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Acupuncture for mental health

Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), or Oriental medicine, a 5,000-year-old system of health care, is used to heal the whole person, including disorders of the mind. One component of TCM is the practice of acupuncture.

“I’d been on antidepressants for four years, and sometimes they helped and sometimes they didn’t. But, they always had side effects,” said Mary L., a Tuscon accountant. “‘Isn’t there an alternative?’ I wondered. I was ready to try something different, something beyond Western medicine.”

TCM views the body as a system of energy: This energy, or “qi,” (pronounced “chee”), is believed to regulate a person’s spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical balance. The imbalance of yin (negative energy) and yang (positive energy) results in disease and must be adjusted.

Acupuncture is used to reduce stress, anxiety and depression, as well as physical pain or illness. The treatment creates physiological balance, the body’s innate ability to self-regulate.

Acupuncture involves stimulation of specific parts of the body by penetrating the skin with fine, metallic needles that are manipulated by the hands or by electrical stimulation. The needles, from one to four inches long, are sterilized and disposable. The sensation of their insertion is a quick, slight prick. Some people feel nothing at all. Mary said it felt like a mosquito bite.

As a treatment for depression, acupuncture points would vary for each individual, but might include an area two inches above the wrist on the inner arm, which would also help heal insomnia and anxiety, said Jason Beito, MSTCM LAc DNBAO, clinic director, Acupuncture and Integrative Medicine College, Berkeley, Berkeley CA .

“I could feel a difference right away,” Mary said. “My dark mood lifted, I had more energy and more vitality than I’d had in a long time. Even my carpal tunnel syndrome improved.”

Before you begin treatment, discuss your Oriental medicine treatment with your traditional health care provider.

Check with your insurer to see if the services will be covered. “Coverage varies from state to state, but some insurers will cover acupuncture if ordered by a primary care provider,” says Brian Smithers with the American Association of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine. Deductibles may be higher than those for conventional care. “Acupuncture is now provided at U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs health facilities,” he says.

Choosing a practitioner of Oriental medicine
Discuss a practitioner’s qualifications. Most states require certification by the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine. Candidates are required to complete extensive training and apprenticeship.

To find a certified practitioner in your area:

  • Visit the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine.
  • Your state, county, or city health department may be able to refer you to regulatory agencies or licensing boards for certain types of practitioners.
  • Your physician, other health professionals, local hospitals or a medical school may have recommendations.

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