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What’s the Point?: Acupuncture and Queer Health

It’s pretty popular nowadays to try alternative medicine for problems that the doctor doesn’t seem to understand.  Maybe you’ve heard of acupuncture. Perhaps you’ve even tried it, but the idea of being poked with needles sounds like the opposite of therapeutic to you.  My goal is to help you understand what acupuncture is, how it works, and how it can help you, especially as a member of the LGBT community.

Acupuncture, which is part of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), has been around for thousands of years. Acupuncture consists of inserting very fine, sterile, stainless steel needles into specific points on the body that are located on energy channels. In Chinese medicine, qi (“chee”) or vital energy flows through the body along these channels and provides the body with strength and nourishment. When this flow is blocked or disrupted, disease can develop. Acupuncture can help remove these blockages and disruptions and restore the free flow of qi. When the qi is flowing freely, the body is in balance and disease can more easily be kept at bay. If you think about it like traffic signals, the acupuncturist uses needles to smooth out traffic jams and make sure traffic keeps flowing properly.

The end goal of acupuncture is for your body to be able to heal itself by strengthening and regulating the flow of qi throughout the channels. In almost all cases, patients report improvement not only in the area for which they were seeking treatment, but also things which they may not have even mentioned! For example, a patient who comes in for digestive upset may return raving about the best sleep she has had in years.

The beautiful thing about acupuncture is that the body is treated as a whole unit. When you go in for a treatment, the acupuncturist will ask you a variety of questions about seemingly unrelated things. This is because he or she is figuring out where you might have any disharmonies or imbalances. Instead of just slapping a Band-Aid on the problem, acupuncture and TCM aim to find and fix the source of the disharmony.

Many people ask me what acupuncture can treat. The short answer is that it’s good for anything for which you would go to your doctor, barring broken bones. The World Health Organization lists dozens of diseases, symptoms, or conditions for which acupuncture has shown therapeutic effect, including anxiety, depression, addiction, and pain management.   I mention these specific conditions because they are some of the many that affect LGBT people disproportionately.

Acupuncture can work wonders for anxiety and depression. Instead of taking prescription medications that are often expensive and frequently leave people feeling like emotionless versions of themselves, you can work with your acupuncturist to get to the root(s) of the illness. This is usually not an easy task and requires commitment on the part of the patient. You will likely uncover deep-seated emotions that you’ve been bottling up for years. As you unearth these emotions, you will begin to feel lighter, freer, and more balanced. I also firmly believe that having a restful hour devoted entirely to yourself while you’re receiving a treatment is an exceptionally healing act. It forces you to slow down and really take time for yourself, which we so often forget to do in the hustle and bustle of our daily lives.

Acupuncture has been used in the United States for addiction and detoxification since the 1970s. Regular treatment can help mitigate the signs and symptoms of withdrawal when attempting to quit an addictive habit. The most important aspect of using acupuncture to help with addiction is to really want and be ready to quit. You can’t go for treatment because your parents/partner/kids/friends want you to quit. You have to be ready to quit. I once treated a man whose family wanted him to stop smoking. At his second treatment he reported that he wouldn’t be continuing treatment because it wasn’t working and now his cigarettes tasted terrible. I knew that the treatment was working, but he wasn’t ready to quit, so I let him go on his way. Acupuncture can be incredibly powerful at helping with addictions, but you should be ready and willing to let it work.

Pain management is one of the better-known reasons for getting acupuncture. Studies have shown that acupuncture, especially when combined with an electric stimulation machine, helps release endorphins.   Endorphins are the body’s natural pain killers. They are partially responsible for what is commonly referred to as “runner’s high.” Acupuncture and TCM can often act immediately on pain. I’ve had patients come in with almost debilitating pain who were able to walk out unassisted after the treatment. That’s not to say that this is always the result, but it definitely happens.

People frequently ask how many treatments it will take before they start to see improvement. I always ask people to commit to 4-6 treatments when they first come in. At the first visit, I devise a treatment plan and discuss it with the patient. After 4-6 visits we will look at their progress and revisit the treatment plan. More often than not, the patients who stick with the treatment for the first 4-6 visits see significant results above and beyond what they expected.

Acupuncture is frequently a slow-working medicine. Results rarely happen overnight. Remember that instead of just putting a Band-Aid on your problem, you are working on why the problem occurred in the first place. Changes that deep and fundamental don’t happen immediately, yet almost all patients notice some changes, whether expected or not, after a treatment or two. The relaxing, therapeutic side of acupuncture, however, is always immediate.

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Kristl Yuen is a fully licensed acupuncturist (L.Ac.) in the State of Illinois and is certified as a Diplomate in Oriental Medicine (Dipl. O.M.) by the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM). Born and raised in Hawaii, she has lived in Chicago for almost 8 years. She lives on the the north side with her girlfriend, Rachel, their dog, Bradley, and their cat, Delilah. She has a private practice in the North Center area, where she focuses on fertility, digestive issues, respiratory disorders, pain management, and anxiety, depression, and stress management, though she will happily treat anything that comes her way! She can be reached at info@kwaifahacupuncture.com or 773.251.9836. Her website is www.kwaifahacupuncture.com.

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