Ear Acupuncture Showing Great Promise for Helping Patients Recover from Substance Abuse
Ear acupuncture (or auricular acupuncture) is the process of stimulating acupuncture points on the surface of the ear, with the objective of treating conditions in other areas of the body. Ear acupuncture has been shown to be effective in treating many different maladies, including headaches, addictions, pain, and allergies.
The traditional art of acupuncture developed as an Asian medicine specialty. A focused study of ear acupuncture was initiated in Europe, beginning with research performed by Dr. Paul Nogier, a French neurologist in the 1950’s. In ensuing decades, it was further researched and developed by Dr. Frank Bahr and physical medicine specialists in Germany.
Ear acupuncture is performed by stimulating precision points on the ear. It is based on the theory that the outer portion of the ear reflects all parts of the body. The ear seems to reflect a microsystem of the body, which is quite consistent with brain map discoveries by Canadian neuroscientist Wilder Penfield. He discovered that maps of the body exist on the sensory cortex of the brain, and the same maps (or microsystems) are projected with amazing precision on the ear.
How does ear acupuncture work? In the case of pain relief, which is one of the major benefits of auricular acupuncture, it seems that nobody knows for 100% certainty but there are a couple of solid theories. The first theory is that body tissue stimulated with needles releases adenosine, a natural pain reliever. Another theory suggests that insertion of the needles stimulates certain nerves, bringing a release of endorphins, which block pain receptors in the brain.
Ear acupuncture therapy has been shown to be effective for helping people overcome and recover from substance abuse. The Substance Abuse Treatment Unit (SATU), Connecticut Mental Health Center’s outstanding clinic for those suffering from substance abuse disorders, offers a five-point ear acupuncture treatment to its patients. Read below for more details, and please share with others who might be interested.
It takes only a minute or two to insert the paper-thin needles into each ear. At SATU, clients then sit silently for thirty minutes or more in the soft, black chairs with matching footstools in the acupuncture room. The lights are dim. Most clients close their eyes; some fall into a meditative state that Bryant calls “needle sleep.”
The five points are: (1) The Autonomic Point which calms the nervous system and helps with overall relaxation; (2) the Shen Men or “spirit gate,” which reduces anxiety and nervousness; (3) the Kidney Point, for calming fears and healing internal organs; (4) the Liver Point for detoxification, blood purification, and to quell aggression; and (5) the Lung Point, which promotes aeration and helps clients let go of grief.
Clients are invited to have all five points or choose the ones they want that day. Pregnant clients receive only two points, the Shen Men and Lung.
This August, after water damage from Hurricane Irene temporarily relocated SATU to the main building of the Connecticut Mental Health Center, Bryant and her fellow clinicians set up shop on the Center’s second floor. Along with SATU clients, thirteen CMHC staff members received auricular acupuncture that day. Michael J. Sernyak, MD, the Center’s CEO, participated for the first time. “I had this wonderful, contemplative time,” he said afterward. “It was really unusual.”
Clinicians, says Bryant, experience stress too; it’s important that they develop ways to manage their stress. Acupuncture can help. The treatment is available to all CMHC staff members during any of SATU’s regularly scheduled clinics.
SATU also welcomes CMHC clients with mental illness to the acupuncture clinic. “We just need to talk to the clinician to make sure they are psychiatrically stable and have no medical contraindications,” Bryant explains. People with pacemakers cannot receive acupuncture; special considerations are given to those with certain medical conditions such as hemophilia and diabetes.
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