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Acupuncture to help alleviate Complex-PTSD Symptoms

A number of weeks ago I posed a question in a Facebook post that was discussing biomarkers for PTSD being discovered and about what treatments might help people with PTSD. I suggested acupuncture may be an option but as I am not qualified in this area I could not provide any further evidence or explanation.

I’m delighted to say that an award-winning acupuncturist and colleague has agreed to enlighten us on the benefits of acupuncture and how it could help relieve some PTSD symptoms.

The wonderful Trish O’Hara is the founder of The Acupuncturist and is based in Belfast. Trish has been practising acupuncture and acupressure for fifteen years. Her reputation and professionalism in both Northern Ireland and in the acupuncture world are first class and she has helped many people with diverse health issues.

I’m so grateful that Trish has been able to take some time out from her busy schedule to tell us a little bit about herself and how acupuncture can help PTSD. Thank you Trish.

Trish, you are an award-winning acupuncturist, can you please tell us a little bit about yourself and your background?

I always had two stories of how I got into acupuncture. Both are the truth but only one came first.

The lighthearted version of a chronic ear infection and a younger me travelling in the US without health insurance and a goodhearted acupuncturist who helped me out.

The next, a deeper and rawer truth of a lost and wounded young woman, in the downward spiral of a drug addiction who ended up in an acupuncture student clinic in the US nearly 20 years ago, and who walked out obsessed with Traditional Chinese Medicine. Acupuncture saved my life. It has a funny way of doing that not to just me but countless others worldwide.

Which story is told, depends on my client. I can treat people who are in very dark times in their lives. I need them to understand that it’s possible to recover, as I was that girl.

Acupuncture has nursed me through the different stages of my C-PTSD recovery. It supported me in achieving a first in my degree in acupuncture and also Western Bio Medicine, the study of pathology and disease.

I have read that acupuncture can help many conditions and ailments, including PTSD. Can you please explain to us how it may help PTSD sufferers?

Western medicine tends to rely heavily on being able to measure and quantify how things work. Various fMRI studies primarily designed to evaluate ‘how acupuncture works’ implicate the major structures of the brain’s limbic and neuroendocrine systems, the exact same two systems indicated in the pathophysiology of PTSD.

So what does this mean? Most PTSD survivors tend to live with a heightened ‘fight or flight’ response (hyper arousal). This response is so automatic, and its main goal is to protect. The problem arrives when this response doesn’t switch itself off even after even decades after the traumatic event/s has passed. To live in constant fight or flight mode is detrimental to our quality of life and health.

Why acupuncture is so effective in the treatment of PTSD? It activates our parasympathetic nervous system which in turn helps deactivate our heightened fight or flight response. Blood pressure, sleep, digestion, hormonal, immune and emotional responses improve, and all those stress hormones which flood the body causing chaos are reduced.

If somebody was thinking about trying acupuncture to treat PTSD what can they expect in a typical session and afterwards?

Your initial session will usually begin with your acupuncturist asking a series of 10 questions covering all aspect of your life, looking at your tongue and feeling your pulse. This diagnostic process will help your acupuncturist formulate the best treatment plan for you.

I believe many people worry about having to open up to a stranger about traumatic experiences but acupuncturists are not counsellors. All we need to know is that you have experienced trauma and the age the trauma occurred, to be able to treat you effectively.

Some people feel quite elevated after their first acupuncture session and some people can feel quite tired. Stay hydrated and make sure your schedule isn’t too busy on the day of your initial appointment. Make time to rest afterwards.

How can a reader find a reputable acupuncturist?

In Northern Ireland, there are two main regulatory bodies. The British Acupuncture Council which covers the UK and The Acupuncture Council of Ireland. Always book an appointment with a registered and licenced acupuncturist, who is degree trained in acupuncture. Each of the regulatory bodies above, have an online directory of suitable acupuncturists local to you.

The burning question – does acupuncture hurt and what advice do you have for anybody who may have a fear of needles?

No. The needle used during treatment are as fine as a strand of human hair and you will barely feel them being inserted. Once the needle begins to influence the Qi (energy) of the body - a tingling sensation, dull ache or numbness may be experienced, but no pain. This is perfectly normal feeling, which releases the feel good hormones called endorphins.

I have been doing acupuncture a long time, so my technique is very good. The no 1 response is ‘I didn’t feel a thing’. We naturally build things up in our heads and they can feel scary but once we experience it, we realise that it’s not.

Discuss any fears you have with your acupuncturist, a fear of needles is a common concern.

Random questions of the day;

  • Marmite, yes or no? No

  • What did you last eat? French toast

  • When did you last exercise? A walk this morning

Thank you Trish!

Acupuncture does not hurt!

I have had acupuncture in the past to help with some of my own health issues, namely infertility. I can concur - IT IS NOT PAINFUL!!

Acupuncture is one of many treatment options that will be explored throughout this blog. For more information on how acupuncture can help you or to book an appointment with The Acupuncturist contact Trish at

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