Acupuncture & EMDR Outcomes
Updated: Oct 27, 2022
It seems these days, we're all addicted to stress in one form or another. Everything from working, to maintain a household, to watching the news, stress seems to be the backbone from which we run our daily lives. When this happens, we are often fueled by a hormone called, cortisol. This is what gives us that surge in energy when we miss our alarm or are late for work. This hormone is beneficial for us in the short term as it helps us get through periods of turmoil. However, our bodies were not designed to run off of it, long term. Unfortunately, in this day and age, most of us are. This is particularly true for those of us who have experienced mental health conditions such as anxiety and/or depression or have experienced trauma. For which, EMDR can be especially helpful.
More often than not, we are subconsciously dictated by the traumatic events that we have experienced, especially those that have occurred in our early lives. When we encounter a traumatic event, a belief system may be created from that instance. When working with EMDR, we may revisit traumatic events to reduce the “emotional charge” they hold and the belief systems that resulted. For example, let’s say a child had raised their hand in class to answer a question. The teacher picks on them and they answer the question wrong which causes the whole class to burst into laughter. This child may then form a belief from that scenario such as, “it’s not safe to speak up,” or “I am stupid.” The rest of their lives may then be led by that specific belief whether they are consciously aware of it or not. Perhaps they now refuse to speak up for themselves or never challenged themselves intellectually due the belief created. The accumulation of traumatic events that occur throughout our lives then creates the foundation of the lens from which we see the world. When we revisit a memory that was traumatic, our brain is unable to tell it is just a memory. Our body may release the same stress hormones as if we were reliving the experience, itself. This is what creates all the physical sensations when processing trauma such as an accelerated heart rate, increased blood pressure, muscle tension, or that sensation of a pit in your stomach.
When we are living in chronic stress, it may be difficult for us process trauma as efficiently as those who are not. In order to counteract this, it is important for us to discover ways to mitigate the effects of chronic stress. This can be anything from meditation, yoga, deep breathing, and my own personal favorite, acupuncture. Acupuncture is a gentle and effective modality that I often use with my patient’s alongside EMDR therapy. It works to relax the body and bring it back into balance by shifting it out of “fight or flight” mode. Utilizing acupuncture alongside EMDR can help mitigate one's stress response and help facilitate the EMDR process. While there is no rush in healing, one could argue that it may even increase the efficacy of each session.
Acupuncture has been used for thousands of years in traditional Chinese medicine. It is based upon the concept of “Qi” (pronounced ‘ch-ee’) or energy and the meridians (energy channels) within the body. It is believed that when energy does not flow properly within these meridians or becomes stagnant, then disease or illness occurs. When acupuncture is applied to specific points on the body, it is thought to improve the flow of qi, thus improving one’s overall health. Acupuncture is most well-known for its use in pain management but has been scientifically proven time and again as an effective treatment for the management of mental health conditions. This is conducted by reducing inflammation in the body and increasing the amount of ‘feel good’ hormones such as, serotonin, dopamine, and endorphins. All while, simultaneously decreasing stress hormones, as well. This means that it can be particularly useful in the management of mental health and chronic illness. For those, who may not struggle with mental health, it is an effective modality for stress management as it brings the body back into homeostasis and your natural state of relaxation. To those who have never experienced acupuncture, I often tell them it is similar in effect to how you feel after receiving a massage. You know, where you feel so relaxed as if your body is dead weight. It may sound pretty ironic to feel relaxed while acupuncture needles are on your person, but it is strangely true. One would think it would be painful to have needles placed on your body. However, it is often done with minimal, if any, discomfort at all!
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