Acupuncture Can Be As Good As Counseling For Treating Depression


Finding and choosing alternative ways to treat depression can be difficult, but one study suggests that patients can benefit from acupuncture as much as they do from counseling.

One study from the University of York in the United Kingdom states that up to 60 percent of depression patients don’t report adequate relief of their mood symptoms with medication alone, while another 30 percent stop taking their drugs as prescribed.

Supplemental Treatment

The study compared the effects of adding either acupuncture or counseling to medication treatment used for depression. They found that one in three patients was no longer depressed after three months of acupuncture or counseling compared to one in five who received neither treatment.

While the study’s authors were clear in stating that acupuncture doesn’t cure depression, they noted that it can be an important tool to combat it.

Natural Healing

Acupuncture is a method of stimulating the body through natural healing. This is done by inserting sterilized, stainless steel needles into specific points located near or on the skin. The sensation felt with the needles can alter biochemical and physiological conditions in order to treat a wide variety of illnesses and conditions such as chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting, lower back pain, menstrual cramps, migraines and headaches.

Benefits from acupuncture include increased circulation, decreased inflammation, relief from pain, relief of muscle spasms and improved immune system. Physical aches and a weak immune system are sometimes symptoms of depression.

What to Expect

Although the idea of being poked with needles can make many people feel uneasy, experts say it causes little discomfort. Acupuncture involves three phases:

  1. Needle insertion. Practitioners may insert between five to 20 thin needles into different parts of your body. You may feel an aching sensation when a needle reaches the correct depth.
  2. Needle manipulation. Practitioners may sometimes gently move or twirl needles after they have been placed or apply heat or mild electrical pulses to the needles. The needles will remain in place for 10 to 20 minutes as you relax.
  3. Needle removal. There is usually no discomfort when the needles are removed. Acupuncture is meant to make a person feel relaxed or sometimes even energized. However, not everyone is the same and if symptoms do not improve, another form of depression treatment should be considered.

A Hope for Depression

“For people who have depression, who have tried various medical options, who are still not getting the benefit they want, they should try acupuncture or counseling as options that are now known to be clinically effective,” said Hugh MacPherson, the study’s lead author.

Another study earlier this year found "high-level evidence to support the use of acupuncture for treating major depressive disorder in pregnancy."

Dr. Phillip Muskin, a psychiatrist at Columbia University Medical Center in New York warns that counseling and acupuncture are not replacements for medication.

But for those who seek depression treatment with more than just antidepressants, the study’s authors say there is hope.

"Clearly acupuncture is a new option," McPherson said. "This is the first evidence that acupuncture really helps."

Sources: PLOS Medicine, Medical Acupuncture, Mayo Clinic


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