Mental health is something I am extremely passionate about, and acupuncture can be an amazing tool for patients to utilise in their management of mild to moderate mental health issues.
In addition to being a fully qualified acupuncturist, I am also a fully qualified integrative counsellor. This allows me to support my patients on not only the physical level, but emotionally as well.
There is positive research on the benefits of acupuncture for stress, anxiety and depression, all of which I see in clinic regularly, and there is preliminary positive research on the benefits of acupuncture for post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) which I also see in clinic, and use acupuncture alongside other therapeutic interventions my patients utilise, such as EMDR, CBT and pharmaceuticals, to enhance and compliment their efficacy.
What to expect from treatment
I start off all my acupuncture treatments by taking a thorough case history. This is your chance to tell me all about the symptoms you are experiencing, how long they have been going on for, how they impact you, and what you feel contributes to them. There is no rush, I always schedule 90 minutes for a first appointment so we have all the time we need. I'll ask you about other areas of your health, such as your sleep and digestion, and with your permission, I will also feel your pulse and look at your tongue. All this gives me more diagnostic information which might be relevant to your overall Chinese medicine diagnosis.
You will have an opportunity to ask me any questions you might have before we start treatment. I want you to be completely comfortable before I do anything, and I will talk you through the process of having acupuncture, and what you can expect.
Acupuncture helps to switch off the mind, and causes the body to release endorphins. Those endorphins leave people feeling calmer and more relaxed, so most patients fall asleep on the couch during treatment, and leave with a wonderful sense of wellbeing.
Treatments are received once a week for six to eight weeks, but if symptoms are severe, such as with panic attacks, some patients choose to come twice weekly. After a couple of sessions patient's start to notice that the calm relaxed feeling they have on the couch starts to last longer and longer, and that their stress, anxiety or low mood either isn't as frequent, and not as intense.
If patients are going through a stressful period, and this is not something which is likely to change or in their control (such as with family disputes, or work problems) I might recommend monthly maintenance treatments, following their acupuncture course, to help keep that sense of wellbeing going through the adversity. They can then be stopped once the difficult period of life has improved.
I recommend patient's also have some form of talking therapy in conjunction with acupuncture. This is because talking therapy will help address the underlying cause for the anxiety/depression/stress and acupuncture will help to calm the physical symptoms. Both acupuncture and counselling can be combined during one session at no extra cost, if requested.
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Acupuncture acts on areas of the brain known to reduce sensitivity to pain and stress, as well as promoting relaxation and deactivating the 'analytical' brain, which is responsible for anxiety and worry (Hui 2010).
Acupuncture regulates levels of neurotransmitters (or their modulators) and hormones such as serotonin, noradrenaline, dopamine, GABA, neuropeptide Y and ACTH; altering the brain's mood chemistry to help to combat negative affective states (Lee 2009; Samuels 2008; Zhou 2008; Yuan 2007).
Studies indicate that acupuncture can have a specific positive effect on depression by altering the brain's mood chemistry, increasing production of serotonin (Sprott 1998) and endorphins (Wang 2010). Acupuncture may also benefit depression by acting through other neurochemical pathways, including those involving dopamine (Scott 1997), noradrenaline (Han 1986), cortisol (Han 2004) and neuropeptide Y (Pohl 2002).
Acupuncture can stimulate the production of endogenous opioids that affect the autonomic nervous system (Arranz 2007). Stress activates the sympathetic nervous system, while acupuncture can activate the opposing parasympathetic nervous system, which initiates the relaxation response.
Reversing pathological changes in levels of inflammatory cytokines that are associated with anxiety (Arranz 2007)
Reversing stress-induced changes in behaviour and biochemistry (Kim 2009).
Acupuncture can be safely combined with conventional treatments such as medication or psycho-educational therapy, possibly enhancing their beneficial effects (Courbasson 2007) and reducing unwanted side-effects (Yuan 2007).
Two recent systematic reviews, both drawing on Western and Chinese data, found that acupuncture was similar in effectiveness to anti-depressant medication (Zhang 2010). Given that acupuncture appears to be at least as effective as existing conventional drugs, without their level of side effects, it should be considered as one of the therapeutic options, alongside the existing repertoire. Two specific situations, during pregnancy (Manber 2010) and post-stroke (Zhang 2010; Smith 2010), seem to be particularly favourable for incorporating acupuncture treatment.
A systematic review of acupuncture for PTSD found that all four reviewed randomised controlled trials (RCTs) indicated that acupuncture was equal to or better than orthodox treatments, or that it added extra effect to them when used in combination.
A review that looked at the effects of combining brief psychological exposure with the manual stimulation of acupuncture points in the treatment of PTSD and other emotional conditions found evidence suggesting that tapping on selected points during imaginal exposure quickly and permanently reduces maladaptive fear responses to traumatic memories and related cues (Feinstein 2010).