By Jingduan Yang, M.D.
Many people wonder how to find a good acupuncturist. To answer this simple question, it is important to understand what acupuncture is and how it works.
Acupuncture is a treatment modality of ancient Chinese medicine. Along with the modern version of traditional Chinese medicine, ancient Chinese medicine is a complete medical system passed down to us from an unknown prehistoric civilization. Traditionally, Chinese people believed that the art of Chinese medicine was a gift from the divine.
This medical system recognizes the anatomy and physiology of the human body as modern medicine does; yet it also maps out and explains the energetic network of human beings. Although this level of human existence is still invisible to us, we are always experiencing it throughout our lives.
The energy that traditional Chinese medicine has mapped out is called qi, a vital life force that keeps the body functioning well physically and mentally. The system of qi circulation is referred to as meridians—a network of energy pathways centered in the major internal organs. Today’s imaging technology has not yet been able to see these meridians.
A sufficient, smooth, and directional flow of qi keeps the body functioning normally. Any physical, chemical, or emotional stress will compromise the qi and block the meridians.
Consequently, this stress causes dysfunctions and symptoms affecting the areas of our body, mood, and mind associated with these meridians. The compromised qi can manifest as chemical, physical, and even structural abnormalities that modern medicine can detect and attempt to treat.
There are specific points or tiny areas on the surface of the body that are connected with specific meridians and organ systems. If we stimulate these points with the insertion and manipulation of fine needles, we will be able to open the blocked meridians, redirecting and facilitating an adequate flow of qi. Thus, we can reduce the dysfunction and symptoms the patient is feeling.
The treatment will prevent the symptoms from developing into serious illness and disease. However, the most important work is done before needles are inserted. It is the diagnosis and evaluation of what meridians are involved and how the qi is imbalanced.
The diagnosis and the qi evaluation determine the selection of the points and techniques of needling. This diagnostic process requires clinical skills, including tongue and pulse readings that are unique and powerful diagnostic tools in Chinese medicine. The doctor needs a solid and comprehensive knowledge of the energetic systems and their functions to diagnose the patient well.
Although the symptoms and dysfunction may respond to the acupuncture treatment immediately after the first session, any chronic condition will require a course of daily treatment to achieve significant improvement. (However, in the United States, patients usually can only afford and commit to two or three sessions per week.)
Thirty sessions of treatment are needed to significantly improve most chronic cases. Furthermore, the acupuncturist should be able to recognize and address the causes of the qi imbalance, provide tools for self-care, and help patients make lifestyle modifications.
Just as in choosing any professional for a service, referrals are important. The best types of referrals are ones from your friends and people you trust who have had a positive experience and outcome with the practitioner.
If you do not know anyone who can refer you to a practitioner nearby, you may want to find a few different acupuncturists in your local area and set up some time to interview them.
Some good questions to ask them would be how they diagnose their patients and what their treatment plan would entail. You may also want to ask what their experience has been in treating conditions like yours.
The bottom line is you want to see if they care about their work and their patients and if they are confident about what they know. A good acupuncturist will use acupuncture as a tool of a complete medical system, rather than use it as a simple needle for simulating your skin, muscle, or nerves based solely on the modern understanding of anatomy.
A good acupuncturist is no different from any other healthcare professional in terms of having a caring heart, sound knowledge, clinical skills, and the ability to communicate effectively. The acupuncturist needs to be able to develop a therapeutic alliance with patient.
In addition, a good acupuncturist must be able to appreciate the energetic system of the human being as ancient Chinese medicine describes. Because there are no external tools to be able to see this system, the practitioner has to be able to “see” it with a pair of “quantum glasses.”
Understanding the energetic nature of a human being is critical for the treatment process. The human body is an open system that constantly exchanges its energy with that of the natural environment and people around it. An acupuncturist can advise patients to be mindful of their surrounding climate changes, behaviors, and interpersonal relationships.
Since energy circulates in the meridian systems in an orderly and timely fashion, the acupuncturist should advise patients to maximally live a life congruent with the energetic flow of nature. This includes clear instruction on a good time to rise, rest, exercise, eat, and cleanse.
An acupuncturist’s own energy is also important when interacting and intervening with the energy of the patient. A good acupuncturist must cultivate his or her energy to a healthy level and remain very focused during the treatment. Dr. Jingduan Yang contributed this article which was first published on EET. Dr. Yang is a board-certified psychiatrist and a fourth-generation teacher and practitioner of traditional Chinese medicine. He practices integrative medicine in New York City, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey. His website is taoinstitute.com.