Wellington Acupuncture for Depression
Acupuncture is a safe and promisingly effective treatment for depression, anxiety, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), insomnia, general stress and other mental health conditions.
Acupuncture Treatment for Depression
Acupuncture is a promising and effective treatment option for depression. If you are experiencing depression, acupuncture may promote your body to release chemicals that help you feel happier again. By doing so acupuncture can help you to reduce your depression symptoms and return to activities that matter to you. It also may reduce other symptoms you experience such as trouble sleeping or appetite changes. If you have just recently started, or are about to start antidepressants, acupuncture may enable the medication to work faster while minimizing the side effects. This means you are likely to feel better again faster.
Our acupuncturist Natalie Floyd is a member of AMH (Wellington acupuncture for mental health clinical interest group). This is a group of qualified, registered Chinese Medicine practitioners who hold a special interest in mental health. They publicly promote and advocate the use of acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine as a valid, safe and effective treatment modality for mental health care.
What is Depression?
Depression is classified as a mood disorder and many people suffer from it. It can interfere with day to day activities, relationships, work and change how we think or feel. Signs of depression may include persistent sadness, hopelessness, feeling overwhelmed, self-loathing, loss of interest in activities including those previously enjoyed, anxiety, irritability or isolation, fatigue, sleep disturbance, changes in appetite or weight, recklessness, thoughts about death or suicidal tendencies (1).
Depression According to Chinese Medicine
Chinese Medicine recognizes a number of different causes of depression. An acupuncturist would identify the cause of your depression and treat you according to your presentation and individual needs (3,4,7–9). Often, depression involves some lack of movement of energy in the body (Qi). A lack of exercise or difficulty expressing emotions may be related to your depression, or there may have been a history of digestive issues with your body struggling to build energy and Blood, leaving you feeling flat and depressed. Acupuncture treatment commonly helps you identify and understand factors that may be contributing to your depression. It provides diet and lifestyle advise to empower you and enable you to help self-manage your condition.
Standard Treatment for Depression
Standard medical care in New Zealand for most people with depression involves taking antidepressants. Unfortunately, these are generally considered unsatisfactory (2). A type of antidepressants called SSRI’s are the most commonly used (3). One issue with these medications is that they take 4-6 weeks (or longer) to have obvious effects, during which time some people stop taking them, experience side effects or have an increased risk of suicide (3). Many patient’s depression returns at some point (3). As a result, patients often communicate a desire for other treatment options to their Doctor. If you are concerned about relying on antidepressant medication, or want another way to help treat your depression, acupuncture may be a good option for you (2–4).
Can Acupuncture Treatment Help Depression?
Research has shown that acupuncture provides a promising and effective alternative treatment option for many types of depression (2–4). Having access to another treatment option that has shown to work can give patients hope, which is important when feeling down. If you have recently been diagnosed with depression and are starting antidepressant SSRI medication, acupuncture can help the medication work faster (2,3). This means your depression symptoms might improve more significantly and faster than if you just take anti-depressants (3). You are also less likely to experience problematic side effects of the medication (3). Many other symptoms you experience might reduce such as anxiety, sleep and appetite changes and trouble thinking or concentrating (3). If you have been taking antidepressants for a while and your depression symptoms are slowly coming back or worsening, acupuncture also may be helpful. Often patients experience improvement of symptoms and activities that are important to them.
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How does Acupuncture Work for Depression?
How acupuncture helps treat depression is not yet fully understood (2,3). Acupuncture causes many positive physical, mental and emotional changes in someone with depression (2–4). Acupuncture treatment is complex and due to this it’s hard to study exactly what parts of an acupuncture treatment benefit you (5,6). Studies suggest acupuncture helps initiate your body’s self-healing abilities. Part of this is by leading to release of chemicals called neurotransmitters that are related to depression and mental-emotional wellbeing (2). In other words, your body is reminded to produce chemicals that make you feel happier. Acupuncture also has an effect on inflammation and immune imbalances that are associated with depression (3). In depressed patients, acupuncture also changes activity in parts of the brain associated with depression that play a role in emotions, behaviour and attention (2). These changes are associated with reduced levels of depression (3).
