Tag

depression

Counseling/Therapy: So Many Types and Approaches…Which One Should I Choose?

By | NESCA Notes 2021

By Dot Lucci, M.Ed., CAGS
Director of Consultation and Psychoeducational Services, NESCA

Many adults, teens and children struggle with a myriad of challenges from everyday stressors, feelings of worthlessness and insecurities to official diagnoses of anxiety, depression, PTSD, eating disorders, OCD, addiction, and more. Deciding how to grow and change and alleviate the pain and suffering can be daunting. There are so many different ways to address psychological pain. Psychological, medical, behavioral, psychopharmacological, complementary (e.g., acupuncture), and educational treatments, among others, are possible choices and can assist in lessening an individual’s anguish. How do I decide which one(s) to try? Usually, treatment involves more than one of these, so the decisions may not be as difficult as you think. The first step is recognizing that you, your child, your marriage or family needs help and taking a step to get help.

Psychological treatments include many options: psychotherapy (i.e., “talk therapy or insight-based therapy”), psychoeducational counseling, biofeedback, social training, behavior therapy, mindfulness, stress management, anger management and so many more. Therapy can be individual, group, family or couples work, and there is no single approach that works for everyone. It often depends on the referral question and complaint. Counseling is typically provided by a psychologist, social worker, mental health counselor, marriage and family counselor, expressive therapist, psychiatrist and/or psychiatric nurse. Many factors go into making psychological treatment decisions (i.e., referring question/complaint, cost, location, approach, etc.). When it comes to therapy, it is most important to have “goodness of fit” between the clinician and the client. The client needs to have a connection with and feel valued, supported and understood by their practitioner. This allows whatever treatment approach or method to be more readily accepted by the client.

Reviewing the differences between treatment approaches may help with the decision-making process beyond “the goodness of fit.” Psychotherapy involves talking with a clinician to address emotional, psychological and behavioral challenges that can be both conscious and unconscious. The client’s past experiences, perceptions and history may play an important role in psychotherapy. The client “tells a story” that helps the clinician understand their life experiences through their eyes, therefore allowing treatment to be tailored to that client’s personal experience. By working through one’s thoughts, past experiences and stressors with a caring clinician, the client is able to gain insight and perspective, reduce symptoms, change behavior, learn strategies to lighten the load and improve quality of life. Often psychotherapy is long-term and involves good communication/language skills as well as higher level of thinking, often abstractly, and insight capacity.

Psychoeducational treatment is somewhat different than psychotherapy. Education is central to treatment and is a more directive approach. It can have very specific goals and may be short-term. The past is not actively addressed; rather, the purpose is to teach the client to acknowledge, accept and understand their disability and/or mental health condition and provide ways to support growth, change and meet goals. Psychoeducational treatment can be provided to individuals, groups, families, couples, employers and others and may include reading informational text, video analysis, homework, data collection, biofeedback, journal writing and more.

Some of the goals of both treatment approaches may be to:

  • connect how thoughts, feelings and behavior are intertwined;
  • improve coping and problem-solving skills to better deal with life’s stressors;
  • increase positive self-regard; and
  • recognize and better deal with strong emotions.

Many clinicians have training in specific techniques and some use a combination of approaches and philosophies. Psychotherapy typically falls into broad categories: Psychoanalysis and psychodynamic, Behavior Therapy, Cognitive Therapy, Humanistic Therapy and Integrative or Holistic Therapy.  Sometimes a specific approach may be the best method of choice given a specific condition or specific goal of the client. Some techniques have been researched on large samples of people and proven to yield positive results with certain diagnoses; while others are newer, less researched (yet are still effective).

In determining what technique is most appropriate, consider the age, diagnosis, goal of treatment, efficacy of the treatment, as well as the personality, cognitive and language capacity, cultural/family background, location, cost, etc. Many treatment approaches share common techniques, but some techniques are better suited with certain conditions/diagnoses. There are upwards of 100 different types of psychotherapeutic approaches, so knowing which one works with what conditions, resonates with you as the client and can meet the needs/goals.

Another option is online treatment. In recent years, many in-person practices and newer standalone online treatment options have emerged. Often these are for mild depression and anxiety. As you search out any treatment, ask for references and reviews and assess treatment efficacy. Some online sites include Talkspace, TeenCounsleing and more. There are also online apps to help with stress management, anxiety, depression and more, such as Moodfit, HeadSpace for Kids, MindShift, Inner Balance, and so many more. Needless to say, online therapy and apps are not the same as in-person therapy but may augment and be helpful in some situations.

Many clients at NESCA present with learning differences, anxiety, OCD, depression, trauma, addiction, ASD, and more. The following partial list includes just some of the treatment approaches recommended by many of NESCA’s neuropsychologists. At NESCA, we currently offer a psychoeducational approach to psychological treatment and short-term pandemic related issues of anxiety and depression. If interested in learning more, please visit: https://nesca-newton.com/integrativetherapeutic/.

  • Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)
  • Attachment-based Therapy
  • Animal-assisted Therapy
  • Bibliotherapy
  • Biofeedback
  • Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT)
  • Dialectic Behavior Therapy (DBT)
  • Exposure & Response Prevention (ERP) Therapy
  • Expressive Therapy (art, music, drama, etc.)
  • Family Systems Therapy
  • Hypnotherapy
  • Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT)
  • Motivational Interviewing
  • Narrative Therapy
  • Positive Psychology
  • Parent-Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT)
  • Play Therapy
  • Psychoeducational Counseling
  • Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Additional information about treatment approaches can be found at: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/types-of-therapy.

https://www.nami.org/learn-more/treatment/psychotherapy

https://apa.org/topics/psychotehrpay/approaches

https://talkspace.com/blog/different-types-therapy-psychotherapy-best/

https://verywellmind.com

 

About the Author

NESCA’s Director of Consultation and Psychoeducational Services Dot Lucci has been active in the fields of education, psychology, research and academia for over 30 years. She is a national consultant and speaker on program design and the inclusion of children and adolescents with special needs, especially those diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Prior to joining NESCA, Ms. Lucci was the Principal of the Partners Program/EDCO Collaborative and previously the Program Director and Director of Consultation at MGH/Aspire for 13 years, where she built child, teen and young adult programs and established the 3-Ss (self-awareness, social competency and stress management) as the programming backbone. She also served as director of the Autism Support Center. Ms. Lucci was previously an elementary classroom teacher, special educator, researcher, school psychologist, college professor and director of public schools, a private special education school and an education collaborative.

Ms. Lucci directs NESCA’s consultation services to public and private schools, colleges and universities, businesses and community agencies. She also provides psychoeducational counseling directly to students and parents. Ms. Lucci’s clinical interests include mind-body practices, positive psychology, and the use of technology and biofeedback devices in the instruction of social and emotional learning, especially as they apply to neurodiverse individuals.

