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I suffer from bad anxiety. How much does acupuncture cost and will this help me?

A: Let's start with the relatively easy part of the question. Charges for acupuncture treatment vary across the country, and also vary within a region. As with all businesses, if the surroundings are in the more expensive area of town then the overheads will be greater and the cost will reflect this.

A first session of acupuncture can take up to an hour and a half while the practitioner gathers a great deal of information. In the Greater London area the cost of this is probably going to fall within a band from £50-£70. Subsequent sessions can be anything from half an hour to an hour, and the charge will be in the £40-£60 range. Outside London this might be close to £40-£60 for the first session, and £35- £50 for subsequent sessions.

There is an increasing number of what are called multibed clinics to try to make acupuncture more accessible to people who might find the costs a little steep, and while the treatment will be very similar it will take place in a group setting. Some people like this, others want a greater deal of privacy.

The number of sessions is impossible to say; each case is unique and different. What we would expect is that a practitioner reviews progress after the first four or five sessions, and proceeds from there with the full agreement of the patient. What has to be avoided is a kind of habit energy which leads to weekly bookings extending over months. It does happen! It is also important to try to establish effective measures of progress. Anxiety sufferers have good days and bad days, and it is helpful if there can be something which will let both patient and practitioner know that things changed. Otherwise it might depend on how someone feels that day, which is not a good marker.

As far as the value of treatment, we answered a similar query recently as follows: 

We produce a number of factsheets on the treatment of named conditions with acupuncture, one of which is on anxiety

The evidence is fair, and would appear to justify giving acupuncture treatment a go. It certainly won't do any harm, and will very possibly help.  Most of us treat a substantial number of patients with anxiety, although it would be fair to say that many come along for a different problem and find their anxiety lifting against their expectations. This does not surprise us; traditional acupuncture treats the person, not the condition, and it is quite common for people to feel 'better in themselves' after treatment for something as prosaic as sciatica or headaches. Obviously some of the 'feeling better' will be 'not being in pain', but people are very good at recognising the difference between not feeling pained and having a renewed spring in the step.

We wrote an article for Anxiety UK a couple of years ago, and we reproduce it here because it is a worthwhile summary of what we are trying to achieve:  ANXIETY AND ACUPUNCTURE

Anxiety is more than just being anxious. Just as migraine sufferers get righteously indignant when someone claims to be a fellow sufferer but can still get to work, eat and stand the daylight, so anxiety sufferers know that they bear only the slightest resemblance to people who feel a bit nervous or have ‘butterflies in the tummy.’ Clinical anxiety is a crippling affliction which can sometimes defy all of the medications and talking therapies that someone can throw at it.

Why, then, has acupuncture been found to be successful in treating it? The main reason is that in conventional medicine, there is no single treatment for each sufferer as each person has differing symptoms. However, in traditional acupuncture every patient is considered to be unique, and this means that the practitioners will be looking and listening very carefully to everything that the patient says to establish a diagnosis and find the specific keys to unlocking the patterns of the symptoms the patient is suffering. They will aim to identify the imbalances which cause the symptoms of anxiety, not just treat the symptoms themselves. This whole ‘package’ – taking the patient’s individual story seriously and giving them time to tell it, trying to hone precisely the diagnosis, and selecting the optimum way to use the least needles to achieve the greatest effect – has been found to be very effective.

The theory of traditional acupuncture is very straightforward. The free flow and internal balance of energy (Qi) is seen in eastern medicine as essential for good health. Any prolonged exposure to extremes or intense situations, be they physical, mental, emotional or spiritual, will cause the flow and balance to be affected. This disruption in balance then ripples through the whole system, causing symptoms which sometimes bear little apparent relation to the underlying causes. An acupuncturist’s skill lies in making sense of seemingly unconnected symptoms and understanding the unique nature of someone’s energies in such a way as to restore balance. A treatment plan may simply involve needles and moxibustion, the use of a warming herb, and tui na, a form of traditional Chinese massage, but can extend to address issues in someone’s diet, their exercise patterns and their lifestyle.

People sometimes ask why, if acupuncture is so successful, there isn’t much research to back up its claims and make it more freely available within conventional care. A major reason for this is the unique nature of treatment which resists putting people in pigeon holes and which changes as the person’s balance begins to improve. Both of these confound attempts to organise research according to western models where a named condition receives a single treatment and all other variables are taken out of the equation. In Chinese medicine the variables are called patients!

Where do our patients with anxiety come from? Word of mouth still remains the most common and most reliable form of referral, and more people have had acupuncture than you think. If you ask around your support groups you are almost certain to find someone who has tried acupuncture and found that it works. Perhaps this time it’s your turn!

People also usually want to know whether the treatment will ‘stick’, whether they have to keep on having acupuncture. Some don’t – a single course of treatment can set them on a good path which, as long as their life remains well-balanced and relatively stress-free, means that they will stay anxiety-free. Many, though, like to keep ‘tuned up’, and realise that spending a fraction of what they spend on keeping their cars roadworthy keeps the driver in good shape too.

As far as the number of sessions  is concerned it is very difficult to say.  Some people respond quickly and well, while others make only very slow progress. The key thing is to ensure that there really is some progress rather than just treating away month after month, and for this it would be important to set down some measurable outcome markers to know if things have changed. Anxiety is not consistent; sometimes people feel OK, sometimes they don't. Trying to find something which is based more on intuition and feeling is hard. The main thing is to establish when and whether to stop if the treatment is not producing much in the way of change.

Invariably we advise people to visit a local BAcC member. So much depends on the individual nature of someone's balance and energy that it is very hard to give generic answers offering precise advice. Most members are happy to give up a little time without charge to discuss what treatment may offer, and we are sure that you will enjoy talking to someone about what treatment may be able to offer you. 

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