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Traditional acupuncture and depression

Traditional acupuncture and depression

A major new piece of research has just been published entitled 'Acupuncture & Counselling for Depression in Primary Care - A Randomised Controlled Trial'. The study was carried out by research scientists at York University, and this is the first major study to look at evaluating in such a thorough way, the clinical impact of acupuncture and counselling for patients with ongoing depression.

This piece will give a brief summary of the study, and it's findings, and briefly discuss depression both from the Western biomedical and traditional acupuncture perspectives.

The York Research

The researchers at York university were prompted to carry out this study because until now it has been unclear to what extent acupuncture or counselling are effective in treating depression. The research method used consisted of a randomised controlled trial which selected 755 patients with depression, who were currently in the primary care system. They were chosen for the trial on the basis of the score they achieved in a questionnaire used by clinicians to diagnose and assess the severity of depression, called the Beck Depression Inventory. There were 3 groups, an acupuncture group, one for counselling and the third, that received their usual care. Whilst there were standardised protocols for the acupuncture and counselling sessions, ‘usual care’ was not standardised – being how the patient was treated in the system up to the start of the trial – for instance 68.7% of the patients were on anti depressant medication.

The outcome was assessed using another scoring questionnaire called the Patient Health Questionnaire - PHQ-9, and was carried out after 3 months and a follow up at 12 months. Compared to the usual care, acupuncture treatment resulted in a significant reduction in the PHQ-9 scores. The conclusion reached by the study was that acupuncture versus the usual care was associated with a significant reduction in the symptoms of depression.


Read the original full text research item here:

Depression from the perspective of Western Biomedicine

Depression is a common mental health problem that is estimated to cost the UK in the region of £7.5 billion per year in medication and lost working days. The World Health Organisation estimates that in the next 5 to 6 years, depression will become nearly as significant a health issue as chronic heart disease.

Depression is far more significant than low mood, for example. Clinical depression, can be characterised by an overwhelming sadness and hopelessness, and for this reason can be extremely debilitating. In addition, depression can also manifest with physical effects such as sleep disturbance, and loss of concentration. It is thought to result from a combination of genetic, biochemical and environmental factors.

Depression from the perspective of Traditional Acupuncture

Traditional acupuncture is a holistic treatment, which means that it will attempt to see and treat the symptom of depression, not in isolation but from the perspective of the person as a whole.

A traditional acupuncture treatment will always involve making a diagnosis, from the signs and symptoms, and the pulse and tongue, in order to make an assessment of the balance of qi. For example, in a treatment the practitioner is likely to to address sleep disturbance, and poor concentration and some of the emotional issues which can manifest in depression such as anger and fear. From these signs and symptoms, a treatment protocol can be devised.


If you have any questions about acupuncture and depression, browse the ‘ask an expert’ area of the website to see what people have enquired about previously,


or ask a question yourself.


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