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Diseases & Conditions

Alternative Therapies for Depression

What is alternative therapy?

A health treatment that is not classified as standard Western medical practice is referred to as "alternative" or "complementary." Alternative therapy encompasses a variety of disciplines that includes everything from diet and exercise to mental conditioning and lifestyle changes. Examples of alternative therapies include acupuncture, guided imagery, chiropractic treatments, yoga, hypnosis, biofeedback, aromatherapy, relaxation, herbal remedies, massage and many others.

There is no evidence that any alternative treatment is effective for treating moderate to severe depression. However, in some people, alternative therapy may be used in addition to other treatments to provide relaxation, relief from depressive symptoms, and help in coping with some of the triggers of depression (such as grief, anxiety, changing roles, and even physical pain). If you have depression and are considering using an alternative form of therapy, it is important to seek the advice of your health care provider.

What are some alternative therapies used to treat depression?

Herbal remedies

Of the wide variety of available herbal therapies, St. John's Wort and Ginkgo biloba are the products most often used for treating depression.

  • St. John's Wort has been used for medical purposes in other parts of the world for thousands of years, despite the fact that it hasn't been scientifically proven to treat moderate to severe depression.
  • Ginkgo biloba is thought to improve memory and other intellectual functions, although the evidence is conflictual.

Any herbal supplement requires caution and should be taken only after consulting your doctor. Your doctor can help you weigh the risks and potential benefits so you can make an informed decision.


Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese method of healing that prevents and cures specific diseases and conditions by sticking very fine, solid needles into specific points on the body. Acupuncture  stimulates the body’s ability to resist or overcome illness by correcting imbalances. It also prompts the body to produce chemicals that decrease or eliminate painful sensations.

Acupuncture is most effective at treating long-term pain, such as headaches; menstrual cramps; and low back, neck or muscle pain. It also can be used to treat arthritis; facial pain; pain from shingles, spastic colon and colitis; obesity; and addictions to nicotine or other drugs.


Reflexologists believe that the body has the capacity to heal itself. The nerves in the hands and feet are related to various parts of the body, and by applying pressure to specific points on the hands and feet, reflexologists believe that the healing process is stimulated.


Different forms of exercise can lower your stress; reduce depression; and increase your energy level, balance, flexibility, and ability to relax. In general, exercise is a safe and easy way to improve your well-being, but always check with your doctor before starting a new exercise program.


Meditation is sometimes described as an altered state of consciousness. It is a form of relaxation that, unlike sleep, is entered into purposely. Meditation is usually practiced regularly—for at least 10 minutes each day. While the body is at rest, the mind is cleared by focusing on one thought, sometimes a word, phrase, or particular scenery.


Massage uses touch to provide relaxation. Although there are variations of massage, they all work under the general principle of the connection between body and mind—that when the body is relaxed and at ease, the mind is easing depression and promoting better health and overall well-being. Some examples of massage include shiatsu, neuromuscular therapy, spinal release therapy, Swedish, and the sports variation.

Guided imagery and relaxation

Guided imagery is a form of focused relaxation that helps create harmony between the mind and body. Guided imagery coaches you in creating calm, peaceful images in your mind—a "mental escape" for therapeutic purposes. It can be a powerful psychological strategy to enhance a person's coping skills. It can help people cope with—and possibly overcome—stress, anger, pain, depression, and insomnia with or without associated physical illness.

© Copyright 1995-2009 The Cleveland Clinic Foundation. All rights reserved.

Can't find the health information you’re looking for?

This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 8/27/2009…#9303