Adolescence can be a challenging time – acupuncture can help teenagers through this, including with depression and anxiety. Acupuncturist Tiffany Black explains how
In my acupuncture practice, I am privileged to hear many people’s life stories and what often strikes me, especially when treating 20 to 30 year olds, is how the roots of their disease can often be traced back to the teenage years. Adolescence can be a tumultuous time evidenced by the fact that one in five young people aged 16-24 experience a common mental illness such as anxiety or depression at any one time  but what many don’t realise is that acupuncture can be an effective treatment to help ease mental health issues. 
Adolescence is a time of enormous change. This includes changes in the body, schools, relationships, friendships, and a time when the child turns away from the family unit towards friends – and that’s not even taking into account the impact of a global pandemic. As adults we know change is rarely easy, but the beauty of acupuncture is that it can help make this transition go more smoothly.
How can Acupuncture Help with Anxiety and Depression?
In Chinese Medicine times of change such as puberty means a higher likelihood of imbalances arising. It is a time characterised in Chinese Medicine where the Yang Qi – the hot, invigorating, rising energy of the body – surges.
The surging of Yang is normal and positive (although for parents it is not always enjoyable!). It is the force that liberates us from our parents and encourages us to become independent and ultimately adult. However, some children can struggle to integrate this energy and this is where acupuncture can help. In terms of mental health, this rising Qi can agitate the spirit causing anxiety while in others, if it is too constrained, the system stagnates and depression arises.
It can be helpful to think of the surge of Yang in the teenage years a bit like a surfer trying to ride an enormous wave – it takes practice. Sometimes the sea is calm and sometimes it can feel like the house has been battered by a tsunami – one minute your child is on the crest of the wave and the next in despondency at the bottom of the ocean. It can be heart-breaking and stressful to watch.
By inserting hair-thin needles into various points on the body I am encouraging the Qi or energy to flow harmoniously again – to calm the system down and restore equilibrium. My aim is not to fix the teen but to correct any pre-existing imbalances and make their transition from child to adult as smooth as possible.
What to Expect from a Treatment
For the first appointment the parent or guardian sits in to help with questions I may have about medical history and so on. From thereon the teenage client can choose to have the parent/guardian present or for them to wait outside. Acupuncturists are like detectives trying to work out what is going on for the individual from a Chinese Medical perspective and we do this by taking the pulse, looking at the tongue and understanding where your child is at by asking questions. However, the beauty of acupuncture is that if the individual doesn’t feel comfortable talking about how they are feeling that is absolutely fine. Gaining rapport and trust are my priorities and creating a space for them to be themselves.
I usually insert between 2 and 8 needles – some are left in for 20 minutes and some go in and out quickly. When the needle is inserted there is usually a tugging sensation when it contacts the Qi. I continually check in with my patients to check they are comfortable and if they feel uneasy with any needles, I can usually find an alternative point. Most of the points I use are on the lower legs and arms and it can be helpful to wear clothes that can be rolled up easily.
A Word on Confidentiality
My relationship is with my patient and so anything they tell me isn’t shared with anyone else, including their parents. The only exception being if they tell me something which makes me seriously concerned for their welfare or others. This can be challenging for parents who naturally want to know how their child is getting on but creating a safe space for my young patients is paramount and is vital in the therapeutic relationship.