depression-background-2-406806-edited.jpgAs a licensed acupuncturist, I have been asked many times if acupuncture works for depression.

On the one hand I am proud to say I have seen some excellent clinical success in treating depression with acupuncture and herbal medicine. On the other hand, the truth is acupuncture doesn't "work for depression." In other words, there is no one point (or set of points) that treats depression. Rather, an acupuncturist is trained to see the depression as a symptom of an underlying pattern of imbalance. The points are chosen to resolve the underlying imbalance, and when that is resolved the depression goes away as a natural consequence.

It will help to give an example.

Sarah (not her real name) is a 38 year old woman who is generally in good health but who is struggling with depression. Her low moods can last 2 weeks at a stretch without relief, especially around her menstrual cycle. Her depression is not situation specific, and meets the standard medical definition of clinical depression. Her doctor suggested she start taking a pharmaceutical antidepressive and she came to see me at City Acupuncture Fulton Street before she started the medication to see if acupuncture could work as a natural alternative.

I spent about 10 minutes asking Sarah some pertinent questions to help me figure out which pattern of imbalance was most likely at work in her case. For example, we spoke a little more about her menstrual period since this was closely tied to her depression. She told me that her periods were pretty regular but painful. She had both breast pain and cramping. She got super irritable for the week before, and felt totally exhausted afterward. 

I asked Sarah about her appetite and digestion. She reported that her appetite was pretty normal but it was common for her to feel bloated during her period and this led to low appetite until her period was finished.

From this presentation I decided that Sarah had what we call liver qi stagnation. This is a VERY common problem in New York City, whose chief symptoms include:

- Chest or breast distention

- Irritability

- Depression

- Painful Periods

- Bloating

Pretty clear cut. We did a course of 8 acupuncture sessions (1x per week for 8 weeks) and she took an herbal supplement. By her third cycle after starting treatment her period was not painful at all, and she did not experience the bloating or irritability. She still did feel depression for about a five day window during her period. We did another course of 4 sessions and the problem resolved.

The point I am making in all of this is that there aren't any acupuncture points that stop depression. Rather, acupuncture works best when it is focused on rectifying a pattern of imbalance. Then the points are chosen for their ability to rectify that pattern of imabalance. When the imbalance is resolved, the symptom goes away.

Interestingly I might have seen 5 depression cases that day and used totally different acupuncture points for each of them.

If you have any questions about how acupuncture works for depression please leave a comment below!

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