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Acupuncture or counselling plus usual care ‘may improve’ depression symptoms

Posted on 25 September 2013

Acupuncture or counselling, provided alongside usual care, could benefit patients with depression, according to a study by researchers at the University of York.

The study, conducted by a team led by Dr Hugh MacPherson, of the Department of Health Sciences at York, found that in a primary care setting, combining acupuncture or counselling with usual care had some benefits after three months for patients with recurring depression.

Published this week in PLOS Medicine, the study, which also involved researchers from the Centre for Health Economics at York and Hull York Medical School, was funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Programme Grants for Applied Research Programme.

Many patients with depression are interested in receiving non-drug therapies, however, there is limited evidence to support the use of acupuncture or counselling for depression in a primary care setting. In this pragmatic randomised controlled trial conducted in the North of England, the research team randomised patients with depression to receive 12 weekly sessions of acupuncture plus usual care (302 patients), or 12 weekly sessions of counselling plus usual care (302 patients), or usual care alone (151 patients).

Compared with usual care alone, there was a significant reduction in average depression scores at three months for both the acupuncture and counselling interventions, but there was no significant difference in depression scores between the acupuncture and counselling groups. At nine months and 12 months, because of improvements in the depression scores in the usual care group, acupuncture and counselling were no longer better than usual care. 

Dr MacPherson says: "Although these findings are encouraging, our study does not identify which aspects of acupuncture and counselling are likely to be most beneficial to patients, nor does it provide information about the effectiveness of acupuncture or counselling, compared with usual care, for patients with mild depression.

"To our knowledge, our study is the first to rigorously evaluate the clinical and economic impact of acupuncture and counselling for patients in primary care who are representative of those who continue to experience depression in primary care."

He adds: "We have provided evidence that acupuncture versus usual care and counselling versus usual care are both associated with a significant reduction in symptoms of depression in the short to medium term, and are not associated with serious adverse events."

Notes to editors:

  • The paper ‘Acupuncture and Counselling for Depression in Primary Care: A Randomised Controlled Trial’ is published in PLOS Medicine.
  • The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) is funded by the Department of Health to improve the health and wealth of the nation through research. Since its establishment in April 2006, the NIHR has transformed research in the NHS. It has increased the volume of applied health research for the benefit of patients and the public, driven faster translation of basic science discoveries into tangible benefits for patients and the economy, and developed and supported the people who conduct and contribute to applied health research. The NIHR plays a key role in the Government’s strategy for economic growth, attracting investment by the life-sciences industries through its world-class infrastructure for health research. Together, the NIHR people, programmes, centres of excellence, and systems represent the most integrated health research system in the world. For further information, visit the NIHR website (www.nihr.ac.uk)
  • For more information about the Department of Health Sciences at the University of York, please visit www.york.ac.uk/healthsciences
  • For more information about the Centre for Health Economics at the University of York, please visit www.york.ac.uk/che
  • For more information about Hull York Medical School, please visit www.hyms.ac.uk

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