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« Back to Mental Health Questions

Q:

I have been taking anti-depressants for over a year and I really want to try managing my depression naturally. Can acupuncture treat depression and anxiety?

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A:

Can acupuncture treat depression and anxiety?
By Carol Morton, L.Ac., Dipl. Ac., Dipl. C.H., LCSW

A resounding "yes." Acupuncture is indeed a powerful treatment for depression and anxiety. Before I became an acupuncturist, I worked as a psychotherapist in a community mental health clinic. For those patients who received psychotherapy, it was helpful, sometimes invaluable and life-saving, but the gains were usually small and slow, and often didn't get the whole job done. I frequently saw an over-reliance on pharmaceuticals which helped for a season but eventually had to be changed due to a loss of effectiveness.

Increasingly, I felt something was missing from conventional treatment. In traditional Chinese medicine, I found the mind-body link I was looking for. TCM (traditional Chinese medicine) is not only highly effective in treating emotional problems, it also addresses the physical realm. When I treat a physical complaint, I often find a corresponding emotional/spiritual disharmony. Conversely, while treating emotional problems, there often seems to be a corresponding physical component. In short, I find acupuncture an effective way to address the whole person.

Acupuncture seeks to address body, mind, emotions and spirit. It is a holistic medicine whose 5000 year old roots began in China. It is often accompanied by herbology, diet, energy-cultivation exercises and life-style counseling. The goal is to create harmony within ourselves and between ourselves and the world. It is understood that "intellect" and "feeling" reside in all the cells of the body. If a person is depressed, Chinese medicine understands this as the result of deficient or stagnant energy, or imbalance of yin and yang (the two polar opposite forces of which all things are comprised). This imbalance can take many forms, and is ultimately discerned by the acupuncturist through an ongoing evaluation process which encompasses observation of posture, gait, demeanor, skin tone, brightness of eyes, voice, smell, tongue and pulse diagnosis, palpation and asking about symptoms and history.

Our TCM diagnosis describes a pattern of harmony or disharmony. This involves assessing the condition of spirit, essence, energy, blood, fluids, organs and channels. There are fourteen (14) main channels which can be described as rivers of energy (referred to as "qi" which means "vital energy"). The channels connect with each other and run through every part of the body. On the surface are the acupoints (over 365) which can be described as wells or vortexes which tap into these energy rivers. Each point has several functions. Basically, what we are doing when we place a needle into a point is facilitating the flow of life force. We bring energy into areas of deficiency and unblock the flow where there has been stagnation.

The experience of having acupuncture is pleasant, relaxing and energizing. The needles are hair thin, sterile and generally painless and never used twice. There may be a brief soreness or pulling sensation which means that your qi has connected with the needle. You are made comfortable and draped appropriately. A good treatment feels like being in "the zone" or a deep meditation as your body moves back into balance.

My approach in treating depression and anxiety is to check in with my patients both to catch up and see how they are doing. This is followed by tongue and pulse readings after which my patient can get settled on the treatment table lying on his/her stomach. I often do a brief 10 minute acupuncture prescription involving points on the back. These are as follows: lung points for unresolved grief, heart points to treat the absence of joy, liver points to treat anger or depression and kidney points to treat fear or shock. After this, the patient is turned over and made comfortable with pillow and knee bolsters for points that increase and move energy and settle the spirit. For this, needles are usually placed on the lower arms, the lower legs, the stomach and the head. I often use points which correspond to the seven energy vortexes called chakras found in yoga. I also apply auricular acupuncture (on the outside of the ears) to balance the brain neurotransmitters and create a sense of well being. The entire session can take between 45 minutes and an hour and a quarter. Patients are often sent home with magnets placed in key auricular points to extend the treatment.

I am sorry you have not yet gotten better with your medications. Like many others, you would probably respond well to the holistic approach acupuncture offers. I encourage you to give it a try and wish you health, wellness and peace.

Sincerely,

Carol Morton, L.Ac., Dipl. Ac., Dipl. C.H., LCSW