By: Sharon Burris-Brown LICSW, NBC-HWC
Acupuncture at Lyn Lake Psychotherapy and Wellness
You go to your doctor for a wellness visit. Your doc listens to your chest, checks your blood pressure, knocks on your knee and ankle to check reflexes. She asks you how you are. Perhaps you tell her you have been having knee pain. She checks your knee and perhaps looks at how you stand and walk. During a well check-up, you spend possibly 30 minutes at most with your doctor.
If you have a particular issue and schedule an office visit, your doc perhaps has 15 minutes at most to determine what is “wrong” with you. She might order further tests. But her focus is on the area of your body where you are having issues. If you have more than one issue, she tells you to make another appointment to address the second problem.
The Assessment Process
Working with an acupuncturist is a significantly different experience. When one schedules an appointment with Andrea Cyr, a Licensed Acupuncturist and Masters in Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine at Lyn Lake Psychotherapy and Wellness, the individual is asked to fill out a detailed intake form.
The first appointment is 90 minutes and much of that appointment is spent in conversation. “First they get to tell their stories”, says Cyr. “I ask them the top two issues they are having and where they feel them in their bodies. We have a pretty long conversation about how they are experiencing symptoms right now and what makes them better or worse. I try to paint the picture they are giving me and we keep talking until I get an accurate picture” she explains.
In addition, she asks about emotional concerns, self-care and lifestyle habits. The philosophy in Chinese medicine is to treat the whole person.
After making sure that she has an accurate view of her client’s concerns, she will begin assessing them physically. “I look at their physical appearance and how they hold their bodies, their voice, their physicality.”
In Chinese Medicine, the tongue can say a lot about an individual’s overall health because different areas of a person’s tongue as well as the color, texture and shape can offer clues to what may be going on within “five corresponding organ systems”: the liver, lungs, spleen, heart and kidneys. Andrea uses this information to check the direction she believes she needs to head.
Next, she palpates the client’s abdomen to check the texture, heat, color, tightness of that area. She is checking acupuncture points for diagnostic information.
During that first appointment, she will spend some of that time—about 30 minutes on the actual treatment. “How a person responds to an initial treatment will give me information on whether I need to make changes or to keep going down that path”.
The 101 on Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture.
Unlike Allopathic doctors, Chinese Medicine practitioners focuses on where energy or Qi is blocked within different meridians—or energy pathways. Disease can occur when the opposing complex forces Yin and Yang are out of balance.
“I am coming up with a differential diagnosis” explains Cyr. “Depending on what I assess, there are treatment protocols for each diagnosis”. However, the focus is not coming up with a disease label and one fix.
The Acupuncturist will insert very thin needles along certain acupuncture points. The important thing is for clients to be able to relax with the needles for a period of time to allow the process to work. Treatments can run anywhere from 30 minutes to close to an hour. Follow-up visits are an hour to allow time for Cyr to check in with her clients on how they are doing.
As many of us are used to, Allopathic philosophy is a linear way of treating illness. The goal is to find the disease and prescribe medication or a surgical procedure that will hopefully cure it.
“I want to show people that their bodies have the capability of healing. So, I help the client determine a baseline so we can track progress. What I want to explain is that there is nothing wrong with their bodies, but that something is just out of balance”, Cyr says.
Prospective clients may be intimidated by having needles inserted into them. But acupuncture is not supposed to hurt. Cyr explains that it is counter to healing when an individual is laying there in pain during treatment.
“One may feel some tugging or pinching depending on the technique used, but often people don’t feel anything”. Often, she goes on to describe, there may be an initial sensation as the needles settle, but then patients relax into it and after a few moments typically the sensations go away.
Different Acupuncture Techniques
- Acupressure is a manual technique that stimulates the same acupuncture points. Practitioners use their hands, feet, elbows or other devices to stimulate these areas instead of needles.
- Moxibustion utilizes dried herbs which are burned on or near the surface of the skin.
- Electroacupuncture is a form of acupuncture that utilizes 2 needles at or near the acupuncture point instead of one with a mild electric current passing through them.
When Can a Therapist Refer to an Acupuncturist
Cyr outlines several things to consider when determining whether a client may be a good fit for acupuncture.
- If you have a client who is tuned into or interested in how their emotional symptoms are showing up in their body.
- If your client can make the connection that their physical symptoms flare up when their stress levels are high.
- If a client is having physical symptoms that are occurring with the therapy work they are doing such as G.I. issues, headaches, stiffness, pain.
- If this is an important time of transition where working on a client’s physical symptoms will hasten progress in therapy.
- Is your client stable enough to commit to and follow through with 3-6 acupuncture visits?
Acupuncture and Mental Illness
There is robust evidence that acupuncture helps with pain. The evidence that acupuncture aides in alleviating mood disorders is not quite as clear. However, one theory is that acupuncture can help control secretion of chemicals such as Serotonin and Norepinephrine that aide in mood regulation.
Another theory is that it can “influence the autonomic system” which can affect blood pressure, heart rate etc. This area of brain function can affect the fight or flight response.
Depression and anxiety are broad diagnoses and manifest differently in each of us. The underlying issues that can cause mood disorders are varied as well. Cyr describes broadly how anxiety and depression may show up within an acupuncturist’s assessment. Below are just a few “snapshots” that she sees in those with anxiety and depression.
Depression may cause the body to “either not have nor can produce enough energy for the person to engage fully in their life. Energy may be stuck in a particular way that is preventing access to it. She may ask, “where do you feel stuck/pain in your body?”
Anxiety, Cyr describes is “the body’s capacity to store energy physiologically as compromised and pathological energy rises to the upper body resulting in agitation”. She further states that a “pathological lack of warmth and vitality in the body is rising to the upper body and it is being experienced as life threatening”. This can potentially cause panic attacks.
She may determine that there is a lack of balance between alert and resting states. Questions she may ask in these cases may be, “How does it feel to stop moving? In your body, how do you feel time moving fast and slowly?
Non-Psychiatric Illnesses that Acupuncture Can Treat
Chronic Pain has the most evidence behind the use of acupuncture: low back pain, migraines, Osteoarthritis. Acupuncture can also assist in postoperative pain recovery But many more issues can be alleviated by acupuncture treatment.
How Many Sessions?
Depending on the issue(s), Cyr states that often acute problems such as back pain or an injury could take about 3-6 sessions. Sometimes individuals will feel a difference after one treatment. Sometimes it takes a bit longer. For more chronic issues, such as infertility, she will see clients upwards of one year.
Often, she states, individuals will come to see how powerful acupuncture is in prevention. Some of her clients come to see her monthly or when they are about to have a big transition or extra stress in their lives to head off problems.
Insurance will cover acupuncture under limited circumstances. However, a prospective client can pay with out of network benefits as well as with their Health Savings Account (H.S.A.)
The Wrap Up
Cyr states that acupuncture sessions “occur in the context of learning about and knowing oneself and one’s body and recognizing patterns of change that support a healthful life.” Chinese Medicine philosophy is that each person has the ability to heal themselves. Acupuncture creates a scaffold for individuals to “move into their own sense of vitality and power”.
Andrea Cyr – Licensed Acupuncturist, MAOM- firstname.lastname@example.org