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Ask an expert - neuro and psycho logical - Depression
A: As our factsheet shows please click here
there is some evidence that acupuncture can be used alongside or instead of medication for the treatment of depression, but the results are not yet conclusive enough for us to be able to make any claims for its use as a stand-alone treatment.
Indeed, we are aware that depression is not simply a shopping list of items (loss of appetite, poor sleep, etc etc) which make up the clinical definition but usually a complex problem which spreads across all areas of someone's life, and probably means that they are going to need more than one form of support.
The one advantage that acupuncture has is that Chinese medicine was very clear about the interaction of body mind and spirit, and saw the functions of the Organs (always capitalised to differentiate the term from the western concept of an organ) as operating on all levels. When a patient visits a practitioner, therefore, and describes a complex array of symptoms, physical, mental and emotional, from a Chinese medicine perspective these can often make sense and offer treatment possibilities as a whole, rather than requiring a tablet for x, another tablet for y, and perhaps counselling and psychotherapy.
As we said, though, depression is a complex problem, and although many of our members have counselling and talking therapy skills, the majority are not qualified to a professional standard, and we think that a patient should always be encouraged to explore this as an option alongside their treatment if the problems are complex. The same applies to medications. Many of these are essential to enable people to function well enough to hold down jobs and maintain their relationships and friendships. Our members will not encourage people to stop taking their medications, and can adjust their treatment to ensure that the effects of dealing with the medications on a physical level do not add to the problems someone has.
In Chinese medicine, though, each person is seen as unique, and the best advice we can offer is that you visit a BAcC member local to you to see what specific help they might be able to offer. 'Depression' is such a broad term that offering general advice is difficult. It is far easier to offer advice when someone can hear what exactly makes you feel depressed and tries to get a sense of what it is that actually makes you recognise that you are depressed. For every sufferer this will be unique and different, and may have an impact on how helpful acupuncture treatment may be.
The BAcC's fact sheet on depression is not that encouraging, mainly because the many trials which have been conducted in China are not always as methodologically rigorous as they could be, and fall short of accepted western standards. Most compare the use of acupuncture alongside conventional medical treatment, and there are some small but encouraging signs that acupuncture, used with conventional medication, may prove effective.
From the perspective of traditional Chinese medicine, however, people who label themselves as 'sufferers from depression' do not form a homogenous group. When a patient describes what depression means to each of them as individuals a much clearer picture emerges, one which the diagnostic processes of Chinese medicine can sometimes make sense of within its own paradigm. The word 'appropriate' finds its way into a great many Chinese texts, the sense of being neither one extreme or the other, and many depression sufferers describe feelings which are constant and extreme. Just as, within its own paradigm, Chinese medicine aims to balance physical energies, so it also addresses mental and emotional energies, and has diagnostic language which both recognises and suggests treatment for 'stuck' patterns which affect the quality of someone's life.
This may all sound rather vague, but since each case of depression will manifest differently, the only clear guidance we can give is to suggest that you contact a BAcC member local to you for an assessment of whether they believe they could help your individual case.
Just as a small rider, the BAcC is not a service provider itself - it is a member organisation whose members work independently, mainly in a self-employed capacity.