Questions about acupuncture for mental health issues are one of the most common inquiries I receive after questions about pain.

Acupuncture can help with depression, anxiety, stress and bi-polar disorder. So in terms of various mental health issues, yes, acupuncture can frequently help.

I caution to say that acupuncture is not in lieu of continuing or being in therapy. I do not take patients off of their Western medication if they’re already on it. Medication is a discussion between the patient and their doctor. Acupuncture, and in many cases Chinese herbal formulas, work just fine in conjunction with Western medication as the mechanism of action is quite different. They can complement each other beautifully.

When a patient comes in with a Western diagnosis of depression, anxiety or bi-polar disorder, my job is to determine what the underlying problem(s) are from a Chinese medical perspective. For example, if someone presents with anxiety along with insomnia, excessive worrying, hypervigilance and internalizing feelings, the strategy might be to balance the heart and kidney channels. However, if the main complaints include depression, irritability, sleep disruptions and digestive problems, the approach might focus on smoothing the liver channel.

Usually, a patient will present with a combination of the above plus more. After a thorough evaluation, a point selection is chosen based on the most disruptive concerns working our way in to the deepest and most chronic issues. We as human beings are rarely uni-dimensional, therefore it is more complicated than I have described. However, it gives you an understanding that the treatment strategy is quite individualized.

I have treated bipolar disorder and have found that acupuncture can be stabilizing; but with bipolar, it’s really important to stay on your Western drugs and/or be in regular communication with your therapist. What the acupuncture can do is help balance and stabilize some of the mood swings: the degree, frequency and intensity of the ups and the downs. You might be able to reduce the dosage of some of the medications, but again, that’s between you and your psychiatrist.

Stress is a major variable in just about every health issue we have. I think that stress is the one variable in our life that cannot be controlled in a double-blind, placebo control study. So you can have everything, all variables equal, but how do you really control for stress? Stress definitely triggers mental health issues and it triggers health issues overall.

Because stress is a major factor in all of our lives, acupuncture in and of itself helps with mental health issues because it works to balance the mind, body and spirit. When we are in balance, our emotional and physical health is improved.

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