In my acupuncture practice, I ask many questions and get many answers. I also get asked many questions (and occasionally a few apologies for all the questions, as if it’s a taboo to want to be informed). I love questions because there’s nothing better than seeing someone enthusiastic about their own health and wellbeing. Of course, the more questions I get asked, the more I’m learning as well because I start to see the common concerns people are having.
Acupuncture is a very personal experience especially if you’re looking for a new practitioner or trying acupuncture for the first time. As with many things, opinions can be subjective (my favourite book may be a chore for someone else) and just as an acupuncturist is a person, you must “connect” with them on some level. Bear that in mind when you get a referral; it’s okay to not bond with the practitioner your friend is raving about.
Your main concern is going to be whether the practitioner can help you with your specific problem. After that though you should also get answers to a few other things, and if your acupuncturist is good, you might not even need to ask.
1. How many treatments will you need?
Here’s a secret: on your first visit you acupuncturist doesn’t actually know how many treatments you’ll need. Different people respond to acupuncture differently, and some people feel the benefits of it a lot faster than others. The general rule of thumb is that the longer you’ve had the problem, the longer it will take to feel better. Around the 3rd session I can see how you’re responding and can then be more specific about your treatment plan: perhaps that’s all you need, maybe you need a few more or sometimes I can see that acupuncture isn’t the answer for you.
2. What is their specialty?
Some acupuncturists have an interest in a special area and they tend to treat those conditions well. Are you looking for an acupuncturist who can treat your particular condition or are you looking for a practitioner who knows many modalities such as massage and acupuncture and reflexology and herbal medicine? It all depends on why you are seeking treatment.
3. How qualified are they?
The current regulations in the UK mean not all acupuncturists are created equal. The education and training required can vary widely from five year degree levels to only a few months worth of weekend courses. It is also not against the law for a massage therapist or physiotherapist to offer acupuncture after basic training. With the demand for acupuncture increasing it is likely we will see more, not less of this.
It goes without saying that there are doctors, physiotherapists, massage therapists and osteopaths who are also talented traditional acupuncturists and have spent years learning their skills. However, as long as there are no laws against it, it is a case of buyer beware so find out before you get treatment.
4. Do you just have to show up?
Traditional acupuncture is part of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) which emphasises a lot on your entire wellbeing. Sometimes your condition can be due to lifestyle factors, such as stress or a poor diet. There’s only so much acupuncture and I can do to help you, you need to help yourself as well. Your practitioner can offer advice on what areas you can improve to complement your treatments.
5. What about the needles?
Acupuncture needles are very fine and almost hair-like, unlike the hypodermic needles used for injections, blood samples or medical procedures which are thick and hollow Most people do not consider the insertion to be painful, and many do not feel it at all. In my experience, I have noticed that the nervousness makes the person expect the worse and it usually takes them a while to notice that the needle has already been inserted. Sterile, disposable needles are only used once, and then disposed of in the proper way.
6. Does your acupuncturist answer your questions?
You are the most important person in the treatment room so it goes without saying that you should feel completely comfortable, physically and mentally. If your acupuncturist doesn’t have the time to answer your questions or beats around the bush, then it’s time to find someone better.
27 February – 3 March is the UK’s first Acupuncture Awareness Week, supported by the British Acupuncture Council (BAcC).
Photo credit: Steve Mueller
You might also like:
- How to find a good acupuncture practitioner | Three questions to ask when choosing an acupuncturist
- What a Chinese classic can teach us about health and wellbeing