 

To book a consultation with Ms. Lucci or one of our many expert neuropsychologists, complete NESCA’s online intake form. Indicate whether you are seeking an “evaluation” or “consultation” and your preferred clinician/consultant in the referral line.

 

Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton, Massachusetts, Plainville, Massachusetts, and Londonderry, New Hampshire, serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

 

Appreciating and Responding to The New York Times article, For Some Teens, It’s Been a Year of Anxiety and Trips to the E.R. by Benedict Carey

By | NESCA Notes 2021

By: Sophie Bellenis, OTD, OTR/L
Occupational Therapist; Real-life Skills Program Manager and Coach, NESCA

As an occupational therapist working almost exclusively with teenagers and young adults over the past year, the title of Benedict Carey’s article jumped out at me like a tired and worn flag, waving frantically for acknowledgement. Our teens are anxious, tired, and dealing with living through the proverbial “unprecedented times” without the developmental capabilities needed to quickly adapt in this era of remote learning, remote social interaction, and remote extracurriculars. Remote everything!

It is important for me to note that I really enjoy working with teenagers. I find myself in constant awe of their resiliency, their willingness to confront hard truths that many of us shy away from, and their ability to push forward despite having huge questions about who they truly are. All of these things are tough and require immense emotional fortitude, but this year many of these challenges feel impossible.

Carey has taken the time to gather perspectives from multiple stakeholders. He provides a platform for parents, educators, professors, therapists, pediatricians, and directors of hospital programs to explain the struggles of supporting these kids without adequate resources. Parents describe the fear of supporting their children as they struggle with mental health. Doctors discuss the frustration of having inadequate resources and support in emergency rooms around the country. Carey highlights that, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the proportion of adolescent emergency admissions for mental problems, like panic and anxiety, is up 31 percent. Some of my clients add to this statistic and are navigating their own path through chaotic hospitalizations and overwhelmed support systems. Carey’s article is absolutely worth taking the time to read, if only to see the ubiquity of these issues and how they are happening all around our country. Simply put, we have a clear problem. Less clear, is the solution.

When meeting with adolescents and young adults themselves, I hear three main fears popping up week after week. Here are a few thoughts and suggestions on how to support these specific fears or feelings.

  1. “I can’t get this done, (and therefore) I am going to completely ruin my future.”

When looking at future success through a transition lens, we consider the areas of independent living, community participation, post-secondary education, and employment. In the school setting, most students’ curricula are focused solely on academic success. Sometimes, we do a poor job of teaching students about multiple intelligences or emphasizing the importance of hard work. While grades are important, they are not everything, and while standardized testing is returning to students’ schedules, they should not serve as students’ measure of self-worth. We know this, but do they? We have to teach our children that if they are hardworking, kind, and truly doing their best, the threat of “ruining their future” is much less likely than they fear. Let’s highlight the undeniably true narrative that everyone’s path can look different and still lead to success.

  1. “I’m so tired. All of the time.”

Many of my clients tell me they are not sleeping. If they are sleeping, they fall asleep late with a phone in their hand, constantly refreshing apps or trying to maintain communication with their peers. In our current remote world, the phone can feel like a lifeline. Sleep is a foundational need for mental and physical health. Students who are 15 or 16 years old often have a limited understanding of how holistic the effects of decreased sleep can be. Sleep is not their priority. Recently, I have seen parents disable the internet or have their teenagers put their phones into a lockbox from midnight until 6:00am. This new boundary is often met with anger or frustration at the beginning, but then these students start to sleep. They are better able to manage their emotions. They have more energy. They start to see the benefits despite their skepticism. If a tech break doesn’t feel quite right for your family, it is still worth opening up a conversation about the need for strong sleep hygiene and modeling a routine that promotes calming down by limiting screens before bed, which can have hugely positive effects.

  1. “This is never going to end.”

In many ways, a year feels much longer to a 17 year-old than it does to an older adult. Working at a job for four years never feels as long or as formative as the four years of high school. And objectively, a year to a 17 year-old is over five percent of their life, while it’s only two percent of 50 year old’s life. Let’s acknowledge that. Let’s verbalize the fact that teenage years are also full of milestones that have been constantly cancelled or changed to fit social distancing recommendations and safety precautions. There is a sense of loss and grief surrounding many events that these students have been looking forward to since elementary school. Encourage students to do their own research into what the next six months may look like as we start to open back up. Help them to understand the vaccine rollout and the pitfalls and successes that we have had as a nation tackling a novel disease.

Adolescent mental health is going to be an on-going challenge that we tackle as a community. As we slowly forge out of isolation, let’s center our conversations around the mental health of our teens and honestly acknowledge the unique position that they have found themselves in.

References

Carey, B. (2021, February 23). For some teens, it’s been a year of anxiety and trips to the e.r. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/23/health/coronavirus-mental-health-teens.html

Leeb, R.T., Radhakrishnan, L., Martinez, P., Njaj, R., Holland, K.M. (2020, October 27). Mental health-related emergency department visits among children aged <18 during the covid-19 pandemic. MMWR Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report 2020:1675-1680. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm6945a3

 

About the Author

Sophie Bellenis is a Licensed Occupational Therapist in Massachusetts, specializing in educational OT and functional life skills development. Bellenis joined NESCA in the fall of 2017 to offer community-based skills coaching services as a part of the Real-life Skills Program within NESCA’s Transition Services team. Bellenis graduated from the MGH Institute of Health Professions with a Doctorate in Occupational Therapy, with a focus on pediatrics and international program evaluation. She is a member of the American Occupational Therapy Association, as well as the World Federation of Occupational Therapists. Having spent years delivering direct services at the elementary, middle school and high school levels, Bellenis has extensive background with school-based occupational therapy services.  She believes that individual sensory needs and visual skills must be taken into account to create comprehensive educational programming.

 

To book an appointment or to learn more about NESCA’s Occupational Therapy Services, please fill out our online Intake Form, email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

 

Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton, Massachusetts, Plainville, Massachusetts, and Londonderry, New Hampshire, serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

 

The Uncertainty, Stress and Anxiety About What School Will Look Like

By | NESCA Notes 2020

*This blog post was originally published prior to the start of in-person school last fall for some. While many students have returned to their school buildings, many others are just now returning or will be in the coming weeks. 

By: Cynthia Hess, PsyD
Pediatric Neuropsychologist Fellow and Therapist

Much of adjusting to the world in the midst of a global pandemic has been learning to live with nearly constant uncertainty. Undoubtedly, this pandemic and ensuing uncertainty has caused significant stress for youth and their families. The experience of persistent stress can result in increased vulnerability to anxiety and depression. Symptoms may become magnified in those who already faced mental health challenges. There is little doubt that there will be increases in mental and behavior health problems for children and families both in anticipating the re-opening of schools, and when schools reopen their physical buildings.

We all wonder what school will look like in the fall. The anticipation of returning to school can be especially stressful, and will likely be so for most youth. Given that students will not have been in schools with their peers for several months, it can be anticipated that they might feel a heighted sense of insecurity and uncertainty. Even in “normal times,” returning to the complex social and educational environment of school can be worrisome for many children and adolescents.

