Updated: Sep 6, 2021
The past eighteen months have been hard for everyone, and it’s no secret that one of the effects on many people has been a decline in mental health, and a rise in mood disorders. In 2019, 1 in 10 Americans reported symptoms of anxiety and depression. In 2020, that number shot up to 1 in 4. The term mood disorder covers a wide variety of challenges, including depression, anxiety, poor mental focus, and even addictions. On top of the common factors that contribute to these conditions (see this page for more details), the worry and stress caused by the pandemic has increased the prevalence and severity of mood disorders. Now more than ever, it is crucial to leverage all possible methods for addressing mood disorders, including acupuncture. Multiple scientific studies have demonstrated the effectiveness of acupuncture in treating mood disorders.
Chinese medicine views mood issues as imbalances between the elements that are present in all of us. The channels of energy that flow through our bodies (otherwise known as acupuncture meridians) each have associations with many different things, including internal organs, body functions, emotions, seasons, time of day, and elements. Selecting specific points on a certain channel allows us to encourage the re-balancing of the energy between the meridians and between the elements, which leads to an improvement in the symptoms of mood disorders.
For example, the spleen channel on the leg is associated with the element of earth. It is also associated with, in a metaphorical sense, "digesting" (note that the physical spleen is not connected to the digestive system, this is purely an energetic/ metaphorical connection). This metaphor extends to both digesting food and digesting ideas. When the energy of the spleen channel is deficient or fails to flow correctly, we can experience an inhibition of "digestion". This can manifest as both poor digestion of food, but also difficulty in digesting or "processing" thoughts. Both anxiety and depression can have "negative thought loops" as a symptom; Chinese medicine would view these negative thought loops as an imbalance in spleen channel energy. Selecting points to support the flow of spleen energy can help resolve these negative thought loops.
Each of the other energy channels has similar correlations. for instance, the lung channel is associated with the emotion of grief and the element of metal, the liver channel is associated with the emotion of frustration and the element of wood, and the kidney channel is associated with the emotion of fear and the element of water.
As you can see above, the Chinese philosophy of the elements views complex interactions between elements. Some elements support or nourish each other, others control or constrain. Acupuncture can encourage the balance of these relationships, helping our physical body (including neurotransmitter systems) to re-establish balance. In my clinical experience, applying this method of acupuncture can produce remarkable results. Many clients feel calmer and more centered, or more themselves at the end of each visit, and these improvements both compound and last longer with repeated application.
It is important to note that many different strategies and approaches are needed to fully address mood disorders and their symptoms. I do work with clients who are on current medications in collaboration with prescribing practitioners. In some cases the need for medication can be reduced or even eliminated, but this can only be assessed and attempted with support of the prescribing practitioner. In other cases supplements and diet change can be leveraged to improve the outcome of both counseling and/or prescription mood support.