Things have been quiet on my blog lately but I’ve been busy. How come? Well…Here we are, and here I am: a newly-minted licensed acupuncturist, thank you very much!
People who have been following my blog or coming to my office in Austin for bodywork therapy know that I have been practicing a form of traditional Chinese medicine for the past three years…just not the needles and the herbs. The traditional Chinese-style Asian bodywork (namely: tui na, or Chinese medical massage) that I practice does in fact offer all the benefits of acupuncture without the needles. Even so, most people know acupuncture and have never heard of tui na. Consequently, and after four and a half years of study that earned me a master’s in Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (this would be herbs), after over a thousand hours of supervised clinical internship, and after four grueling board exams plus a state-required jurisprudence exam, I now feel like I am truly official. It took a couple days to believe it and I had to tell my teacher, Dr. Fan, first before I told anyone else. Finally, and after so much hard work, I am now a licensed acupuncturist!
~~~An acupuncturist’s training~~~
I vaguely remember the first time I experienced acupuncture some eight or so years ago. I was kind of unsure about it because (1) needles and (2) I’d had such bad experiences with Western medicine and I was scared of an unfamiliar so-called complementary alternative to it. But the acupuncturist seemed nice and I was desperate for pain relief and I figured I’d give it a try. How I became an acupuncturist is another long story for another day, but for now let me just say that I started as a patient thinking of this as being somewhat intimidating and not entirely trustworthy. By the time I decided acupuncture school was my destiny, I knew otherwise, but before I started my program I had NO idea of how much Western medicine I’d be compelled to study.
I really didn’t know quite how complex and challenging traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) is, either. I quickly learned though, and my first year in my program was spent in the classroom followed by hours and hours sitting on my living room floor, surrounded by books and hand-written flash cards. Years two, three, and four were spent both in the classroom and in clinic. Year four and a half was dedicated to clinic only.
Then there were board exams. Oh, the board exams. I described our preparation in the posts I wrote about this process and it is certainly a saga. The first one I sat for (here) tested my ability to navigate Western biomedicine. Following that first exam was one that tested me on my the foundations of Chinese medicine; after that, acupuncture and point locations; and last of all came the beast that is the dreaded herbal board (I wrote about the full four exams here). Up next? Then came Texas Medical board, the process of fingerprints and background checking and jurisprudence exam and having transcripts and other records sent to the local office here in Austin. I took some of it in myself and when I handed in my application, cashier’s check, and final odds and ends to the woman at the desk, I experienced a brief dizzy spell because it felt so unreal to finally have things complete.
Long story short? If you’ve never tried acupuncture or TCM, please do consider it and please do feel confident that your licensed acupuncturist is well trained and stringently vetted before being able to practice. (Granted, Texas has some of the more strict rules for acupuncturists, but unless you are in a completely unregulated state you can be assured that your practitioner has really worked hard for that license. For more information, check here).
~~~What acupuncturists do~~~
The short version is this: lots of things. We do of course practice acupuncture (inserting needles) and we do this in many ways. Some practitioners needle the source of the problem in its location. This can be in direct response to patient pain and right on the sore spot. That would be a case of needling what are called “ashi points” and this is more or less ancient China’s trigger point therapy or, in a more familiar lexicon, “dry needling.” We also make use of specific acupuncture points with known results. These might not make sense to you, but they are time-tested and have been in use for centuries. Acupuncture is a staple of the practice, in sum. Right on the problem or by way a specific point on the meridian (or channel, which is a way of designating body geography), we do place needles as a matter of course and that’s what people think of first, I think, when they consider going for a traditional Chinese medicine treatment. That said, TCM is way more than just needles.
We will also prescribe herbal treatments or educate about nutrition and food as herbal medicine. We offer cupping and gua sha (a lovely scraping treatment that I describe here) and moxibustion (warmed herbal treatment and yes, there’s a blog post about it: here). And, of course, a qualified practitioner can also offer tui na, or traditional Chinese medical massage (I discuss the benefits of tui na here).
Different practitioners do different things although the bread and butter of TCM is pain, stress, digestive complaints, and chronic illness. In addition to what we all tend to treat, some people specialize in fertility; others in stroke recovery; others, addiction; and yet others focus on PTSD or fibromyalgia or facial rejuvenation or menstrual difficulty. Still others are really good at working on a particular body part (shoulders or necks or backs, for example). There are also practitioners who address ages and stages of life, from pediatrics to aging.