Each individual child will have had their own experiences while schools were closed. Some children and/or staff members may have been impacted by COVID-19 and some families and/or staff may be experiencing financial hardship due to parental unemployment or loss of household income. It is important to realize that regardless of their experience, each individual will have a unique response. It is helpful to recognize the signs of stress and help children learn positive ways of coping with it.

Signs of stress in preschool children include, but are not limited to, anger, nervousness, eating and sleeping problems (including nightmares), fear of being alone, irritability and uncontrollable crying.

In elementary age children, stress may manifest as increased complaining of headaches and stomachaches, feeling insecure, reduced appetite and difficulty sleeping, withdrawal and worrying about the future.

Signs of stress in pre-teens and teens may include anger, disillusionment, distrust of the world, low self-esteem, stomachaches and headaches, panic attacks and rebellious behavior.

As each person works through this very challenging situation, it is more important than ever to adopt a position of acceptance, as we never truly know what another person is experiencing or has experienced. The following are offered as suggestions on how to help children and teens cope with stress.

  • Help them identify how they are feeling and acknowledge and validate those feelings.
  • Encourage them to talk about what is bothering them.
  • Share strategies you use to cope with stress.
  • Talk openly and, as appropriate, share stories about stress in your day.
  • Find a physical activity and/or hobby that they enjoy and encourage them to participate.
  • Encourage them to eat healthy foods and emphasize the importance of a healthy lifestyle, especially as it relates to stress.
  • Make sure they get plenty of sleep.
  • Set clear expectations, without being overly rigid, and allow for “down” time.
  • Spend time outdoors, encourage them to do something they love – read a book, ride their bike, bake, etc.
  • Learn and teach your children relaxation skills, such as breathing exercises, muscle relaxation exercises, meditating, yoga, drawing or writing.

Our world will have changed by the time children re-enter their classrooms. No matter what happens in the fall, when it is time for school to start, it will inevitably be stressful. Learning to cope with and manage stress is important for physical and emotional health. However, if you are concerned about your child or are struggling yourself, seek help and support for yourself, your child or anyone in your family who is struggling.

Below are some helpful resources:

https://www.apa.org/topics/children-teens-stress

https://nesca-newton.com/helping-your-anxious-child-through-covid-19/

https://childmind.org/article/how-to-ask-what-kids-are-feeling-during-stressful-times/

https://healthy.kaiserpermanente.org/health-wellness/health-encyclopedia/he.stress-in-children-and-teens.ug1832

 

About the Author

Dr. Cynthia Hess recently graduated from Rivier University with a PsyD in Counseling and School Psychology. Previously, she earned an M.A. from Antioch New England in Applied Psychology. She also worked as an elementary school counselor and school psychologist for 15 years before embarking on her doctorate. During her doctorate, she did her pre-doctoral internship with RIT in Rochester, N.Y. where she worked with youth ages 5-17 who had experienced complex developmental trauma. Dr. Hess’s first post-doctoral fellowship was with The Counseling Center of New England where she provided psychotherapy and family therapy to children ages 5-18, their families and young adults. She also trained part-time with a pediatric neuropsychologist conducting neuropsychological evaluations. Currently, Dr. Hess is a second-year post-doctoral fellow in pediatric neuropsychological assessment, working with NESCA Londonderry’s Dr. Angela Currie.

 

To schedule an appointment with one of NESCA’s expert neuropsychologists, please complete our online intake form

 

Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton and Plainville, Massachusetts, and Londonderry, New Hampshire, serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

 

School Stressors in a Pandemic

By | NESCA Notes 2021

By: Amity Kulis, PsyD
Pediatric Neuropsychologist, NESCA

A recent article published by NBC News highlights the multiple stressors facing school-aged children and their families during this pandemic, with a more specific focus on the differing stress levels between remote and in-person learners. It is becoming clearer that during this time, learners and their families are facing higher rates of depression and anxiety, and there are concerns that students who are attending school remotely are learning less, particularly children with disabilities and those from low-income families.

A recent study from NBC News and Challenge Success, a nonprofit affiliated with Stanford Graduate School of Education, compared the differences between students who have been learning exclusively online and those who have been able to attend at least partially in-person. The study involved more than 10,000 students in 12 U.S. high schools who completed a self-questionnaire provided by the research study. The high schools were reported to come from multiple locations around the country (Arizona, Texas, New York and Midwest) and were descried as “demographically similar to the nation in terms of student family income,” though this was not true of being matched for race and likely other factors not discussed in the article. This also does not appear to be a peer-reviewed study, which suggests limitations to predictive power of the outcomes. Nevertheless, findings suggested that students who spent time in the classroom self-reported lower rates of stress and worry than students who were fully remote. An alarming finding was that half of all students, regardless of how they were attending school at the time of the study, reported they were more stressed by school than they had been during the previous year. Students reported exhaustion, headaches, insomnia or other stress-related ailments at high levels – regardless of whether they were in-person or not – with the highest rates being for remote learners: 84 percent fully remote learners; 82 percent hybrid students; and 78 percent fully in-person.

The article suggested that additional stressors found for remote students included on average more homework and that these remote students were also less likely to feel they had an adult they could go to with a personal problem. Anecdotally, one teacher commented, “In the room, you get more eye contact.” The teacher added, “On the screen, oftentimes the kid could be sitting in front of a window. You can’t see them, so it’s hard to make sure they’re attentive.”

While there are limitations to this study, it is clear that students and their families are currently experiencing a high level of stress. Many schools have been aware of this problem and have taken steps to embed extra programming into their students’ weeks. We need to continue to prioritize community connection and wellness for students attending school in-person and online. It is important to ensure that students know who they can reach out to and how, particularly those learners who are not stepping foot into a school building this year. It is also important to build in opportunities for stress management, as well as instruction in healthy habits, such as exercise, sleep hygiene and healthy eating. Clearly both children and their caregivers could benefit from this type of support right now. If you or a loved one is experiencing heightened emotional stress, it is important to reach out for help. This can include alerting your child’s school to their increasing stress, as well as bringing concerns to your child’s doctor. A referral to a psychologist or licensed mental health professional may be in order to help you and your child through this difficult time.

Source: Remote Students Are More Stressed Than Their Peers In The Classroom, Study Shows by Erin Einhorn, 2/15/2021 published by NBC News.

