Saturday, January 23, 2010

Unhelpful Strategies #2: Acupuncture

About seven years ago, my mind was such a deluge of OCD intrusions, that when my previous therapist suggested I try acupuncture, I actually did. It's not that she had ever tried it herself or recommended it to anyone before, but she was desperate. There was a Western trained doctor nearby who had added acupuncture to his practice. He'd never used it to treat OCD, but he was more than willing to go ahead.

I was in the middle of a massive storm of fixating on whether or not I should take SSRI anti-depressants, and acupuncture hadn't yet been contaminated by obsessive panicky ruminations. I wanted relief, wanted some space in my head for other things besides retracing and researching every aspect of my life.

I did a typical exhaustive search of the medical literature, and didn't find evidence of acupuncture working for OCD, but neither did it appear that it would harm me. It was an exposure of sorts ultimately, because I look back now and wonder how I tolerated someone applying needles to my body, buzzing them, and creating some sort of smoke. Health anxiety is one of my root OCD themes. I once fainted from a finger stick when I attempted to give blood. Giving consent to invasive treatment was not my norm. Plus the doctor's attempt to give me reassurance that the moles on my back were ok had the rebound effect of stirring up all previous mole anxiety.

After the doctor recommended I take a Chinese herbal tincture to correct my "imbalance," OCD began waking up, and gnawing away at me. I researched every ingredient, and after becoming intimately acquainted with the industry, I reluctantly tried it, because I would do just about anything to avoid having to say no to someone with authority. It tasted like bitter tea, and was just vile enough that the healthy part of myself flashed an SOS, and I dropped out of my acupuncture treatment.

I was disappointed that the seas in my mind did not part and reveal a path on dry land. I don't think I expected acupuncture to help, but I had the vengeful critical voice saying "If you don't try it and it would've worked, you are negligent and a bad person."

Related Post:
Unhelpful Strategies #1: Setting a Timer


  1. As an acupuncturist, I feel I must comment on your blog. How many acupuncture sessions did you do? How long did you take the herbal tincture for? If it wasn't working for you, did you go back to the acupuncturist and see what other recommendations he/she might have? It takes time for acupuncture and herbs to work. Often times people come to us with severe conditions and expect it to work fairly quickly. If you have been out of balance for a long time, it takes time for the body to go back into balance. You can go the prescription route with its "quick fix" but you will not be solving the problem and will probably have side effects. It also takes a concerted effort on your part, with diet and exercise. Also, lastly, I always tell my patients, if I'm not helping you, please do not write off acupuncture. Try someone else. You mentioned your previous therapist so it seems that you've tried more than one therapist, so why not with acupuncture?

  2. Anon ~ I am the last person who might be taken as someone who goes for the quick fix. It took me over a year to decide to take medication, and I had read many articles in the medical literature about how it would take awhile to help. But there were studies that antidepressants were effective for anxiety disorders, as opposed to acupuncture, which did not have the same evidence. I am not saying there will never be evidence ~ I am sure that someone is working on studying the effectiveness of acupuncture for OCD, or for helping people tolerate the anxiety of doing Exposure and Response Prevention Therapy. Medication helped me tolerate doing exposures, but exposures were what ultimately helped me get better, and solved the problem. Exposing myself to thoughts that caused anxiety, and not reassuring myself eventually allowed me to grow accustomed to fearful thoughts and let them pass. If you have any clients with OCD, please read more about ERP and CBT therapies. Our minds are not completely balanced by herbs, chemicals, diet, exercise or bodywork ~ sometimes the mind needs to be addressed directly.