Excerpt from Escape from the Labyrinth

Finding Your Acupuncturist:

You might be wondering how to find a good, qualified acupuncturist?

As much thought and analysis should be going into choosing your acupuncturist as choosing a doctor. Though it can be a long process, it really is a case of you get what you put in. If you take the time and effort to find a good acupuncturist, you will reap the rewards for a long time to come.

The best possible method of finding a skilled acupuncturist is by referral. After all, when someone has already visited the acupuncturist and had a successful treatment that improved their condition, you have a direct, firsthand account of what you can expect. But obtaining a referral from a friend, or even a doctor, can be difficult when you are the only one in your social circle or area who is searching for alternative forms of treatment.

The next step, then, is the internet. When it comes to looking for services, the internet is a colorful and highly modified version of the phonebook. However, the internet makes it a lot easier to present yourself in whatever way you want. There’s nobody there to stop an acupuncturist with little to no experience from describing themselves as a “guru” with a 100% success rate. You often need to dig through a jungle of information to find the underlying truth. There are many acupuncturists who use impressive wording and even made up accreditations to cover up their lack of experience.

Unfortunately, the internet is also an arena where businesses openly compete against one another. They can anonymously trash each other, post negative reviews, or even pay for positive reviews. For example, any doctor or acupuncturist can pay a search engine to optimize their name to appear under a list titled “The Best Acupuncturists.” I get asked to join these services dozens of times a month by mail, email and even personal visits by their sales reps.

That being said, I strongly believe in a few requirements that any acupuncturist MUST meet. They must have graduated from an accredited Oriental Medicine college, chiropractor school, or if they are a doctor taken acupuncture courses in medical school. They must have passed the National Board Exam (administered by the NCCAOM-National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine), which is necessary to be licensed to legally practice in your state. All acupuncturists must also have a license allowing them to practice in your state. You can find out the status of an acupuncturist’s license by going onto your state’s Department of Professional Regulations website.

Don’t pay too much attention if they post an impressive list of lectures and seminars they attend annually. Every acupuncturist has to spend a required amount of time a year at continued education seminars in order to keep their license active (the number of hours required varies state to state). This practice is in place for many professions such as lawyers and doctors. The only difference is that doctors and lawyers usually don’t put up the list of continued education classes they’ve completed because it is a given that they have to keep themselves up to date on what’s happening in their profession. Through these mandatory classes the government is able to ensure that professionals are constantly aware of what is happening in their field, and that they are improving their level of care. Even though seminars and lectures do help acupuncturists gain knowledge, you must remember that that they are simply another source of information for the acupuncturist and not something “extra” that they are doing that other acupuncturists aren’t. All acupuncturists have to attend these lectures and classes and they are not a replacement for real life experience and expertise.
But what should you pay attention to if you want to find an acupuncturist that will give you life-changing results?

Pay attention to how they present their education, experience, and background. One of my patients came to me with herbs and supplements that were recommended to him over the internet by a “professor.” My patient was very impressed by this man who claimed that he had a lot of patients and often gives lectures. I decided to check out the website of this so called “acupuncturist”. Turns out he had a great website full of articles he had written, but there were no links as to where those articles had been published. There was also no mention of his education. That is until I scrolled to the very bottom of the page. That was when I found out that he was indeed a professor – a professor of oceanology! Beware of these “acupuncturists” or “herbalists” who “treat” patients and give consultations over the phone and internet.

If an acupuncturist is not informing you about when they graduated from acupuncture school, what they have been up to since then, or how long they have been practicing – but instead says they have been “interested”, or “involved” in alternative medicine since childhood, or travelled in Tibet – this should be a red flag for you. They are just trying to make you that think they have a lot more experience and credentials than they really do. Also watch out for those who say they have 30 years of experience, but in small print they count their time as a yoga teacher or biochemist as part of those thirty years. It’s certainly beneficial to have life experience, but this isn’t the same as studying and practicing acupuncture.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with an acupuncturist who has recently graduated from acupuncture school. There have been many young, recently graduated acupuncturists who are amazing at what they do. They have the latest information and a lot of energy and enthusiasm to be the best. However, they do need to be honest about their credentials and actual acupuncture experience. As you will read later, this is important to know when you’re choosing an acupuncturist.

Keep in mind though, that sometimes it’s necessary to choose an acupuncturist based on how complicated your condition is. For example, if you’ve just recently developed lower back pain that occurs after an intense workout, or a stomach ache a few times a month, you can choose an acupuncturist with less experience, but with other wonderful qualities. You’re sure to have an improvement after one or two appointments, since these conditions are usually not complex or difficult to treat. Choosing an acupuncturist with less experience may also be easier on your wallet.