 

About the Author
Dr. Amity Kulis joined NESCA in 2012 after earning her doctoral degree in clinical psychology from the Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology, with a concentration in Children, Adolescents and Families (CAF). She completed post-doctoral training in pediatric neuropsychology with an emphasis on treating children with developmental, intellectual, learning and executive functioning challenges. She also has extensive training psychological (projective) testing and has conducted individual and group therapies for children of all ages. Before joining NESCA, Dr. Kulis worked in private practices, clinics, and schools, conducting comprehensive assessments on children ranging from toddlers through young adults. In addition, Dr. Kulis has had the opportunity to consult with various school systems, conducting observations of programs, and providing in-service trainings for staff. Dr. Kulis currently conducts neuropsychological and psychological (projective) assessments for school-aged children through young adulthood. She regularly participates in transition assessments (focusing on the needs of adolescents as they emerge into adulthood) and has a special interest in working with complex learners that may also struggle with emotional challenges and psychiatric conditions. In addition to administering comprehensive and data-driven evaluations, Dr. Kulis regularly conducts school-based observations and participates in school meetings to help share her findings and consultation with a student’s TEAM.

 

To book an evaluation with Dr. Kulis or one of our many other expert neuropsychologists and transition specialists, complete NESCA’s online intake form.

 

Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton, Massachusetts, and Londonderry, New Hampshire, serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

 

 

How to Not Worry Alone: Signs Your Teen May Need More Help

By | NESCA Notes 2021

By: Moira Creedon, Ph.D. 
Pediatric Neuropsychologist, NESCA

As we reach nearly a year since children and teens in Massachusetts were sent home from school, many of us are experiencing the sadness and disappointment that comes from chronic stress. Combined with colder weather keeping us indoors and more limited daylight, it’s certainly harder for us to stay positive and upbeat. Children and teens have experienced tremendous and immeasurable loss over the last year – loss of normalcy, of freedom, of rites of passage like graduations, of competition and sport, of friendships, to name a few. Some have lost loved ones to illness and death, and others to separation and distance. They have experienced large doses of social deprivation and far less interaction with the world. And, while most children and teens will weather this storm, there are some whose resilience is very much at risk.

The evidence strongly suggests that there are increased rates of depression, anxiety, substance use and suicidal ideation in children and teens. Some changes in your child or teen since the “good old days” pre-pandemic are expected, just as ebbs and flows in our mood throughout the day or week are. So how is one to know when the situation is going from “normal adjustment” to the completely abnormal pandemic to a more dire and urgent need for help?  Here are few signs to keep alert to:

  • If you see your child withdrawing from activities they enjoy – even those around the house – pay attention. This might mean that a teen has stopped showing interest in baking projects, in connecting with friends over gaming, in watching movies with the family, etc. The shift from limited social interactions to total isolation is important.
  • If you see your child persistently struggling with daily living activities that used to be somewhat easy, keep a close eye on sleep and hygiene. Depressed children and teens tend to sleep much more or even much less than their peers with a sense of being tired and lethargic. Be alert for newer changes in hygiene and bathing that may have not been an issue before.
  • If you are noticing a persistent low or sad mood, pay attention to how your child talks about the future. A sense of hopelessness or difficulty articulating anything they look forward to about the future (for a family trip, for a chance to see a friend again, for a new season of a favorite show) is a sign that emotional health is precarious.
  • If you notice behavioral outbursts that happen more often and seem to grow more intense, your child or teen may be showing the irritability and anger that is common in depression in children and teens.
  • If your child had signs of anxiety or depression before the pandemic, the increased stress is likely to hit harder.

If a child or teen’s low mood seems to be persistent (around all the time) and pervasive (no matter what they are doing), it’s time to reach out for help. If you have noticed these struggles, who do you call?

  • Start with your child’s pediatrician. Many clinics have social workers on staff who can help to locate service agencies in your area. You can call and request a list of referral agencies or therapists. It may also help to ensure that there are not physical illnesses that are underlying the emotional problem.
  • Contact your child’s school. It’s worthwhile to check out how your child’s teacher perceives their engagement with school since a decline in academic functioning and even motivation to do any school work can be an important sign of a problem. Contact the guidance counselor, school psychologist, or social worker to ask for support. If the staff are unable to arrange therapy at school, they can provide names of therapists in the community.
  • Contact your insurance company either by calling or reviewing information on their website. Most providers are using telehealth platforms to interact with clients. Insurance companies regularly contact providers who are paneled to take insurance to see if they are accepting new patients for telehealth.
  • Ask friends or family for any providers they may have worked with in the past.

Asking for help for your struggling child or teen is a brave and powerful message. It shows your child that you do not ever need to worry alone.

 

For additional resources, please see:

The American Psychological Association at https://www.apa.org/monitor/2020/06/covid-suicide.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/stress-coping/young-adults.html

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK.

 

About the Author

Dr. Creedon has expertise in evaluating children and teens with a variety of presenting issues. She is interested in uncovering an individual’s unique pattern of strengths and weaknesses to best formulate a plan for intervention and success. With experiences providing therapy and assessments, Dr. Creedon bridges the gap between testing data and therapeutic services to develop a clear roadmap for change and deeper of understanding of individual needs.

 

If you are interested in booking an evaluation with Dr. Creedon or another NESCA neuropsychologist, please fill out and submit our online intake form

 

Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton and Plainville, Massachusetts, and Londonderry, New Hampshire, serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

The Holiday Blues Coupled with Covid

By | NESCA Notes 2020

By: Angela Currie, Ph.D.
Pediatric Neuropsychologist, NESCA
Director of Training and New Hampshire Operations

The holidays can be a time of great joy, but they can also be a time of great stress. Celebrations and merriment can be contrasted with pressure to amaze, long to-do lists, financial constraints or reminders of those we have lost. For many, it is a time of mixed emotions or strong internal conflict about why they cannot feel happy during a season that practically dictates it.

Holiday blues have been felt my many people for a long time, but now during a global pandemic, those feelings may be amplified and more prevalent than previous years. Families are trying to provide children with a positive holiday experience during a time of high stress and significant restriction. Family gatherings and holiday traditions are being cancelled, and many families are mourning the loss of loved ones. Adults are not the only ones feeling increased stress as we enter the holiday season. Children likely feel excited about the holiday but sad about not seeing family, not having holiday parties in school, and not being able to attend their traditional holiday events. This holiday season is simply different in ways that can bring great strain.

So, what can we do as adults to emotionally support children this holiday season? Do we allow them to observe our stress or do we keep it to ourselves in an effort to provide them with the happy holiday season that they deserve?

In June 2018, I wrote a blog post titled: “The Struggle is Not only Real, It is Necessary,” which discusses the importance of embracing uncomfortable, unwanted emotions as being necessary for personal growth and resiliency. By acknowledging, accepting and using unwanted feelings in a functional manner, we teach children to be competent and confident in their ability to navigate a stressful world. Of course, when I wrote the article, I could not have imagined the extent or duration of stress or discomfort that we would be facing in 2020. But does that change anything?

To put it simply, no, not really. Entering into the holidays with the expectation that we can protect our children from life’s stress is unrealistic. Attempting to do so will only add pressure while ignoring the mixed emotions that children are likely feeling as well. During this emotionally high-stakes time, acceptance of the struggles we face is even more critical. Adults and children both need “permission” to feel sad, frustrated, lonely or scared while also still allowing themselves to feel excited, thankful, and, yes, even joyful.

