

For example, migraine headaches accrue in the gall bladder channel on the side of the head and around the eyes. Often it is reflected in the person’s life, in their inability to make difficult decisions, for example, or frustration with not being able to take action. Working with the channels allows me to work with the entire person, not just their pain. Where the pain is, is not necessary the cause of the pain. I have to find the area of the body that’s being neglected and generating the pain.

I’ve heard people tell me they feel better after just one treatment?  Is that possible?

MF: Yes, a lot of people say that. But acupuncture isn’t magic. People have to be willing to play their part. Coming for regular treatments, becoming educated about the process and more familiar with their bodies is key. Also learning a little bit about the channel system assists in understanding what’s going on in their life and how their body is reacting. This is invaluable for those of us looking forward to moving medicine and the art of healing into the 21st century. In the end, my real objective is to help people live better lives.

Partners in Healing

I’ve had the pleasure of sending many of my patients to Marianne. If we hit stubborn emotional blocks in their therapy, Marianne helps to solve the mystery through bodywork. I’ve found that unblocking muscle patterns encourages the unblocking of thinking and feeling patterns. Honestly, when the chips are down and I feel blocked with my patients, Marianne is my secret weapon.

Our body is a storehouse of feelings. We may not be aware of them all the time, but we can make a conscious choice to live a healthier life by exploring their source and doing something about it. In this way, acupuncture and psychotherapy are great companions. And when it comes to curing pain, why not access all that’s available?

For additional information, Marianne Fuenmayor can be reached at: