A recent study found that acupuncture and counseling were equally effective in the treatment of depression.(1) Compared with usual care alone, there was a significant reduction in average depression scores at three months in both groups.
Depression is a disease that often has a physiological component. This is why pharmaceutical intervention can help for some. The problem is that pharmaceuticals such as SSRI’s can have serious side effects including suicide, bone fractures, weight gain, cognitive disorders, panic attacks and so forth. If you haven’t read it, there was an interesting article posted by psychoneuropharmacologist Candace Pert on the role of SSRI’s in the recent mass murders.
While physiological components can set the stage for depression, there are usually secondary situations that are concurrently associated with it. This is where counseling or therapy becomes very useful. Therefore, the most effective way to treat depression is to combine both a counseling and a physiological component. Except in cases of extremely severe depression, it is often a good idea to begin with more conservative treatments such as acupuncture and herbal medicine with counseling. In our experience that works the vast majority of the time. If not, then psychiatric medications can always be added.
Chinese herbal medicine, by the way, has also been found to be as effective as some SSRIs.(3)
1. MacPherson H, Richmond S, Bland M, Brealey S, Gabe R, et al. (2013) Acupuncture and Counselling for Depression in Primary Care: A Randomised Controlled Trial. PLoS Med 10(9): e1001518. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001518
3. Ito N, Yabe T, Nagai T, Oikawa T, Yamada H, Hanawa T. A possible mechanism underlying an antidepressive-like effect of Kososan, a Kampo medicine, via the hypothalamic orexinergic system in the stress-induced depression-like model mice. Biol Pharm Bull. 2009 Oct;32(10):1716-22.
Department of Clinical Research, Oriental Medicine Research Center, Kitasato University, Tokyo 108-8642, Japan