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Can acupuncture help with anxiety?

Q:  I am interested in having acupuncture as I am suffering from a dissociative condition called Depersonalisation Disorder at the moment, and - in order to aid my recovery - am trying to reduce my anxiety levels. I am taking some anti-anxiety medication (Venlafaxine) and am on the waiting list to be seen by a specialist at The Maudsley but, in the meantime, thought it worth pursuing some other avenues. I just read the following on your website which prompted me to get in touch:

Research has shown that acupuncture treatment may specifically benefit anxiety disorders and symptoms of anxiety by:
Acting 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).
Regulating levels of neurotransmitters (or their modulators) and hormones such as serotonin, noradrenaline, dopamine, GABA, neuropeptide Y and ACTH; hence altering the brain's mood chemistry to help to combat negative affective states (Lee 2009; Samuels 2008; Zhou 2008; Yuan 2007). Would you suggest I pursue acupuncture?


A:  The information which you quote is probably the least representative material on our website of what we actually do. There has been a considerable amount of research into acupuncture looking at the effect of treatment on specific chemical and hormone balances in the body, and unsurprisingly sticking needles in people does tend to change these. However, the acupuncture used in the studies is often very much formula/cookbook style of treatment (it has to be to meet the criteria for the gold standard of medical research, the randomised double blind control trial), and our usual take on this is to ask how much better the results would be if the treatment was tailored to the individual needs of the specific patient, as our work always is.

We do treat many patients with anxiety, as you know from looking at the factsheets where the information you quote comes from. However, we always take great care to understand what someone's experience of anxiety is, what it actually means to them to be anxious. Some people find this kind of talk odd, but disease labels like anxiety and depression can mean vastly different things to different people, and the pathological changes in someone physical, mental and spiritual functions can be very different and point in an almost limitless direction of potential treatments.

DPD is an odd condition, but it will not surprise you to know that that ancient Chinese had ways of understanding the feelings with which you may be familiar, such as the dissociation and feeling of being outside oneself. That does not necessarily mean that this offers treatment solutions in the modern world, but the way in which you experience some of the episodes may greatly enhance a practitioner's understanding of what is going on.

We think that there would be no harm in trying acupuncture, but we would very much recommend that before committing to treatment you arrange to meet a practitioner or number of practitioners in your area. You may find that some will be reluctant to take your case on; some may feel that it is not within their scope of practice or limits of competence. However, most will, and it would give you a chance to meet them and see where they work before committing.

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