In spite of increasing acceptance and varied use of acupuncture for treating pain and other ailments in the United States, there are still at least three misunderstandings about the practice and its mechanisms, which are typically found in some news reports about acupuncture (Sun, 2014a). Clarifying the misunderstandings also has implications for psychology.

First, one of the false beliefs assumes that “researching acupuncture's effectiveness is a controversial activity.”

However, research has shown that stimulating acupuncture points can alleviate or cure various pains or diseases, including heightening the cellular immune function (e.g., increasing lymphocyte proliferation) of patients, providing a beneficial effect in anti-cancer treatment. It is also able to significantly reduce depression, anxiety and stress scores for the elderly group as well as create significant improvements in emotional spiritual/peace, physical and mental health for patients with HIV/AIDS (e.g., Chang, Boehmer, Zhao, and Sommers, 2007; Pavão, Vianna, Pillat, Machado, & Bauer, 2010; Wu, 1995). In addition, this author’s content-analysis of 156 reports based on clinical trials about acupuncture contained in PubMed database showed that 139 acupuncture-based treatments had generated significant results. Among the remaining research, 11 reports suggested that acupuncture was as effective as sham treatments and 6 reports did not actually used acupuncture (Sun, 2014a). In other words, the evidence supporting the effectiveness of acupuncture is overwhelming.

Second, one of the misunderstandings involves the belief that acupuncture treatment must insert needles in the skin.

While, although the most traditional and conventional way to practice acupuncture employs sterilized needles to stimulate relevant points located on the body’s channels or meridians system, acupressure techniques (the use of fingertips to press acupoints) has a similar long (if not longer) history. In the last several decades, more clinics have applied electro-acupuncture instruments to stimulate acupoints to produce intended results (Sun, 2014a). This practice is very safe without breaking the skin. Another easy and effective technique of acupressure involves fixing small magnetic chips to some acupoints with bandage for treating fever, headache and sore throat (Sun, 2014b).

Third, one of the false beliefs assumes that “acupuncture’s effectiveness is based on placebo effect. You have to believe it for it to work.”

This statement is not true. Although the mechanisms about how and why acupuncture work are still under constantly examination and new investigation, the strongest evidence that belies the assumption comes from acupuncture-based veterinary treatment. Reviews of veterinary acupuncture (Hulea, 2012; Schofield, 2008) show that acupuncture is one of the safest methods in veterinary therapy in the last 20 years. Animal acupuncture has been used for diagnosis, treatment and diseases prevention. The results include pain inhibition, increased cardiac output, cough reflex suppression, bone healing, curing uterine infection or infertility, maintenance of pregnancy, general stress and/or pain relief, and others causing therapeutic effects in a great variety of animal diseases (for cat, dog, horse, cow or other animals). I do not believe that animals in acupuncture treatment have expectations that contribute to their healings. Do you?

Then, what is the relationship between acupuncture and psychology? I think that the acupuncture provides a unique perspective for understanding healing, which involves balanced communication. Accordingly, the body (human and animals’) consists of many interconnected subsystems that are constantly communicating with one another and with environments. Ailment manifests a sign of miscommunication or dysfunctional communication between two or more systems. Stimulating acupoints helps the body restore its normal ability for balanced internal and external communications. In other words, healing is a process of restoring original connections and functional communications among the systems by empowering them and by removing communication obstacles.

References:

Chang B, Boehmer U, Zhao Y, Sommers E. (2007). The combined effect of relaxation response and acupuncture on quality of life in patients with HIV: A pilot study. The Journal Of Alternative And Complementary Medicine, 13(8):807-815.

Hulea, C. I. (2012). Acupuncture as a Therapeutic Tool in Health Disorders in Animals: A Review. Animal Science & Biotechnologies, 45(2),166-177.

Pavão T.S., Vianna P., Pillat M.M., Machado A.B., & Bauer M. E. (2010). Acupuncture is effective to attenuate stress and stimulate lymphocyte proliferation in the elderly. Neurosci Lett., 484(1):47-50.

Schofield, W A. (2008). Use of acupuncture in equine reproduction. Theriogenology, 70(3),430-434.

Sun, K. (2014a). Examining a discrepancy between research findings on acupuncture and news reports about its effectiveness. Poster presented at 2014 Annual Meeting of American Public Health Association. New Orleans, LA.

Sun, K. (2014b). Stimulating acupuncture point LI4 with magnets reduced infections. Poster presented at the 2nd annual conference of global health and infectious disease at School of Medicine, Washington University in St Louis in March 27, 2014.

Wu B. (1995). Effect of acupuncture on the regulation of cell-mediated immunity in the patients with malignant tumors. Zhen Ci Yan Jiu, 20(3):67-71.

About the Author

Key Sun Ph.D.

Key Sun, Ph.D., is a psychologist and social worker. He has taught at Central Washington University and Bastyr University.

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