And me? I am most experienced in musculoskeletal pain, chronic pain, and sports injury. I’ve also worked a lot with facial rejuvenation; gut health, weight loss, and body image; anxiety; dermatology; men’s health; general health nurturance; and Ehlers-Danlos syndrome. As to populations? I’ve worked with several musicians and haircare professionals (both professions tend to have wrist, arm, and hand issues). I have certainly enjoyed working with athletes, from Spartan Race participants to Hill Country Ride for AIDS riders to master-class competitive runners. (Naturally, there is a blog post for just about everything I’ve mentioned here…and you know where to look by now). I tend to get along well with professors and creative people and anyone who likes to ask questions.
Long story short? We don’t just put needles in you–there’s more to it than that–AND different acupuncturists specialize in different things. If you have tried acupuncture and didn’t love it, try it again with someone new. I loved acupuncture enough with my first practitioner that I tried it again and even ended up becoming an acupuncturist myself. However, it wasn’t until I met my beloved mentor and teacher, Dr. Fan, that I found my perfect practitioner. Yours is out there too, not to worry.
~~~Mixed feelings, I feel~~~
After I turned in the last bits and pieces of my application I felt a real sense of defensiveness. It sounds funny, maybe, but I kept finding myself having an internal conversation in which I defended the value of tui na to unseen nay-sayers residing in my mind. Then, when I told one person about my license and he asked me about my ideas for my practice, I mentioned tui na and his reaction was to ask me why I’d want to “keep doing that” because it’s harder work than acupuncture and besides, not too many people know what it is anyway. I felt stung, like my beloved practice was the stepchild and somehow not valid. Tui na is the original traditional Chinese medicine and I love it. So do my patients. I’m more official now that I’m licensed but I was already official and my work was real before this latest and very exciting milestone.
And … at the same time …. I am SO excited to be able to provide acupuncture to patients once again. The time I spent outside of school and concurrent to my program and my board exam season was time spent perfecting my ability to palpate, to know anatomy, and to improve my capacity as a practitioner. Even though it took me a little longer than I expected to get licensed, I did not waste that interim time in the slightest. Just because I am overjoyed at the thought of needling people once again does not mean that I am disloyal to tui na. It’s like when I left academia–just because I’m not a professor any more doesn’t mean that I no longer teach. Between instructing patients in the clinical space and working with health coaching clients, I still educate, and I do so with great joy. Eventually, I expect that I will write books and develop continuing education courses for acupuncturists. Returning to acupuncture as a licensed practitioner in no way lessens the work I’ve done for the past three years. Not at all! It is, instead, a blossoming and a bringing together of all that has come before. I cannot wait to see how all of this will flourish and grow and I hope that my patients, clients, and you, dear reader, will share in this process with me and benefit from it.
Long story short: This is such an exciting time…and I hope that you, dear reader, will come see me for TCM treatment, acupuncture or otherwise (or at least that you will find a practitioner who is just right for you wherever you may be).
It took a little longer than I expected and it was grueling, but yes, world, yes I am! I am now a licensed acupuncturist!
Traditional Chinese medicine has a lot to offer you. I practice acupuncture, herbal medicine, and more. Have you ever thought to try traditional Chinese bodywork? You may just love tui na (similar to massage) and other ancient Chinese therapies, including cupping, gua sha, moxa, and more. If you are looking for a holistic wellness consultant and coach, my services can entail short or longer term programs. You are your own best investment, and when you take charge of your wellbeing you invest in yourself now and for the benefit of your future.
Two Hearts Wellness is a local holistic health and wellness outfit with a passion for all things nourishing, including but not limited to: joyful living, great food, art, and literature, and–of course–traditional Chinese medicine. If you want to learn more about me, click here and do feel free to follow my blog and/or my Instagram, connect with me on Facebook, or contact me here to set up an appointment for personal training or health coaching services. If you are interested in Asian bodywork therapy, click here to book an appointment online.
Note: Material on this web site is not intended to replace your treatment or care provided by an MD. It is for educational/entertainment purposes only. A TCM practitioner in Texas does not identifies syndrome patterns but does not diagnose illness. Always consult your primary care doctor for health concerns.