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Depression and Acupuncture - A new hope for relief
By: Indira Samayoa-Bettner, Staff Writer

Symptoms of Depression

Depression is a mood disorder characterized by both physical and psychological symptoms that can be detrimental to one's normal daily functioning. Depressed individuals often suffer from poor sleeping habits, crying spells, anxiety, worry, poor memory, inability to concentrate, body aches, stomach disturbances and a lack of interest in activities previously enjoyed. In extreme cases, individuals become helpless and hopeless about their lives and suicide is often considered.

Modern Treatment for Depression

Modern medicine typically treats depression with a form of psychotherapy and/or anti-depressant drugs regardless of the specific symptoms presented by the depressed patient. In the United States, the DSM-IV, a diagnostic tool for appropriately categorizing psychological disorders, is widely used in the diagnosis and treatment for depression.

How Chinese Medicine Views Depression

In contrast, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) does not recognize depression as a particular illness per se, but it aims to treat the specific symptoms that are unique to the individual using a variety of techniques such as acupuncture, Chinese herbs, tui-na massage, and energetic exercises to restore imbalances found in the body.
Based on a holistic approach, acupuncture consists of fine needles inserted along various points in the body, with the purpose of stimulating the body's flow of energy and functionality, known as Qi. Though acupuncture has been traditionally taught as a preventive form of health care, it has also been proven effective in the treatment of pain and chronic conditions.
Studies of Acupuncture for Depression

Since the early nineties, studies around the globe have suggested that treating depression with acupuncture has a positive and holistic effect on depressed patients, particularly when used in combination with psychotherapy and herbal treatments.

Psychologist John Allen, from the University of Arizona in Tucson, and Acupuncturist Rosa Schnyer, conducted the very first pilot controlled study on treating depression symptoms with acupuncture in the Western scientific world. In a double blind randomized study, 34 depressed female patients who met the DSM-IV diagnostic criteria were assigned to one of three treatment groups for eight weeks.

The first group received acupuncture treatment specifically tailored to their depression symptoms. The second group received a general acupuncture treatment not specific to depression, and the third group was placed on a waiting list for acupuncture treatment, but received no treatment. The study found that those in the tailored acupuncture treatment experienced a significant reduction in symptoms, compared to those in the non-specific treatment. Moreover, over 50% of the participants no longer met the DSM-IV diagnostic criteria for depression after the study.

The study findings suggest that using acupuncture alone could be as effective as other types of treatments for relieving depression symptoms typically used in Western medicine, such as psychotherapy and drugs. While these results are promising and the United Nations World Health Organization has approved acupuncture as a treatment for depression, further clinical trials with larger samples are deemed necessary to endorse this new hope for relief.

Find an acupuncture provider that treats emotional issues including stress, anxiety and depression on


Allen, J. J. B. (2000). Depression and acupuncture: a controlled clinical trial. Psychiatric Times Online, 22, 3.

Tian, C. H. (2002). Acupuncture treatment for depression. New England Journal of Traditional Medicine, 1, 4-7.

About the Author
A culmination of studying psychology and being a patient of integrative medicine gives Indira Samayoa-Bettner a unique understanding of the human body and spirit.
Indira Samayoa-Bettner holds a BS in psychology and is currently pursuing her Masters Degree in San Diego, California.  She continues to use acupuncture and Chinese Medicine to improve and maintain life-long health.