Home & FamilyHealth & FitnessFinding the Right Acupuncturist

Finding the Right Acupuncturist

Guest article written by: Rebeca Simpson Holloway

As you may recall, I started my journey with acupuncture on the recommendation of Dr. James Nicolai, the medical director for the Franciscan Center for Integrative Health in Indianapolis. I was lucky to have a qualified medical doctor provide a referral. But, I know that not everybody has access to an integrative medicine specialist. So, I’d like to provide a little information on how you can find the best practitioner.

What you may not know, is that there is a difference among acupuncture practitioners. In fact, before visiting Dr. Nicolai’s recommended practitioner, I originally I followed the advice of a friend and visited a chiropractor who also offered acupuncture. I found his treatment to be tremendously relaxing. It cleared up my sinuses and gave me a huge jolt of energy. However, I felt no relief for my migraine. When I visited Acupuncture of Indiana, it was a completely different experience. I was floored by the dramatic turnaround I’d taken after just one treatment. So, why such a difference?

The difference is that the chiropractor I visited has an education in chiropractic medicine and completed a minimum amount of training to be “certified” in the state as an acupuncturist. (Certification requirements vary from state to state.) On the flip side, the specialists at Acupuncture of Indiana have completed at least four years of graduate-level training with even more continued education and research. That’s not to say that you can’t get good care with a chiropractor. I’m just saying—there’s a difference.

In an attempt to clear up the difference, I sent a query to a number of experts in the field and this is what I found. There are two different educational routes to becoming an acupuncturist. Licensed acupuncturists complete a master’s program at a nationally-recognized acupuncture school, which is akin to the biomedical school for medical doctors. Within the four-year program, acupuncture and herbal medicine are studied in great depth and these practitioners are generally considered to be specialists in the field. The other rout varies from state to state and is followed by practitioners who are already a medical doctor (MD), naturopath (ND), chiropractor (DC) or dentist (DDS). These practitioners are educated in their particular fields and then complete a certain amount of basic acupuncture training (predetermined by the state regulators). They are generally considered to practice “medical acupuncture” with a focus on pain relief rather than balancing the body for overall general health. (However, this topic is of hot debate between the two types of practitioners.)

According to Becca Seitz, a licensed and board certified acupuncturist and Chinese herbalist, it’s like comparing a general practice doctor to a specialist. She advises patients to educate themselves on the qualifications of their practitioner, and what they can expect from the level of training their practitioner has received. “Medical Acupuncture can be effective, but if it isn’t, that doesn’t mean acupuncture can’t work,” she says. “It may just mean that a referral to a specialist is in order.”

Personally, I’ve been around the block long enough to know that regardless of training, there are some pretty crappy “specialists” out there. My family doc runs circles around some of the lackluster specialists I’ve encountered—especially my recent neurologist. I guess the same can be said about an acupuncturist. What it boils down to is finding the right practitioner for your needs.

Joseph Alban, a New York state licensed acupuncturist and diplomat in Oriental medicine says finding an acupuncturist can be intimidating, but it’s not impossible. He recommends word of mouth as the best method for finding an acupuncturist, but says patients can also do a general search on www.acufinder.com. Alban says patients should look for a practitioner in their area who is open to talking about their approach, and who will give an idea of expectations for treatment. Ask about their training and experience for your particular health concern. Most practitioners will be happy to set up a free consultation over the phone or in person so that patients can make an informed decision before starting treatment.

Because Oriental medicine is based on the idea that the mind, body and spirit act as one, a good practitioner should also demonstrate an interest in the patient’s entire medical and personal background. This can often be completed in the initial appointment, but should also be included in subsequent sessions. If an acupuncturist isn’t looking for feedback, he’s not doing a thorough job.

To sum it up, just like any other aspect of medicine, the person you have managing your care is a very personal choice. Therefore, communication and trust trump credentials.

Guest article written by: Rebeca Simpson Holloway

Rebeca - The Average Parent

Rebeca is an average mom raising an active toddler in the Midwest. In additional to taking care of her family full time, she also works as a PR chick for Designed Write Public Relations and is the creator of the facebook page, The Average Parent.

In addition to spending time with her friends and family, Rebeca enjoys trying new things and spreading the word about her experiences. Contact Rebeca at theaverageparent@gmail.com.

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