Acupuncture and Emotional Trauma

“And when the night is cloudy there is still a light that shines on me. Shine until tomorrow, let it be.”  ~ Paul McCartney

PTSD-treatment-with-traditional-chinese-medicine-in floridaby Susan Tretakis – I have often said that acupuncture has changed my life. Changing ones’ life is no small feat; however, recent events have shown me that acupuncture – along with Traditional Chinese teachings – have helped me regain a life that was shaken to the core this past Valentines’ Day.

I live in a community directly impacted by the lone gunman who killed 17 people with an AR-15 rifle at our local high school. My neighbor’s children attend this school; my friends teach at this school. I was a former counselor and former colleague to many of the victims and the victims’ families.

Unfortunately, this is not my first school shooting. As a counselor, I have done many crises interventions for parents, students and staff members. Each time I was always the professional; one who is calm and soothing and knew how to give care.

But this week rocked my world. It brought back memories of the shooting on my own campus almost 10 years ago. Knowing my background and training, neighbors reached out to me for advice for them and their families. I was asked to participate in grief sessions and crisis management training. My teenage neighbors knew that I worked at home. Out of school, often bereft, they would stop by, pretending to ask if I needed any odd jobs or yard work done. In reality, they just wanted to talk. I listened. Their stories broke my heart.

And while my days and early evenings were filled with me doing what people and agencies tell me I do well, my nights were terrifying to me. I lost my ability to set emotional boundaries; horror stories seem to replay in a never-ending loop on the movie screen in my mind.

In short, I was a mess. I needed help if I was to remain effective; I needed help.

I found that help in my acupuncturist’s office.

In The Pacifica College Educational Newsletter, Kathleen Rushall writes that “Because it is the oldest documented medical system to recognize the connection between body and mind, Chinese medicine is an optimum treatment choice for trauma victims. There are several forms of trauma. Perhaps the best known is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, which is a condition formed after a person undergoes a harrowing physical or emotional event such as a war experience, car crash, natural disaster, or extreme emotional loss. Trauma can also relate to the anxiety, depression, and grief that can develop after a tragic event.”

It took me awhile to see what I was doing to myself. I was continually bothered by intrusive memories and would wake after one or two hours of sleep from vivid nightmares. Away from the public eye, I was stress-eating and drinking. An old shoulder injury resurfaced; my knees were screaming each morning. I was telling people to limit their exposure to trauma-related stimuli, such as long periods of time spent online or watching television news. I was preaching the need for healthy eating, meditation and self-care – but, truthfully, I was just “talking the talk, not walking the walk.”

I felt like a fraud.

The only thing I knew for sure was that I was not ready to give up the progress I have made with my health these past two years. Obviously, I needed to clear what I refer to as my “inner cache”. For that, I needed my acupuncturists’ help.

GOOGLE and WebMD will tell you that any situation causing emotional, physical or mental trauma can result in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The use of acupuncture for PTSD has been scientifically proven to reduced anxiety levels and stress in individuals.

It’s important to remember that “Trauma is a wound. Typically trauma refers to either a physical injury, such as a broken bone, or an emotional state of profound and prolonged distress in response to an overwhelmingly terrifying or unstable response.”

In TCM, the body and mind are equally important. My TCM doctor explained that trauma, both physical and emotional, “affects a person’s ‘qi,’ or life force and energy.” Acupuncture for trauma operates by using specific points on the body that are thought to correlate with the nervous system. As he placed multiple pins in each year, he explained that auricular (ear) acupuncture aids in balancing the nervous system and induces relaxation. Understanding what I was experiencing – probably more so than I was willing to admit – my TCM doctor “tweaked” my Chinese herbs to deal with my current emotional state.   He reminded me of my responsibility to me, recommending more time spent on meditation and deep breathing exercises; I have.

He suggested I re-read my past blog posts; I did.

I stopped beating up myself for being human.   I allowed myself to cry. Once I chose to allow me to “Let it Be”, I was able to identify those “emotional triggers” that led me to unhealthy food and drink choices.

TCM encourages you to “live in the now – to see the light, no matter how dark”. I started to journal more, to listen to more music and to limit my exposure to the media.   I focused instead on the kindness and support of local businesses that poured forth to help my community to heal. I acknowledged my pride in my former students as they responded to the media and to public figures. I am grateful for the kindness of neighbors and long-distance friends who came forth not just to be comforted but to offer comfort as well.

Acupuncture, TCM teachings on spirituality and mindfulness and Chinese herbs have all helped me re-gain my balance, strengthen my sense of resiliency and to re-discover my smile.

My psychology training has taught me that some trauma, like wounds, heal relatively quickly, some heal slowly but all influence life going forward.   Some traumas leave scars. These scars are not defects or deficiencies; rather they are markers of life experience that one has survived.

I am a survivor; I am grateful for the “light that still shines on me” – as well as within me.



  1. Dr. Landon Agoado / Dr. Kirk Whitten, Care Wellness Center
  2. Google/ WebMD