But if you are trying to find relief from long-term, stubborn and chronic conditions that Western medicine isn’t providing much help with, you will need to choose your acupuncturist wisely if you want your condition to improve after a few treatments. I’d also like to stress here how important it is to choose a qualified acupuncturist if you have cancer. Time is crucial, and it’s necessary to start treatment right away. But remember that while acupuncture alone does not treat cancer, Oriental medicine can certainly treat the side effects of cancer treatments and build up the immunity of a patient after chemo and radiation treatments. Remember: if any acupuncturist promises to cure your cancer it should be a BIG RED FLAG! Acupuncturists are not MD’s, and if yours starts giving advice like one, look for the door. You may lose precious time that can save your life.
Every professional should know the limits of their trade. Acupuncturists are no exception.

Location, as anyone knows, is very important – especially when choosing where to go for acupuncture treatments. In the beginning of your treatments you might have to go twice a week if you have a chronic condition. It’s hard to make a commitment like that if you have to travel far (although I have a few select patients that do just that). But don’t sacrifice your health by choosing the acupuncture office across the street.

Sometimes, especially with complex conditions, it’s worth it to travel a few extra miles. I have patients that travel to see me from far away suburbs and even neighboring states because I can give them a stable improvement in their condition. At the same time, I help them find another acupuncturist close to their home that can do more basic, weekly treatments. If you want to save on parking and gas, choose an acupuncturist based on how close they are. But if you’re looking to get real results from your treatment you should choose your acupuncturist according to their education and experience.

Once you’ve chosen an acupuncturist you should talk to them before making the first appointment. Briefly describe your condition and ask them what treatment plan they would suggest for you. Make sure he gives you answers that are unique to your condition, and that are not general promises to quickly cure you. Asking these important questions will give you a more comprehensive picture about the education, skill level, and experience of that acupuncturist.

Be sure you understand how long each appointment will last. An initial consultation should not be less than 30 minutes, and I personally believe it’s essential to have the patient fill out a detailed consultation form that asks a number of both general and specific questions about the condition of their health. The acupuncturist should have the patient send them the consultation form prior to the first appointment to have ample time to review it and prepare themselves.

Often the initial consultation itself can last up to an hour. It’s not rare in my practice for a patient to come seeking relief “just for insomnia”, and when he comes in I find out that his mother, father and brother all died of heart disease, his pulse is 100, and he has high blood pressure. In cases like this, insomnia is just the tip of the iceberg. Much more time is needed during the consultation to figure out how to treat the deep-seated condition behind the insomnia.

I think the treatment itself should be about an hour long. In my practice the needles stay in for at the least a half hour – though anxious patients, or those with fibromyalgia, can only lie down for fifteen minutes at a time. I make sure that my patients lie in a quiet, dark room with light music playing and aromatic oils in the air. After the acupuncture treatment is over, I almost always use additional Oriental medical treatments such as gu’asha, cupping, or moxa therapy. Though this requires extra time, preparation and effort on the practitioners’ side, I believe they should be interested in investing the extra resources to be sure their patient gets a complete treatment and a fast result.

Going to an acupuncture office shouldn’t feel like waiting in line at the deli counter – “Next customer, please!” Acupuncturists that overbook their schedules and are always juggling patients tend to never have an extra slot for an emergency visit if you ever need one. I personally try to leave one or two appointment slots free everyday in case one of my patients needs an emergency appointment. Also, trying to treat more than two or three patients at a time can affect the quality of the treatment. If your acupuncturist is trying to balance an overbooked schedule, don’t be surprised if you are not getting the treatment you think you deserve.

The results that you can expect from your acupuncture treatment depend a lot on the acupuncturist’s needle technique (how they go about placing needles into your skin). The quality and result of your treatment can vary depending on experience, training, sensitivity of the practitioner’s fingers, and the quality of needles used. Needle technique is a major reason why 75% of people that would like to try acupuncture never make an appointment. It’s not because they doubt its effectiveness, or because it’s not covered by their health insurance plans. They are simply afraid that placing the needles into their skin will hurt. The image of needles penetrating the skin brings up images from horror movies, and sends chills down people’s spines. But you should know that an experienced acupuncturist is able to feel when the needle has reached its proper depth based on how much resistance the tissue gives. When I’m placing needles, I pay careful attention to the surrounding skin, muscles, and the patients’ facial expression. At the tiniest sign of discomfort, I’ll change my method of placing the needles into the skin to better suit the patient.

Read more about Larisa’s new book here!
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