We have a little home town newspaper that we subscribe to. As I was perusing the classifieds I came across a small ad for an acupuncturist. The ad listed a few of the conditions she treats, one of which was depression. I had tried acupuncture on two separate occasions for chronic low back pain but had no luck with it. I'd never tried or considered it for depression but it intrigued me. Acupuncture is more than 4,000 years old so something that's been around for such a long time must have some credibility. Again, another promising, drug free possibility. I called the number and left a voice message. A day or two later she contacted me and we agreed on a time to meet and discuss what she might be able to do for me.

She set up shop in an old converted Victorian house that she shared with a chiropractor. I knew that from the chiropractor sign above the door. I entered into what used to be the living room that now served as a lobby. Directly across the creaky wooden floor was a large fireplace. The interior of the house had a distinct, old, musty, wooden smell. Very characteristic. She called out from a hallway that she'd be with me shortly. She was apparently still with a patient. I took a seat in an old chair that was next to a rack with assorted brochures and pamphlets. Not long after she was done with her patient she sat down opposite me with a notepad to take notes. She was not Asian by any means. Petite, caucasian, short brunette hair, a bit bohemian. She had had several years of education and training in Eastern medicine and was very devoted to it.

I did the best I could to explain my situation and all the failed treatments of the past. I asked if she had any past success in treating depression with acupuncture. She assured me she had. Towards the end of this consultation she told me she was confident she could help me in at least a month's worth of treatments. One treatment per week including Chinese herbs. Her pricing seemed reasonable and I was comfortable with her overall so we set up a time table to get started. She was able to see me on certain days of the week after work. I was hopeful yet skeptical.

The first half of the first appointment was more of an assessment and exam. We went into what used to be a small bedroom but now was a treatment room. After removing my shoes I lied back on an exam table. She had me stick out my tongue. Apparently the tongue is very telling and can be used as an indicator of many problems. She also took my pulse on both wrists simultaneously apparently gathering additional information. I had no choice but to be open-minded. She lifted my shirt slightly and gently felt around my abdomen. She explained all about "chi"—the energy force we all have running through our system. I learned about the 12 main meridians or energy channels that relate to the internal organs. I learned about "cupping"—the scraping of skin to increase circulation. I also learned that I apparently have a clogged chi.

The procedure was comfortable and relatively painless. She put on relaxing Native-American music akin to "new wave" for lack of a better term. She determined the specific locations for each needle and placed them accordingly. A few on my feet, mid section, forearms, the bridge of my nose and forehead. She then applied a substance called "moxa" which is an herb that's burned over the acupuncture point. The burning of the moxa was done by a lit incense stick which added an additional "new agey" fragrance to the experience.

As best as I can remember, I was in the initial throes of an unusual onset of anxiety that I was hoping could be alleviated. I mentioned this to her and she felt that this was actually a good thing as it could be a "shifting" or actual positive change. It felt anything but positive. I described the physical sensations of the anxiety I was experiencing—most notably a strange adrenalin-like feeling in the chest's center. She added a few needles to that general area for good measure. After a bit of time passed she would remove those needles and have me flip over to my stomach so she could apply needles to my back and neck.

During these sessions we would chat about acupuncture in general and all its benefits. She told me of her experiences with it and her studies. She was passionate about Eastern medicine and I admired and respected that. She was sweet, gentle and caring. A question that I always pose to purveyors of these "alternative" treatments is does it matter if I'm skeptical of this approach? Can my initial negative attitude toward artsy-fartsy methods jinx it to fail? She replied absolutely not. The chi is independent of the mind and it matters not your attitude. I wanted this answer to be reassuring but it somehow wasn't. Though she was intelligent and meticulous, this process seemed almost silly to me but I had to give it a chance.

After the treatment she gave me a container of Chinese herbs. It was in powder form to be added to hot water and taken a couple times a day. The concoction was custom mixed for my needs. The appointments were relaxing and informative but I am the eternal skeptic and felt unsure about what I was even doing there. Three more appointments were scheduled for that month along with different mixes of the herbs. Some of them had an ungodly taste but I managed to gag them down nonetheless. At the conclusion of the month's treatments there was absolutely no change. On the contrary, the anxiety seemed to be increasing but she was convinced it was a good thing. We mutually agreed to go another month's worth of sessions since there were no results thus far. The subsequent treatments were relatively the same with varying locations for the needles. Now into the sixth week, still no change and I'm feeling very disappointed. She is still very encouraging and tries an additional approach of using tiny magnets that adhere to the skin. She placed larger ones on each of the bottom of my feet and smaller ones inside the exterior of each ear just below where the top of the ear curves. The concept being the magnetic fields would draw out the negative energy and also benefit the chi at the pressure points they were placed on. Willing to try anything I wore these magnets but as with every other treatment of the past they did nothing for me.

It's week eight. I arrive for my final treatment. She asks how I'm doing and I reply not well. No better than when we started. She's disappointed. She asks if I even want to proceed with the last treatment. I replied yes. I'm here, we might as well give it one more go. There was less chat during this session. It was apparent that it wasn't working and the end had come.

When finished, I put my shoes back on and met her in the lobby. She suggested some other types of alternative treatments such as biofeedback. My eyes may have welled up at that point and I asked for a hug. We said our goodbyes and wished each other luck. As I walked out of the door for the last time it felt like a small gust of wind could topple me at any moment. Somehow I suppressed an outburst of tears. I now had no choice but to cross this hope off the list. The days following were particularly somber.


  1. Thanks for posting this. I am currently in the process of trying acupuncture for my depression too. I figured it couldn't do any harm and so therefore it was worth a shot. I have been going for a month now, once a week. It is a relaxing experience and I do feel comfortable and cared for in the acupuncture clinic.

    However, other than feeling kind of relaxed and a bit sleepier than usual after the sessions, it doesn't seem to be really doing very much. At this stage I think I might persist until the end of this month and then then discontinue acupuncture.

    There seem to be many treatments which are not effective. But I will continue to try different things. Even if things don't work, I feel the act of simply trying new things is good in and of itself. It shows we are not surrendering and still fighting. Never give up. Never surrender.

  2. Unfortunately acupuncture was completely ineffective for me but others swear by it. It's continuing to be more difficult seeking "alternative" treatments but all we can do is try. If only there was ONE solution for all of us. Keep searching.

  3. Keep searching. That is right. I will give acupuncture another couple of weeks but have started looking for something different.

    Yesterday I went to a Qi Gong practitioner that a friend recommended. He asked a few questions and then got to work. I felt somewhat like a very stiff bread dough being kneaded, and it was pretty painful.

    But afterwards I felt a little bit better, and definitely a lot more flexible than before, and my posture seemed better too. I will try a few more sessions and see how it goes, at worst I think I will have a body that is in a little better shape.

    There are a world of possibilities out there. Unfortunately I don't think there is any one magic cure, but a combination of things might just make the difference in the long run.

  4. Call me pessimistic, but why do practitioners think they can make a difference when a patient presents with a laundry list of treatments that did not work? Wouldn't you think that they would seem a little less than fully optimistic? Your experience is indicative of what I've always believed and that is that clinical depression (severe depression) is a different animal from "mild to moderate" in terms of treatment. I have lived most of my life in the "mild to moderate" realm and medications have worked enough for me to make a life, but when I become clinically depressed, nothing seems to work.