Here are some suggestions for how to help your family navigate the holiday blues this unique holiday season:

  • Talk about your feelings – wanted and unwanted ones – throughout the day, modeling and encouraging regular emotional discourse (e.g. “I love giving gifts, but getting all the shopping done is kind of stressful.”).
  • Help children label and interpret the emotions they may be having, as they may not have the right words or language for expressing them (e.g. “It sounds like you’re really disappointed we can’t go to Grandma’s house.”).
  • Be careful to not accidentally dismiss children’s feelings (e.g. “No need to be sad; we will find another fun way to celebrate.”), instead reflecting their emotion (e.g. “I know you’re sad that we can’t have a holiday party; I am, too.”).
  • Normalize the experience of mixed emotions (e.g. It’s okay to be excited for children while also feeling sad that we won’t see our family.).
  • Find new, safe holiday activities or events (e.g. holiday light drive, virtual gift exchange, etc.) and adapt previous traditions when able (e.g. virtual family gatherings).
  • Don’t romanticize the traditions that were lost this year (e.g. avoid such things as, “Our parties were always the most magical part of the holiday.”).
  • Help children understand new holiday plans as an opportunity to “celebrate” or “experience” the holiday, but be careful to not impose emotional expectations (e.g. “Enjoy the holidays!”) that can add pressure.
  • Reassure children that these changes are temporary, and traditions and visits will continue when it is safe to do so.

 

About the Author

Dr. Angela Currie is a pediatric neuropsychologist at NESCA. She conducts neuropsychological and psychological evaluations out of our Londonderry, NH office. She specializes in the evaluation of anxious children and teens, working to tease apart the various factors lending to their stress, such as underlying learning, attentional, or emotional challenges. She particularly enjoys working with the seemingly “unmotivated” child, as well as children who have “flown under the radar” for years due to their desire to succeed.

 

To book an evaluation with Dr. Currie or one of our many other expert neuropsychologists, complete NESCA’s online intake form. Indicate whether you are seeking an “evaluation” or “consultation” and your preferred clinician in the referral line.

 

Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Londonderry, NH, Plainville, MA, and Newton, MA serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call (603) 818-8526.

“Doomscrolling” and Creating Space for Gratitude

By | NESCA Notes 2020

By: Cynthia Hess, PsyD
Pediatric Neuropsychologist Fellow and Therapist

A recent article in the New York Times (July 15, 2020) discusses a newly coined term for a coping strategy that has become pervasive amidst all the uncertainty: “Doomscrolling.” In the article, doomscrolling is defined as, “…the experience of sinking into emotional quicksand while bingeing on doom-and-gloom news.” It has become so common, it has a name.

We are collectively experiencing a great deal of anticipatory anxiety, which occurs when we feel anxious or stressed about an event that will happen in the future. We know there will be an event, but we do not know when or what that event will be. For those who participate in doomscrolling, perhaps it is an effort to find a sense of certainty. If we know what is coming next, it helps us feel more in control. However, while doomscrolling may provide a short-term sense of control, like many maladaptive ways of coping, it will eventually take a toll on our mental and physical well-being. Several wonderful suggestions are offered in the article and a follow-up piece to deal with doomscrolling. Another positive strategy for coping with anxiety and stress is practicing gratitude.

According to the National Institutes of Health, early research suggests that a daily habit of practicing gratitude may improve emotional and physical health. Practicing gratitude reduces stress and anxiety by regulating stress hormones in the brain. It also enhances the production of dopamine and serotonin, two neurotransmitters responsible for our emotions and sense of well-being. Practicing gratitude can be as simple as taking a moment to appreciate a good cup of coffee or a refreshing breeze on a hot day. There are many ways to create space for gratitude:

  • Take a few moments each day to write down as many things as you can that you are grateful for
  • Try to notice positive moments as they are happening
  • Compliment yourself each day and say it out loud
  • Keep a gratitude journal that includes: Compliments that you give yourself, current challenges and what you are learning, people you are grateful for, and significant assets of your life right now.
  • Start a gratitude jar with your family where each person writes one thing they are grateful for that day on a slip of paper and adds it to the jar. The notes can be read aloud at the start of each new week.

For further reading check out these articles:

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/15/technology/personaltech/youre-doomscrolling-again-heres-how-to-snap-out-of-it.html

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/16/technology/coronavirus-doomscrolling.html?searchResultPosition=2

https://positivepsychology.com/neuroscience-of-gratitude.

 

About the Author

Dr. Cynthia Hess recently graduated from Rivier University with a PsyD in Counseling and School Psychology. Previously, she earned an M.A. from Antioch New England in Applied Psychology. She also worked as an elementary school counselor and school psychologist for 15 years before embarking on her doctorate. During her doctorate, she did her pre-doctoral internship with RIT in Rochester, N.Y. where she worked with youth ages 5-17 who had experienced complex developmental trauma. Dr. Hess’s first post-doctoral fellowship was with The Counseling Center of New England where she provided psychotherapy and family therapy to children ages 5-18, their families and young adults. She also trained part-time with a pediatric neuropsychologist conducting neuropsychological evaluations. Currently, Dr. Hess is a second-year post-doctoral fellow in pediatric neuropsychological assessment, working with NESCA Londonderry’s Dr. Angela Currie.

 

To schedule an appointment with one of NESCA’s expert neuropsychologists, please complete our online intake form

 

Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton and Plainville, Massachusetts, and Londonderry, New Hampshire, serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

 

How to Talk to Your Kids about Racial Inequality and Current Events

By | NESCA Notes 2020

By: Cynthia Hess, PsyD
Pediatric Neuropsychologist Fellow and Therapist

It is old news that parents and children have been experiencing an increased sense of uncertainty and vulnerability due to COVID-19. That vulnerability may be exacerbated by the news of violent protests that were sparked by anger over police brutality against black men and women. News of widespread violence around the country spread rapidly in a country already stressed to its capacity in dealing with a global pandemic and the resulting economic hardship. In the aftermath of these recent tragedies, parents should be aware that children may be experiencing collateral consequences, such as fear, anxiety and confusion. Rhea Boyd, MD, MPH, stated, “Whether from social media accounts, conversations with peers or caregivers, overheard conversations, or the distress they witness in the faces of those they love, children know what is going on. And without the guidance and validation of their caregivers, they may be navigating their feelings alone.” So, what do we do?

First, take care of yourself. Now is a good time to practice self-compassion and selfcare. The stress of watching traumatic events on television and smartphones “lingers within our bodies and minds,” states developmental pediatrician Dr. Jenny Radesky. Recognize that vicarious trauma is real, and even if you have not been directly affected, you may be experiencing heightened anxiety, difficulty sleeping, fatigue or increased irritability. Practice accepting your own feelings, instead of controlling them. Go for a walk, talk with a friend, practice relaxation techniques or do something you enjoy.

