Rapid Treatment of PTSD: Why Psychological Exposure with Acupoint Tapping May Be Effective
David Feinstein, PhD
Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, Practice, Training, (2010), 47(3), 385-402.
Combining brief psychological exposure with the manual stimulation of acupuncture points (acupoints) in the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other emotional conditions is an intervention strategy that integrates established clinical principles with methods derived from healing traditions of Eastern cultures.
Two randomized controlled trials and six outcome studies using standardized pre- and post-treatment measures with military veterans, disaster survivors, and other traumatized individuals corroborate anecdotal reports and systematic clinical observation in suggesting that (a) tapping on selected acupoints (b) during imaginal exposure (c) quickly and permanently reduces maladaptive fear responses to traumatic memories and related cues. The approach has been controversial.This is in part because the mechanisms by which stimulating acupoints can contribute to the treatment of serious or longstanding psychological disorders have not been established.
Speculating on such mechanisms, the current paper suggests that adding acupoint stimulation to psychological exposure is unusually effective in its speed and power because deactivating signals are sent directly to the amygdala, resulting in reciprocal inhibition and the rapid attenuation of maladaptive fear. This formulation and the preliminary evidence supporting it could, if confirmed, lead to more powerful exposure protocols for treating PTSD.