In my acupuncture clinic I have never treated a patient for depression who was keen to take antidepressant medications over the long term for their condition. Most of the people I see either have hesitations about taking antidepressants, or take them but are trying to get off. Most are seeking out acupuncture as a way to avoid, decrease, or get off antidepressants. Simply put, they want an alternative way to treat their depression.
There is good news for these patients. According to a study published last month in PLOS Medicine, researchers found that both acupuncture and counseling significantly reduced depression scores in subjects at three and six months, when compared to usual care alone.
In this particular study, patients with moderate to severe depression were split into three groups; those that would receive counseling, those that would receive acupuncture, and those that would continue with their usual care alone (including medications with no other treatment). Outcomes were measured by Patient Health Questionnaire scores—a depression rating scale. Those patients in the counseling group and those in the acupuncture group showed significant improvements in their depression (unlikely to have occurred by chance) at both three and six months, while those who received usual care did not.
These findings are important for those patients who choose not to take antidepressants. However, it’s also good news for the more than half of patients for whom these medications simply don’t work.
It should also be noted that in this study, about 70 percent of participants had taken medications for their depression in the three months prior. In addition patients did not need to stop their medications in order to participate in the study.
As an acupuncturist, this study raises a couple of interesting points:
-First, this study documents that acupuncture can be an effective treatment option for depression.
-Antidepressants don’t work for more than half of patients. Acupuncture and counseling can be effective for those people for whom antidepressants don’t work.
-Acupuncture can be combined as an adjunct to medication therapy to achieve better results, as was the case in this study.
-For those people who are opposed to taking medications, there are other options that may as effective or more effective than antidepressant medications.
-Both acupuncture and counseling are similar to each other in that they’re slow medicine. This means that both with acupuncture and counseling, the patient is provided with a safe and non-judgmental therapy, in which the practitioner takes time to listen to the complexities of each case, and tailor it to each individual. In my opinion, the slow, deliberate, and individualized nature of both acupuncture and counseling are a factor in their effectiveness.