It is important to consider how we talk with children. While children from birth to age three do not understand what is happening, they can feel it through the reactions of the adults around them. You may notice that your young child has become more irritable, or perhaps crying more than usual. In addition to calming your child, limit the amount of time you spend accessing unsettling news reports in the presence of young children.

With elementary children, it is wise to begin your discussion with, “tell me what you know.” By elementary age, children have a good idea about what is happening. Asking children what they know and following up with any questions they might have will help you to provide age appropriate information. It is important to keep channels of communication open, because as time passes it is likely more questions will arise. Children may want to know that they are safe and, if they ask, provide reassurance. With that being said, limit their exposure to media, be it on television, tablet or smartphone. If they are accessing media, be aware of what they are watching and learning. Answer questions as appropriate and, as with all ages, validate their feelings and assure them that whatever they are feeling, it is okay.

It is probable that teenage youth have seen the images and been involved in learning about the events that precipitated the violence that unfolded. They may even be getting involved in activism by posting and re-posting social media messages. Teenagers often process events by talking with their peers, and it can, at times, be difficult to engage them in conversation. Approach the topic with your teen from a position of curiosity. What do they know? How do they know it? How do they feel about it? It is also a good time for you and your teen to become more educated about the history of racism in our country and how it has been perpetuated through generations of people. A broader societal context of racism will help youth have a better understanding of the anger seen in the demonstrations. A documentary called “13th,” about the 13th amendment, takes an in-depth look at the prison system in the United States and how it mirrors the nation’s history of racial inequality. It is both educational and provides a starting point for having conversations about race with your teen. Additionally, as much as possible, be aware of your teen’s online activity. There is a lot of misinformation and inflammatory rhetoric on social media, and teens need guidance on how to be thoughtful and responsible consumers of all types of media.

Given that the recent unrest was sparked by anger over police brutality against black people, it is important take this opportunity to have these conversations with children about race and racism. By age four, children have begun to internalize cultural attitudes and values, thus, it is not too early to introduce your child to the concepts of race and inequality. Books that include multi-racial characters are a good way to introduce children to people of color in a positive light. Common Sense Media has a list of books appropriate for kids of all ages beginning in infancy, and the link is provided below.

Experts stress that parents also need to give their children the broader societal context of racism to try to explain the rage of protestors filling the streets of cities across the nation. Doing so helps build empathy and teach perspective-taking, shifting the focus from the child’s specific fears. Helping children to view events from different perspectives provides understanding and promotes empathy. When your child sees something on television, YouTube or social media, employ a sense of curiosity. Ask them what they saw, how they felt about what they saw, and have them think about and share how they think different people involved in the situation felt. Dr. Radesky suggests, “Instead of focusing on questions the child may have about concrete things, ask them questions like ‘How do you think those people were feeling? Do you know why they were angry? What do you do when you feel like something is unfair?’” We all have our different perspectives regarding racism and the complex history of race in our country. Providing space for children to ask questions, discuss their feelings and process the world around them will help them cope with the myriad emotions that may arise due to current events and the sense of helplessness and fear they may be experiencing.

 

Some helpful resources:

https://www.pbs.org/parents/authors/jenny-radesky-md

https://www.commonsensemedia.org/lists/books-with-characters-of-color

https://www.commonsensemedia.org/blog/black-history-movies-that-tackle-racism

https://www.commonsensemedia.org/lists/movies-that-inspire-kids-to-change-the-world

https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/144/2/e20191765

https://raisingequity.org/

 

About the Author

Dr. Cynthia Hess recently graduated from Rivier University with a PsyD in Counseling and School Psychology. Previously, she earned an M.A. from Antioch New England in Applied Psychology. She also worked as an elementary school counselor and school psychologist for 15 years before embarking on her doctorate. During her doctorate, she did her pre-doctoral internship with RIT in Rochester, N.Y. where she worked with youth ages 5-17 who had experienced complex developmental trauma. Dr. Hess’s first post-doctoral fellowship was with The Counseling Center of New England where she provided psychotherapy and family therapy to children ages 5-18, their families and young adults. She also trained part-time with a pediatric neuropsychologist conducting neuropsychological evaluations. Currently, Dr. Hess is a second-year post-doctoral fellow in pediatric neuropsychological assessment, working with NESCA Londonderry’s Dr. Angela Currie.

 

To schedule an appointment with one of NESCA’s expert neuropsychologists, please complete our online intake form

 

Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton and Plainville, Massachusetts, and Londonderry, New Hampshire, serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

 

The Uncertainty, Stress and Anxiety About What School Will Look Like

By | NESCA Notes 2020

By: Cynthia Hess, PsyD
Pediatric Neuropsychologist Fellow and Therapist

Much of adjusting to the world in the midst of a global pandemic has been learning to live with nearly constant uncertainty. Undoubtedly, this pandemic and ensuing uncertainty has caused significant stress for youth and their families. The experience of persistent stress can result in increased vulnerability to anxiety and depression. Symptoms may become magnified in those who already faced mental health challenges. There is little doubt that there will be increases in mental and behavior health problems for children and families both in anticipating the re-opening of schools, and when schools reopen their physical buildings.

We all wonder what school will look like in the fall. The anticipation of returning to school can be especially stressful, and will likely be so for most youth. Given that students will not have been in schools with their peers for several months, it can be anticipated that they might feel a heighted sense of insecurity and uncertainty. Even in “normal times,” returning to the complex social and educational environment of school can be worrisome for many children and adolescents.

Each individual child will have had their own experiences while schools were closed. Some children and/or staff members may have been impacted by COVID-19 and some families and/or staff may be experiencing financial hardship due to parental unemployment or loss of household income. It is important to realize that regardless of their experience, each individual will have a unique response. It is helpful to recognize the signs of stress and help children learn positive ways of coping with it.

Signs of stress in preschool children include, but are not limited to, anger, nervousness, eating and sleeping problems (including nightmares), fear of being alone, irritability and uncontrollable crying.

In elementary age children, stress may manifest as increased complaining of headaches and stomachaches, feeling insecure, reduced appetite and difficulty sleeping, withdrawal and worrying about the future.

Signs of stress in pre-teens and teens may include anger, disillusionment, distrust of the world, low self-esteem, stomachaches and headaches, panic attacks and rebellious behavior.

As each person works through this very challenging situation, it is more important than ever to adopt a position of acceptance, as we never truly know what another person is experiencing or has experienced. The following are offered as suggestions on how to help children and teens cope with stress.

  • Help them identify how they are feeling and acknowledge and validate those feelings.
  • Encourage them to talk about what is bothering them.
  • Share strategies you use to cope with stress.
  • Talk openly and, as appropriate, share stories about stress in your day.
  • Find a physical activity and/or hobby that they enjoy and encourage them to participate.
  • Encourage them to eat healthy foods and emphasize the importance of a healthy lifestyle, especially as it relates to stress.
  • Make sure they get plenty of sleep.
  • Set clear expectations, without being overly rigid, and allow for “down” time.
  • Spend time outdoors, encourage them to do something they love – read a book, ride their bike, bake, etc.
  • Learn and teach your children relaxation skills, such as breathing exercises, muscle relaxation exercises, meditating, yoga, drawing or writing.

