Mental patterns in Chinese medicine



“This is an introductory article that brings us straight into the essence of Chinese psychology; personalities and the function of the mind. This is a little deeper than the normal psychological aspects that are discussed in classical Chinese medicine. So, enjoy. PS! This is one of my favourite topics ”

Nils Volden



An important aspect within Chinese psychology are the distinct philosophical colored understanding about how the mind works. The superior control of the mind is connected to the Chinese concept of 神 Shen; often translated to spirit. Shen means literally something that is connected to the concept of a type of soul, something mysterious, a type of divine essence or a type of spiritual being. Within Chinese psychology we connect this word to the aspect in your mind that is the living you; your feeling of YOU-ness. To be able to understand this model we need to explain the mind in another terminology than we are used to within Chinese medicine. First you need to think about Shen as the activity of thought or the distinct individual cognition that exist within any person. This Shen is above all other aspects of the mind, governing your mind in its subtle ways.  Shen is also one of the five mental spiritual aspects that again are connected to the five zang organs or internal organs if you want. The five mental aspects Shen-heart zang, Yi – spleen zang, Po – lung zang, Zhi – kidney zang and Hun – liver zang. This five aspects are interconnected; here is where it gets complicated; because to be able to explain we need many other concepts and words.


First let us understand the rhythm in the classical mental model, and later we go in depth and analyse everything. The mental model is an explanation of a thought prosess; extended cognition. It helps us in constructing our behavior and to move through the world.


The classical mental model can be schematized like this:

Yi, the mental aspect of the spleen will gather information from the sensory nerves and transmit it to Hun, the mental aspect of the liver. Hun will make plans based on the information from Yi. The plans will be plentiful and creative. It is not much selection and sensor on the plans in Hun. After planning the plans will be sent to Shen, the mental aspect of the heart. Shen will immediately pass on the plans to Zhi, the mental aspect of the kidney. Zhi will use previous experiences on the plans. Plans with associated information will be sent back to Shen. Shen will all according to the information connected to the different plans make a decision about effectuate, rethink and what plans to eliminate. To rethink a plan, means that you are adjusting a plan to make it possible to effectuate. When you rethink a plan the plan is sent back to Hun for further development, adjustment and processing. Hun will do the normal creative process and recreate the plan to something new or an adjusted edition of the old plan. Then the plan will be sent back to Shen where a new process begins.


The mental model uncloses a common problem that occurs when too many plans are rejected and sent for rethinking. An accumulation of mental processes will result in an elevated mental pressure. This is commonly named as a high activity in Hun. The high mental activity in Hun might give mental problems. To avoid that the mind have a safety mechanism; the mirroring. The high activity in hun will be mirrored in Po, the mental aspect of the lung to reduce the pressure in Hun. Po will reflect the high mental activity in Hun like physical problems. This is commonly called Po is mirroring the activity of Hun. If Po is to sensitive, we can occasionally also see that Po is mirroring normal activity in Hun.


The mental model within Chinese psychology is a description of how a person reason, think and functions mentally. We can get an idea about how a person comprehend, percept and imagine things. It is a way to capture how the world is perceived inside the brain and how the person relates to it. Of course a model, and it will always be a model and nothing more. We search for a model that is as close as possible to the real function in the brain. We will never get a model that is perfect. The mental model within Chinese psychology is old. And little have changed the last two thousands of years regarding the way the mind is analyzed and regarded; mostly due to Taoist priests.


The mental model is just one of several tools Chinese psychologists can use to understand their patients. In Chinese psychology, individuals are regarded as unique, but is separated into groups to facilitate the understanding. Here we speak about the five congenital personalities. A personality are defined a collection of different individual characteristics. We want to construct an image of a person and his major psychological processes that is useable analytical as well as therapeutical within the framework of Chinese medicine. Different psychological viewpoints analyze personalities different, and it exist many theoretical traditions regarding personalities. Chinese psychology uses personalities as an organized set of characteristics that influence cognition, motivation and behavior. The different personalities are grouped according to standard Chinese medicine and its philosophy. It is interesting to be aware of the origin of the word Personality. It comes from Latin (persona) and simply means MASK.  The word mask has two sides. One person hide behind the mask and the other typify a character; the last is often considered as both the meaning and the traditional use of the word Personality.


Chinese psychology analyses the human brain in different ways. There are two ways that stand out as more central (not more important) than others: the personality and the mental model. All analyzing starts with an analysis of the personality, and then follows an analysis through the mental model. If needed will other central psychological aspects naturally follow. The reason to this step by step approach are the margin of errors of wrong interpretations. The first step is to know the personality and then we start to bother with the other aspects as among others analysing the mind. Personality is as closely connected to the concept of  理 Li as the mental model is connected to 气 Qi.  Since Li is regarded as a more congenital aspect than qi; it get a more permanent character. Of course, we will see a continuing never ending interaction between li and qi. Giving them a close relation, and making it difficult to separate them from each other. This inner dynamic constitute the intrinsic interactions that gives us our unique personal mental function. Further on we also need to see this interaction in a bigger scale as the person interact as a mix between inherited mental aspects and aspects created by his habitat where he lives and his cultural context. In the aspect of habitat we find factors like food, air, clima, pollution, stressors and social factors just to mention a few.

An article about personalities follows later…





The writer of this article gives seminars in Chinese medicine and Chinese psychology all over the world! Go to this page to find out how.

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