Choose a Qualified Acupuncturist (November, 2007)
By Catherine Niemiec, JD, L.Ac
Every day we hear in the news more and more about the amazing things that acupuncture can do: stop back pain, cure depression and high blood pressure, stop addiction, relieve asthma and allergies, help with cancer therapy, overcome infertility, and more. Even if one is relatively healthy, there is still the option for using acupuncture to stave off aging and maintain one’s health into old age.
Yet, how does one find a qualified acupuncturist?
Most recently, a joint committee of the Arizona state legislature approved the continuation of the Arizona Acupuncture Board of Examiners for another 10 years. The legislators had sufficient confidence that the Acupuncture Board was doing an excellent job of ensuring acupuncture is delivered safely by competent practitioners. This licensing board oversees the practice of acupuncture by comprehensively-trained acupuncturists who generally have 2000-3000 hours of training and experience in acupuncture and other forms of Asian medicine (herbology, bodywork, nutrition, exercise and meditation). Even though they are considered by some as “lay acupuncturists”, these Licensed Acupuncturists (L.Ac.) have far more training in acupuncture than most western medical professionals who study only a few hundred hours of acupuncture as an adjunct to their western medical practice. Albeit there are some western professionals who go on to study further and even obtain the same 4-year medical degree as the Licensed Acupuncturists, most still treat disease according to western medical principles.
This is the primary difference with a practitioner fully trained in Asian medicine. The entire diagnosis and treatment process is based on a completely different understanding of the human body which acknowledges the existence of a bioelectric system of Qi (energy) which is highly regulated by emotion and thought, and which flows through the body along an independent set of meridian pathways not studied in western medical school. Even the methods of Asian medical diagnosis are markedly different. While Licensed Acupuncturists study a good amount of western medicine in order to appropriately refer if needed, they primarily base their diagnoses using an evaluation of the tongue and pulses, as well as a study of all symptoms of the patient (even if they seem unrelated, miniscule, or unimportant). The information gained from the map of the patient’s tongue, the characteristics of 6 different pulse positions on the wrists, and a wide variety of symptoms provides a complex picture of several overlapping patterns. The average patient, by the time they reach their forties, has at least three to four different patterns of disharmony causing the various symptoms in their bodies. It is the job of the Licensed Acupuncturist to decipher and identify these patterns and then select one of many approaches to start the process of bringing one back into harmony.
Indeed, reaching harmony and health is a process. Most people are born relatively healthy (unless one has inherited weak Qi from parents), but the processes of life and the intense emotions we experience start creating patterns of disharmony. To return to health, it often takes a good amount of time to get back into balance, especially if one does not take steps to change lifestyle or emotional patterns. Thus, when receiving acupuncture, one should experience general relief in the first few sessions, but should also recognize that lasting relief is only available after sending the body repeated acupuncture treatment “messages” to send the flow of Qi in the appropriate, healthier direction. Once balance is attained, then periodic visits are recommended to handle destabilizing change of season shifts or extreme work and emotional stresses.
One interested in finding a qualified Licensed Acupuncturist should inquire if the acupuncturist is licensed by the Arizona Acupuncture Board of Examiners and is certified by the National Commission for the Certification of Acupuncture & Oriental Medicine (www.nccaom.org ). In addition, one may locate an acupuncturist through the state acupuncture association, Arizona Society of Acupuncture & Oriental Medicine (www.azsoma.org). Most importantly, just as there are a wide variety of doctors with different personalities and ways of relating, one should find a Licensed Acupuncturist with whom one can relate, feel comfortable and develop an ongoing relationship of trust and consultation. The true strength of any healing process is not just the method (whether it be acupuncture or medicine or surgery), but also involves the support and confidence gained from working with a practitioner who helps the patient recognize one’s own ability in healing.
Catherine Niemiec, JD, L.Ac. is the President and Founder of the Phoenix Institute of Herbal Medicine & Acupuncture (PIHMA), College & Clinic, the Valley’s only accredited college of Asian Medicine.