Our world will have changed by the time children re-enter their classrooms. No matter what happens in the fall, when it is time for school to start, it will inevitably be stressful. Learning to cope with and manage stress is important for physical and emotional health. However, if you are concerned about your child or are struggling yourself, seek help and support for yourself, your child or anyone in your family who is struggling.

Below are some helpful resources:

https://www.apa.org/topics/children-teens-stress

https://nesca-newton.com/helping-your-anxious-child-through-covid-19/

https://childmind.org/article/how-to-ask-what-kids-are-feeling-during-stressful-times/

https://healthy.kaiserpermanente.org/health-wellness/health-encyclopedia/he.stress-in-children-and-teens.ug1832

 

About the Author

Dr. Cynthia Hess recently graduated from Rivier University with a PsyD in Counseling and School Psychology. Previously, she earned an M.A. from Antioch New England in Applied Psychology. She also worked as an elementary school counselor and school psychologist for 15 years before embarking on her doctorate. During her doctorate, she did her pre-doctoral internship with RIT in Rochester, N.Y. where she worked with youth ages 5-17 who had experienced complex developmental trauma. Dr. Hess’s first post-doctoral fellowship was with The Counseling Center of New England where she provided psychotherapy and family therapy to children ages 5-18, their families and young adults. She also trained part-time with a pediatric neuropsychologist conducting neuropsychological evaluations. Currently, Dr. Hess is a second-year post-doctoral fellow in pediatric neuropsychological assessment, working with NESCA Londonderry’s Dr. Angela Currie.

 

To schedule an appointment with one of NESCA’s expert neuropsychologists, please complete our online intake form

 

Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton and Plainville, Massachusetts, and Londonderry, New Hampshire, serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

 

Acupuncture for the Treatment of Specific Conditions

By | NESCA Notes 2019

By: Meghan Meade, L.Ac, MAOM, MS PREP, CYT

Licensed Acupuncturist, NESCA

A Primer on Acupuncture

While the insertion of needles into the skin to provoke a healing response is a hallmark characteristic of acupuncture, the practice actually involves the potential use of a number of other tools and techniques, including cupping, magnets and other non-insertive tools, and moxibustion, the topical application of a heated herbal substance designed to improve circulation and reduce inflammation.

Chinese medicine approaches healing by seeking to restore balance in the body; in so doing, it evaluates the patient as a complex and ever-changing ecosystem, a composite of multiple interrelated and mutually interdependent systems. Though a patient may be seeking relief from anxiety, for example, acupuncture addresses the issue within the context of a wider landscape, as there are often other symptoms and imbalances accompanying a primary imbalance. To that end, treatments will, of course, take into account a patient’s reported symptoms, but they are rarely the main driver of an acupuncturist’s treatment decisions. Acupuncturists additionally rely on observation of patients’ mannerisms, the sound and qualities of their voices, how they carry themselves and perhaps most importantly – the use of palpation techniques to elicit feedback from the body that guide treatment decisions. What an acupuncturist feels in a patient’s pulse or palpates on a patient’s abdomen or acupuncture channels is immensely influential to the diagnostic and treatment processes.

Implicit in this process is the notion that despite the fact that a patient may be seeking relief from a particular condition, that patient is not the same person he is today as he was yesterday, nor the same as he will be tomorrow. The treatment aims to address the nuances of a patient’s presentation within the present moment, guided by the knowledge of the patient’s health history and health objectives for the future.

Put into a biological context, we humans are continually and necessarily affected by our innate biochemistry as well as by our surroundings – both our mental-emotional and physical environments. Chinese medicine does not reduce a condition down to its primary symptoms, but rather considers all symptoms that are overtly or seemingly less-directly related. If the immune system is affected by a virus, for example, because of its cross-talk with the nervous and endocrine systems, all systems will be influenced in some way, shape or form. Though the rest of this article will discuss the ways in which acupuncture can impact specific conditions that commonly affect the pediatric population, it is predicated on this concept of mutual inter-relatedness and interdependence of the body’s systems.

Acupuncture’s Impact on Mental and Emotional Conditions

The incidence of anxiety, depression and behavior disorders has increased markedly in recent years, with data from the CDC indicating that anxiety and depression incidence among children aged 6-17 has grown from 5.4% in 2003 to 8.4% in 2011-2012. Currently, incidence rates among children aged 3-17 are 7.4% for behavior problems; 7.1% for anxiety; and 3.2% for depression. These afflictions do not occur in isolation and often accompany each other, as 73.8% of children aged 3-17 with diagnosed depression also have anxiety and 47.2% also have behavior problems.

Though we should keep in mind that enhanced awareness of these conditions among children as well as improved assessment and detection in recent years may paint a more dire picture of afflictions that have never in actuality been absent from the pediatric population, the data do represent a critical need to help children in their formative and impressionable years feel more at ease in their bodies as they navigate growth and development.

A dysregulation of the stress response is characteristic of chronic depression, anxiety and behavior disorders. The HPA (hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal) axis is responsible in part for regulating the body’s response to stress, whether that stress be mental, emotional or physical. When stress becomes chronic, the ability of the HPA axis to allow for functional communication between the brain and body to keep a person feeling safe and calm becomes impaired, resulting in altered activity of stress hormones, such as cortisol, and neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine. Cortisol is of particular interest in this context, as it not only plays a significant role in the stress response but also modulates immune system activity. When cortisol is elevated due to chronic stress, the body ultimately becomes resistant to it, and the immune system is not kept in check, resulting in a proliferation of inflammation. Acupuncture has demonstrated the capacity to modulate HPA axis function to alleviate stress-related symptoms by restoring the body’s responsiveness to cortisol so that its roles in nervous and immune system function can be maintained appropriately. Dysregulated HPA axis function has been implicated in a number of allergic conditions, such as asthma and dermatitis; somatic conditions, such as Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome; psychiatric conditions such as PTSD and depression; and numerous immune and autoimmune diseases, underscoring the importance of maintaining proper function of the HPA axis.

Another component of the body’s response to stress involves the autonomic nervous system, comprised of two branches – the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system. Where the sympathetic branch of the nervous system is responsible for the ‘fight, flight or freeze’ response that alerts us to and helps us remove ourselves from danger, the parasympathetic branch of the nervous system represents the ‘rest and digest’ state, which we’re biologically designed to occupy the majority of the time. Dysfunction of the autonomic nervous system is thought to underlie a number of prevalent mental, developmental and behavioral disorders, such as depression and anxiety, ADHD, and autism. Acupuncture has been shown to activate and modulate the function of brain regions involved with the autonomic nervous system through a number of mechanisms, including increasing concentrations of endogenous opioids, regulating the function of amino acids, such as GABA and glutamate, and enhancing the activity of neurotrophins, such as nerve growth factor (NGF) and brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF).

