Patients who suffer from depression may benefit more from acupuncture or counseling alongside their usual care, compared with usual care alone. This is according to a study published in the journal PLOS Medicine.

Researchers from the University of York in the UK say that although many patients with depression are interested in receiving non-drug therapies, there is little evidence supporting the use of counseling or acupuncture to treat depression within a primary care environment.

For their study, the researchers conducted a randomized controlled trial of 755 patients with moderate to severe depression from 27 primary care practices in the north of England.

The patients were randomized to one of three treatment groups:

  • 302 patients had 12 weekly sessions of acupuncture plus usual care
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    Researchers say patients with depression may benefit more from acupuncture or counseling alongside their usual care, compared with usual care alone.
  • 302 patients had 12 weekly sessions of counseling plus usual care
  • 151 patients had usual care alone.

After the 3 months of treatment, the patients were required to complete a Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9), detailing what depressive thoughts or feelings they had over the study period.

Results of the study showed that when compared with usual care alone, patients who received acupuncture or counseling plus their usual care showed a significant reduction in average depression scores.

However, there was no significant difference in depression scores between the acupuncture and counseling groups.

When the patients completed the Patient Health Questionnaire at 9 months and 12 months after treatment, due to improvements in the depression scores within the usual care group alone, the researchers say that the acupuncture and counseling groups were no longer significantly better than usual care.

Dr. Hugh MacPherson, of the Department of Health Sciences at the University of York, told Medical News Today:

We have found that there is a valuable role for acupuncture and counseling as non-pharmacological treatments for people who experience ongoing depression after consulting with their family doctor.

Acupuncture and counseling should both be offered as options for people suffering from ongoing depression, especially if they are seeking non-pharmacological treatment options.”

The researchers add that although these findings are encouraging, this study does not identify exactly which aspects of acupuncture and counseling are likely to be the the most beneficial to patients with depression.

Dr. MacPherson told Medical News Today that further research is to be conducted to consider these factors, among others:

“Additional research questions that are important relate to whether acupuncture and counseling can reduce relapse rates, whether top-up sessions after an initial course of treatment can help maintain improvements, and whether acupuncture and counseling are also helpful for milder forms of depression.”

Medical News Today recently reported on a study suggesting that depression affects men just as much as women.