TCM to Treat Depression

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) treatments for depression focus on treating the disturbance to the Shen while simultaneously correcting the Pattern of Disharmony in the Zang organs and the Fundamental Substances. This dual approach is intended to help correct and normalize the individual's relationship to him- or herself and to the outside world, so that the Shen remains calm.

Mild to moderate depression responds to Traditional Chinese Medicine treatment, which may be combined with conventional medication or used alone under proper supervision. With severe depression, conventional therapy is more effective and should be employed. In cases of severe depression, TCM modalities may be used to enhance conventional therapy.

Recent studies suggest that acupuncture has the most immediate effect and may be the treatment of choice, especially when combined with psychotherapy or drug therapy. Herbal medicine is used with depression in China as well, but patients taking conventional antidepressants should be monitored for potential side effects and should not stop taking their conventional medications to begin herbal therapy. Qi Gong, a useful adjuvant, has a longer-range effect. For this reason, a combination of all three usually works best. It also must be emphasized that all depressed individuals, particularly those with suicidal thoughts, should seek conventional medical help and supervision.

Depression & Acupuncture

Regardless of which Zang Pattern of Disharmony predominates, all acupuncture treatment involves harmonizing the Shen and affecting the Heart through the use of points such as Heart 7 (Shen Men) and Pericardium 6 (Nei Guan).

  • If the Liver is affected, points such as Liver 3 (Tai Chong) have a powerful effect and may be used along with Spleen 3 (Tai Bai), if the Spleen is affected as well.
  • The Lung may be treated by the use of Lung 7 (Lie Que) or Lung 9 (Tai Yuan), especially when combined with Stomach 36 (Zu San Li) to tonify the Qi.
  • Qi and Phlegm Clashing may be treated with points such as Liver 3 (Tai Chong)and Stomach 40 (Feng Long).
  • Phlegm may be treated with Stomach 40 (Feng Long) and Spleen 4 (Gong Sun).

Other points may also be used. A point located between the eyebrows, known as Yin Tang, has a remarkable effect on any disturbance of the Shen. Other points may be selected based on signs and symptoms.

Ear acupuncture points also are effective for psychological disorders, and points such as Heart, Shen Men, Spleen, Liver, and Lung may be used as part of an acupuncture protocol.

Depression & Herbal Medicine

Herbal medicine treatment for depression focuses on combining herbs to create formulas that balance the Shen and affect the Zang Organs and Fundamental Substances.

  • To balance the Shen, many formulas use herbs such as Suan Zao Ren (Semen Zizyphy spinosae) and He Huan Pi (Cortex Albizziae)
  • Lung Qi is tonified using combinations of herbs such as Bai Zhu (Rhizoma Atractylodis Macrocephalae), Huang Qi (Radix Astragali Membranacei), and Wu Wei Zi (Fructus Schizandrae Chinensis)
  • Liver Qi can be moved and the Liver and Spleen harmonized using combinations such as Chai Hu (Radix Bupleuri), Bai Shao (Radix Albus Paeoniae Lactiflorae), Bai Zhu (Rhizoma Atractylodis Macrocephalae), and Dang Shen (Radix Codonopsis Pilosulae)
  • Phlegm can be treated using herbs such as Ban Xia (Pinelliae tuber Praeparatum) and Fu Ling (Poria). For Qi and Phlegm Clashing herbs such as Hou Po (Cortex Magnoliae) may be added
  • Yin and Blood Deficiency may be treated with a classic combination of herbs such as Gan Cao (Radix Glycyrrhizae), Fu Xiao Mai (Semen Tritici), and Da Zao (Fructus Ziziphi)

Formulas may be modified according to signs and symptoms and if there is more than one Pattern of Disharmony.

Depression & Qi Gong

Qi Gong routines are beneficial to patients suffering from depression. The slow, gentle, repetitive movements of the Eight Brocade Exercises and Tai Qi Quan induce relaxation while encouraging movement and may significantly reduce symptoms. In particular, these exercises may be done as part of a group to encourage social interaction, which many depressed patients shun. These exercises also strengthen the Zang Organs and induce a smooth flow of Qi and other Fundamental Substances in the body. Meditation, especially if practiced regularly, also may be helpful.

Publication Review By: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 01 Jan 2001

Last Modified: 10 Sep 2015