While depression and anxiety are highly heterogeneous in their presentations, and are driven by numerous mechanisms in the central and peripheral nervous systems, increases in inflammation are thought to play a correlational – if not at least partly causative – role in their development. Depression and anxiety have been associated with elevated levels of inflammatory markers, such as C-reactive protein (CRP), Interleukin 6 (IL-6) and Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha (TNF-alpha), all of which have been shown to be reduced through acupuncture.

Acupuncture and ADHD

ADHD, as defined by the DSM-IV, has a prevalence of 5.9% – 7.1% among children. Characterized by inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity, ADHD is commonly treated pharmacologically with stimulant medications, such as methylphenidate. While little is known about the long term effects of stimulant medication in this population, and short-to intermediate-term effects include anxiety, depression, weight loss and insomnia, 12% – 64% of parents of children with ADHD have sought out complementary and alternative (CAM) therapies, including acupuncture. In a study of children aged 7-18 diagnosed with ADHD, twice weekly acupuncture treatments for six weeks demonstrated improved attention and memory function among children not taking medication. Another study explored the potential for acupuncture to improve school performance among children aged 7-16; following a series of 10 acupuncture sessions over the course of eight weeks, study subjects showed significant improvements across all three school subjects: math, social studies and Turkish language. Aside from the capacity of acupuncture to improve the stress response through modulation of the HPA axis and autonomic nervous system, acupuncture’s effects on attention and memory and on learning and perception are thought to be mediated in part by its regulation of the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin, respectively.

Acupuncture and Autism

With prevalence reports ranging from as low as 1 in 500 to as high as 1 in 50, Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects social communication and interaction, language and behavior. Standard treatment of ASD includes pharmacological therapy and behavioral/educational therapy, though reports from a wide sampling of children with ASD indicate that approximately 88% had utilized CAM therapies to address symptoms such as hyperactivity, inattention, poor sleep and digestive issues. In a study of boys with autism, a treatment regimen of five daily acupuncture sessions over the course of eight weeks demonstrated improvements in speech, self-care and cognition. Significant increases in glucose uptake were shown within the intervention group (vs. control), with improved glucose metabolism in areas of the brain involved in visual, auditory and attentional functioning being thought to underlie the improvements seen in language, attention and cognition. An analysis of 13 studies on acupuncture for autism indicated that the most effective treatment regimen entailed 12 sessions within four weeks, each using a minimum of four acupuncture points, and went on to associate individual acupuncture points with specific effects, from improved language comprehension to enhanced self-care abilities. A meta-analysis of 27 randomized controlled trials found that acupuncture in combination with behavioral and educational interventions (BEI) was more effective than BEI in improving symptoms as determined by a number of evaluation scales (CARS, ABC1, ATEC), suggesting the potential for acupuncture to yield an additive positive effect when utilized with standard of care therapy.

Ultimately, though research supports the use of acupuncture for specific conditions among children and adolescents, it is important to remember that the approach of an acupuncturist is generally not solely protocol-driven as it would be in a research setting. While research findings can and certainly do inform treatment decisions, acupuncturists also rely to a great extent on what is observed and felt during the treatment – they listen to patients’ reported symptoms and experiences, observe how patients speak and carry themselves, palpate acupuncture channels and reflex areas, and feel the pulse to determine imbalances in the body. In this way, Western and Eastern science and medicine are invited to work together to treat imbalances in an informed, patient-centric, holistic way.

References

Almaali, H. M. M. A., Gelewkhan, A., & Mahdi, Z. A. A. (2017, November 11). Analysis of Evidence-Based Autism Symptoms Enhancement by Acupuncture. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2005290117301395.

Data and Statistics on Children’s Mental Health. (2019, April 19). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/childrensmentalhealth/data.html.

Duivis, H. E., Vogelzangs, N., Kupper, N., Jonge, P. de, & Penninx, B. W. J. H. (2013, February 8). Differential association of somatic and cognitive symptoms of depression and anxiety with inflammation: Findings from the Netherlands Study of Depression and Anxiety (NESDA). Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0306453013000073.

Hong, S.-S., & Cho, S.-H. (2015, November 22). Treating attention deficit hyperactivity disorder with acupuncture: A randomized controlled trial. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1876382015300585.

Lee, B., Kim, S.-N., Park, H.-J., & Lee, H. (2014, April 1). Research advances in treatment of neurological and psychological diseases by acupuncture at the Acupuncture Meridian Science Research Center. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2213422014000237.

Lee, B., Lee, J., Cheon, J.-H., Sung, H.-K., Cho, S.-H., & Chang, G. T. (2018, January 11). The Efficacy and Safety of Acupuncture for the Treatment of Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29552077.

Li, Q.-Q., Shi, G.-X., Xu, Q., Wang, J., Liu, C.-Z., & Wang, L.-P. (2013). Acupuncture effect and central autonomic regulation. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3677642/.

Musser, E. D., Backs, R. W., Schmitt, C. F., Ablow, J. C., Measelle, J. R., & Nigg, J. T. (2011, August). Emotion regulation via the autonomic nervous system in children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3112468/.

Wong, V. C.-N., Sun, J.-G., & Yeung, D. W.-C. (2014, December 19). Randomized control trial of using tongue acupuncture in autism spectrum disorder. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2095754814000064.

 

About the Author

Meghan Meade is a licensed acupuncturist practicing part-time at NESCA.

Having suffered from anxiety, digestive issues, hormonal imbalances and exercise-induced repetitive stress injuries throughout her adolescence and twenties, Meghan first sought out acupuncture as a last ditch effort to salvage some semblance of health and sanity during a particularly stressful period in her life. It worked. Remarkably well. So palpable was the influence of acupuncture on her well being that she was compelled to leave a career in advertising to study Chinese medicine so that she could help others benefit from its effects.

Meghan earned her masters degree in Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine from the New England School of Acupuncture at Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences (MCPHS) and a masters degree in Pain Research, Education and Policy from Tufts University Medical School. She is licensed by the Massachusetts Board of Medicine and is a Diplomate of Oriental Medicine, certified by the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM).

In her clinical practice, Meghan integrates both Eastern and Western perspectives to provide treatments unique to each patient’s needs and endeavors to empower patients to move forward on their paths to not just feeling good, but feeling like their true selves. In addition to her work as a licensed acupuncturist and herbalist, Meghan serves as adjunct faculty at MCPHS and is a certified yoga teacher.

 

To learn even more about Meghan and acupuncture, visit her alternate web site or read her blog: https://meghanmeadeacu.com/Meghan is practicing at NESCA during the following hours. Appointments at NESCA can be booked by reaching out to me directly at meghan@meghanmeadeacu.com.

Monday: 10am – 6pm

Thursday: 9am – 7pm

 

Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton and Plainville, Massachusetts, and Londonderry, New Hampshire, serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.