Acupuncture, a practice that has existed for thousands of years, is believed to have originated in China. Although it is a traditional Eastern method, acupuncture is now popular in the United States and other Western nations. Acupuncture can be applied as a treatment to a number of conditions, including depression. In the U.S., it is considered to be a part of complementary and alternative (CAM) practices.

How Acupuncture Works

In acupuncture, thin needles are inserted into the body at specific points in order to stimulate the body’s natural ability to heal itself. Where the needles are inserted depends on what ailment is being treated and its location within the body.

The theory behind the traditional practice of acupuncture is that everyone has qi (or chi), a life force that flows through the body in channels called meridians. Disease or other problems can result from an interruption or alteration of that flow of energy. Inserting needles is believed to restore the proper flow of the patient’s life force. 

Although research into acupuncture has increased through the years, how acupuncture works is still not understood. One theory is that stimulation of acupuncture points on the body increases the levels of natural substances that kill pain.

Pros of Acupuncture

Acupuncture has few side effects and can be combined with other therapies as part of a comprehensive treatment plan for depression. There is plenty of anecdotal evidence as to the effectiveness of acupuncture, including claims from patients who have used it to relieve chronic pain or treat depression.

Cons of Acupuncture

If you are afraid of needles or dislike the mild pain that comes with needle insertion, acupuncture might not be the best option. Risks involved with acupuncture usually involve improper application of the needles, which can cause bleeding, bruising, or scarring. Needles can also damage internal organs if inserted too deeply.

As with any treatment, check with you physician or mental health counselor before beginning acupuncture therapy.

What the Expert Says

Acupuncture helps patients learn to take their mind, body, and lifestyle into account when it comes to their health, says Steve G. Kopp, a licensed mental health counselor and marriage and family therapist with Genesis Health Systems.

Acupuncture is about finding equilibrium,” Kopp says. “The idea is a mind-body balance.”