Auriculotherapy Ear Acupuncture Wellington: NADA Protocol
Your acupuncturist may recommend using a group of points on your ear called the 'NADA' protocol. This set of points is commonly used when treating depression, post traumatic stress disorder, anxiety or addiction. Many patients find this to be useful for prolonging the effects of treatment as they go home wearing 'ear seeds' or tiny 'press needles' on their ear to help further manage their health while away from the clinic.
What Happens in an Acupuncture Treatment?
Acupuncture is an ancient form of medicine that is becoming increasingly more researched. It has a holistic approach, meaning it sees the individual person as a whole, and therefore sees the mind and body as being closely interconnected. Different acupuncturists will have different styles and approaches to treatment. Often, the treatment will involve taking your health history and discussing what you’re concerned about. You might discuss how long you’ve experienced depression, what the symptoms are for you, what makes it better or worse, if there was anything connected to when it started for you, if you have support and ways to cope with it and what symptoms or activities you would like to improve through treatment. Acupuncturists should be sensitive to your needs so if discussing this is difficult, it’s ideal they don’t push you and take a gentle approach. Then, he or she will examine your tongue’s shape, color, and coating, feel your pulse, and possibly perform some additional physical examinations depending on your individual health needs. Using these unique assessment tools, the acupuncturist will be able to recommend a proper treatment plan to address your particular condition.
To begin the acupuncture treatment, you lay comfortably on a treatment table while precise acu-points are stimulated on various areas of your body. Most people feel no or minimal discomfort as the fine, pre-sterilised needles are gently placed. The needles are usually retained between five and 30 minutes and the entire session will take up to 1 hour. Your acupuncturist may recommend and include other treatment techniques such as cupping, moxibustion and auriculotherapy (using ear seeds or tiny needles on points on the ear) with your permission if they are appropriate for your condition.
How Do I Choose the Right Acupuncturist?
At Tao Clinic, we hand pick the best and highly trained acupuncturists in the region. Our acupuncturists are recognized ACC treatment providers and hold a minimum four year Bachelor of Health Science that consists of a combination of both traditional Chinese Medicine and Western Biomedical training. To guarantee the standard of training and competency, we advise that you always verify that your acupuncturist is registered with one of the two regulation body for acupuncturist in New Zealand:
Links to Research and Resources
Wang X, Wang Z, Liu J, Chen J, Liu X, Nie G, et al. Repeated Acupuncture Treatments Modulate Amygdala Resting State Functional Connectivity of Depressive Patients. NeuroImage Clin. 2016;12:746–52. Available from: [Accessed 17th October 2019]
Macpherson H, Richmond S, Bland M, Brealey S, Gabe R, Hopton A, et al. Acupuncture and Counselling for Depression in Primary Care: A Randomised Controlled Trial. PLOS Med. 2013;10(9). Available from: [Accessed 17th October 2019]
Liu Y, Feng H, Mo Y, Gao J, Mao H, Song M, et al. Effect of Soothing-Liver and Nourishing Heart Acupuncture on Early Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor Treatment Onset for Depressive Disorder and Related Indicators of Neuroimmunology: A Randomized Controlled Clinical Trial. J Tradit Chinese Med. 2015;35(5):507–13. Available from: [Accessed 17th October 2019]
MacPherson H, Schroer S. Acupuncture as a Complex Intervention for Depression: A consensus method to develop a standardised treatment protocol for a randomised controlled trial. Complement Ther Med. 2007 Jun;15(2):92–100.
MacPherson H, Richmond S, Bland J, Lansdown H, Hopton A, Kang’ombe A, et al. Acupuncture, Counselling, and Usual Care for Depression (ACUDep): Study protocol for a randomized controlled trial. Trials. 2012 Nov 14;13(209)