Clinical depression is typically treated with psychotherapy and medication in Western medicine. If those treatments aren’t working, then it might be time to try alternative therapies. Scientists have yet to agree on the effectiveness of herbal supplements, acupuncture and other treatments, but many patients with depression say they’re helpful.
A health treatment that is not classified as a standard Western medical practice is referred to as "alternative," or "complementary,” or “integrative.” Alternative therapy encompasses a variety of disciplines that includes everything from your diet and exercise to your mental conditioning and your lifestyle. Examples of alternative therapies include:
“Major” or “clinical” depression is a mental health disorder characterized by an intense and relentless sense of hopelessness, worthlessness, emptiness and/or despair. Clinical depression interferes with working, eating, sleeping and more aspects of your life. It can be caused by one or more factors, including chemical imbalances, high levels of stress, traumatic experiences, life transitions and more. Approximately 10% of people in the United States suffer from depression.
The two most common treatments for clinical depression in Western medicine are psychotherapy and medications. A therapist provides counseling (talk therapy) and a family healthcare provider or psychiatrist provides medicine (such as SSRIs, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors). These treatments can be very effective. However, if you don’t respond to them, or if you want to supplement your treatment, you might want to consider alternative therapies.
No alternative therapy is guaranteed to cure depression, but the same can be said about several Western medicines and psychotherapies. To be safe, be sure to consult with your healthcare provider before you try one or more of these recommended therapies:
Each alternative therapy is unique. Some involve movement, others involve being still, etc. Here is how each therapy works:
Risks with alternative therapies increase if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding. Check with your healthcare provider for help determining what therapies are safe for you.
Scientists have yet to agree about the effectiveness of the alternative therapies listed here. It is difficult to predict a prognosis. Part of the journey of using alternative therapies is that you will have to do some experimentation to figure out what works and what doesn’t work for you. Some people who have used alternative therapies have had success, and others haven’t. Stay in contact with your healthcare provider while you use these therapies.
Contact your healthcare provider immediately if you experience thoughts about suicide, hurting yourself, or hurting others. Remember, you should always follow your healthcare provider’s instructions. Never stop taking your medications or start an alternative therapy without approval and supervision.
Many alternative therapies are not covered by insurance. You might have to pay out-of-pocket. However, there are free resources where you can learn about yoga and meditation, and you can exercise on your own (under your healthcare provider’s supervision). Do some research about resources in your community and ask your healthcare provider for referrals.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 12/22/2020.
Learn more about our editorial process.