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Acupuncture and Mental Health
By: Diane Joswick, L.Ac., MSOM

Creating Mental and Emotional Wellness with Acupuncture. 

We must all occasionally deal with major upheavals or emotional distress at some points in our lives.  These events can trigger a host of unexpected feelings and behaviors from depression and panic attacks to major disruptions in sleep and eating.  Not only can acupuncture and Oriental medicine alleviate symptoms associated with mental health issues, it can treat the root cause of the problem by helping to rebalance the body's internal environment.

What are Mental Health Disorders?

Mental health disorders are medical conditions that disrupt a person's thinking, feeling, mood, ability to relate to others, and daily functioning which result in a diminished capacity for coping with the ordinary demands of life.

Serious mental illnesses include major depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), panic disorder, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and borderline personality disorder. The good news about mental disorders is that recovery is often possible.  Mental disorders can affect persons of any age, race, religion, or income. They have been found to be common. Experts estimate that almost a third of people in most countries report sufficient criteria at some point in their life.

Diagnosis and Treatment of Mental Disorders

According to Chinese Medical theory, mental illness occurs when there is imbalance within the body.  Imbalance can come from an excess or deficiency of yin and yang that disrupts the flow of qi or energy through the body. 

Oriental Medicine does not recognize any mental disorder as one particular syndrome. Instead, it aims to treat the specific symptoms that are unique to each individual using a variety of techniques such as acupuncture, herbal medicine, bodywork, lifestyle/dietary recommendations and energetic exercises to restore imbalances found in the body. Therefore, if 100 patients are treated with Oriental medicine for anxiety, each of these 100 people will receive a unique, customized treatment with different acupuncture points, different herbs and different lifestyle and diet recommendations.

Acupuncture and Oriental medicine have the ability to detect energetic changes that occur in the body and relieve symptoms by restoring equilibrium.  The physical and emotional symptoms that you are experiencing will help create a clear picture on which your practitioners can create a treatment plan specifically for you. The basic foundation for Oriental medicine is that there is a life energy flowing through the body which is termed Qi (pronounced chee).

This energy flows through the body on channels known as meridians that connect all of our major organs. According to Chinese medical theory, illness arises when the cyclical flow of Qi in the meridians becomes unbalanced. Acupuncture is the stimulation of specific points located near or on the surface of the skin which have the ability to alter various biochemical and physiological conditions in order to achieve the desired effect.

The Principle of the Five Elements

The Principle of the Five Elements (known as the Wu Xing) describes the flow of qi and the balance of yin and yang. The Five Elements refer to wood, fire, earth, metal, and water in Eastern philosophy. They are used used to interpret the relationship between the physiology and pathology of the human body and the natural environment.

In Chinese medicine, each element is associated with certain mental/emotional states. For instance, our memory, thought processes, emotional well-being, and consciousness are also attributed to the heart and fire element. When the fire element is in balance, the heart is strong and healthy, the mind is calm and sleep is sound. When the fire element is imbalanced, we may either lack joy (depression) or have an excess of joy (mania). Indicators of an imbalance in the fire element include agitation, nervousness, heartburn, and insomnia.

The Five Elements and Emotions

Wood (Liver) –
Anger, jealousy, frustration, resentment, bitterness and stress
Fire (Heart) – Mania and over-excitation
Earth (Spleen) – Anxiety, pensiveness and worry
Metal (Lung) – Grief and sadness
Water (Kidney) – Depression and lack of will

The Acupuncture Treatment

Acupuncture points to treat the emotional and physical effects of mental health disorders are located all over the body.

There seems to be little sensitivity to the insertion of acupuncture needles. They are so thin that several acupuncture needles can go into the middle of a hypodermic needle. Occasionally, there is a brief moment of discomfort as the needle penetrates the skin, but once the needles are in place, most people relax and even fall asleep for the duration of the treatment.

The length, number and frequency of treatments will vary. Typical treatments last from five to 30 minutes, with the patient being treated one or two times a week. Some symptoms are relieved after the first treatment, while more severe or chronic ailments often require multiple treatments.

Study of Acupuncture for Depression

Since the early seventies, studies around the globe have suggested that treating mental health disorders with acupuncture has a positive and holistic effect on depressed patients, particularly when used in combination with psychotherapy and herbal treatments.

Psychologist John Allen, from the University of Arizona in Tucson, and Acupuncturist Rosa Schnyer, conducted the very first pilot controlled study on treating depression symptoms with acupuncture in the Western scientific world. In a double blind randomized study, 34 depressed female patients who met the DSM-IV diagnostic criteria were assigned to one of three treatment groups for eight weeks.

The first group received acupuncture treatment specifically tailored to their depression symptoms. The second group received a general acupuncture treatment not specific to depression, and the third group was placed on a waiting list for acupuncture treatment, but received no treatment. The study found that those in the tailored acupuncture treatment experienced a significant reduction in symptoms, compared to those in the non-specific treatment. Moreover, over 50% of the participants no longer met the DSM-IV diagnostic criteria for depression after the study.

The study findings suggest that using acupuncture alone could be as effective as other types of treatments for relieving depression symptoms typically used in Western medicine, such as psychotherapy and drugs.

Find an Acupuncturist

Today, acupuncture is an acknowledged and respected field of medicine which requires formal training and certification in order to practice. In most States, provinces and countries, acupuncture is legislated in order to assure quality of treatment.

Acupuncture and Oriental medicine is an art and a science that takes years to master. Look for an acupuncturist with formal training and experience in the treatment of mental health, anxiety and/or depression on