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Generalized Anxiety: How to Treat It?

  • anonymous Asks ...

    Do you recommend trying acupuncture or acupressure for a person with GAD?

  • Dr. Richard Schultz Says ...
    Dr. Richard Schultz

    Hello, and thank you for writing.

    There are indeed a few empirical studies which have shown some effectiveness using acupuncture or acupressure to treat a variety of anxiety conditions, including Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), a syndrome marked primarily by excessive, uncontrollable worry, typically about many aspects of one's life.

    The studies I have seen on such treatments have typically been somewhat flawed due to lack of double blind conditions, appropriate control groups, and other methodological flaws.  However, it is very likely that a great many treatments and activities, especially those that involve taking time out from life to help one's self, and to improve one's sense of well-being, will certainly not worsen the condition, and may be helpful.  These may include exercise, massage therapy, meditation, etc.

    That said, and speaking from many years of training and experience in treating anxiety as a clinical psychologist, neither acupuncture nor acupressure would be considered the recommended "first stop" on a path of treatment for GAD.  The overwhelming majority of research has identified cognitive-behavioral therapy to be the single most effective treatment for this condition, combined with progressive muscle relaxation and mindfulness training.  This form of treatment is best sought from a CBT specialist, and these are usually psychologists (possessing a doctorate degree, such as a Ph.D. or a Psy.D.).  The reason why this form of treatment is particularly effective is because it actively teaches the patient tools and techniques for coping with recurrent symptoms.  It is not the service or function performed by the provider (or a pill, for that matter) that ends up comprising the enduring effectiveness of CBT, and it's benefits with regard to relapse prevention, but the body of knowledge and new skill that the patient takes with them even after treatment has been discontinued.

    So, if you have not already done so, I would strongly recommend that you try CBT for GAD.  On some occasions, medication can be of assistance in the early phases of treatment, especially when symptoms are severe.  Once you have undergone such treatment, you will be in the best position to evaluate whether alternative therapies would be useful or necessary. 

    It is interesting to note that I have known individuals who want to BEGIN with alternative therapies, and I find that this phenomena is usually meaningful in regard to the person's anxiety.  For example, one woman had asked me about hypnosis for her anxiety (again, not much support for it) because she was fearful of having to "open up a can of worms" in therapy and "talk about [her] family."  Well, for better or worse, we are all "cans of worms," and if we avoid "opening" ourselves, our symptoms will only become worse.

    Thank you again for writing and I hope you found this reply useful.  If you need assistance in identifying a provider of CBT, let me know and I will be glad to assist you. You can also learn more about CBT for anxiety from my blog, which is www.mindset.mobi.


    Richard E. Schultz, Ph.D.


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