Finding the right acupuncturist for you can be a bit of a challenge. One question that I get asked a lot by people who contact me after reading my blog posts is about how to do just that. They want someone with sterling credentials. They may be leery of needles or herbal medicine and not entirely confident about whether traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) works. In sum, people really want to know how to find the right person for their condition.
Clearly, it’s time for a blog post to respond to these concerns.
I. Credentials: What makes your licensed acupuncturist trustworthy and well-prepared to serve the public?
Lots of preparation: A licensed acupuncturist undergoes a 4.5 year program in order to earn their degree. We study Chinese and Western biomedicine during those years and also undertake a significant number of clinical internship hours (I completed 1123 but went over; the norm is somewhere around 950 hours). Next step? Board exams. Some states require three boards: Foundations of Chinese medicine; Acupuncture point locations; and Western biomedicine. Others (including Texas where I practice), require a fourth exam, and that would be the herbal board. After that, your acupuncturist will need to get licensed through the state where he or she intends to work, and this requires another exam (jurisprudence, to demonstrate basic knowledge of the law of the state in question). After a background check and no end to supporting paperwork, a licensed acupuncturist can then start helping you to become and remain your healthy best!
Requirements by state: If you would like to see what the requirements for your state are, here is an easy graphic that you can click on to find this information. If you want to learn a bit more about our biomedical training and my experience with that board exam, check my blog post on that subject here. For an overview of the full spectrum of board exams, take a look here. When you check out their web site, it should say something like “L.Ac.” (licensed acupuncturist) and there will probably be a reference somewhere to being an NCCAOM diplomate, which is the designation for having passed one’s board exams.
II. Conditions: What Can Be Treated, What Is Treated, Specialty Areas (And Yes, Acupuncture Does Work)
Acupuncture is really good for several health concerns, such as pain management; anxiety, stress, and/or PTSD; insomnia, headaches, and allergies; and general health maintenance. (According to the World Health Organization, acupuncture effectively treats a long list of concerns, outlined here). Generally, any acupuncturist you see is going to be good at treating pain, anxiety, and general health maintenance. That’s the bread and butter of any practice. Specialty areas, for their part, vary and are usually listed on the practitioner’s web site.
A common theme for acupuncturists is that they often had a health condition that was not helped by Western medicine but which was cured by TCM. People choose to specialize for varying reasons, but first-hand experience with an issue can often mean that the acupuncturist specializes in it. Another way that acupuncturists gets really good at a specialty is if they somehow attracted a certain patient type in student clinic and consequently, he or she developed as a practitioner by working with that population.
I am a generalist the way most acupuncturists are (see above). My specialty areas are: pain relief, including occupational health for musicians and other performers; Ehlers-Danlos management support; stress relief; men’s health; gut health and body image; aesthetic acupuncture, including scar revision; preventative care for all persons (non-gender-specific); and wellness education.
Not all practitioners have specialty areas in the traditional bodywork form that is called tui na (pronounced like “twee nah,” which means “push” and “grasp”). I am a dedicated practitioner of this modality, and in China, a tui na practitioner is similar to an orthopedic doctor. Tui na treatment is kind of like getting a massage and somewhat like getting acupressure. It’s wonderful! Depending on my patient’s needs, I will rely on either acupuncture or tui na, or a combination. (If you want to know which is better for you, take a look at this essay here). I rely quite a bit on herbs, and I counsel my patients about at-home nutritional therapy, too. My training and practice have given me confidence in the Chinese medical belief that the body does have innate self-healing ability. It is my job as a practitioner to help nurture this capacity to heal.
Why my specialties? Well…I love the human skeleton and have quite a fitness background. Early in my program, I got myself certified in traditional Chinese bodywork (the aforementioned tui na, which you can read more about here). I was lucky to have several Ehlers-Danlos patients during student clinic and in my extracurricular tui na practice. I love treating complicated cases and, to this day, I genuinely love treating the EDS population (see here). I had great success and a lot of fun learning and practicing facial rejuvenation acupuncture (this) and now I’m good at things like minimizing scars, using facial rejuvenation to help people with anxiety, and making jawlines look tighter. I work with musicians quite a bit. I have treated guys for men’s health issues. I love treating gut health and inflammation and helping people with weight loss. If you’ve got pain, I have lots of modalities for you, especially if you are nervous of needles (and yes, there’s a blog post for that, here). In my first career, I was a humanities professor; my scholarly area was national trauma and how it filtered through literature and art. Consequently, I am good with trauma patients. Finally, and also due to my first career, I will always love educating my patients; to that end, I also offer health coaching services that are, in reality, a way of taking a unique private course on the health of the most important person in your world: you.
Long story short? Different people do different things. Some acupuncturists love neurology and are excited about post-stroke rehabilitation. Others work with cancer support or fertility or fibromyalgia. Still others focus on eye health, pediatrics, or women’s health. If the practitioner has a specialty area, they will list it on their web site. Otherwise, assume that pain, anxiety, and general health maintenance are commonly treated by any acupuncturist.
And no, the needles do not hurt.
III. Connection: How Can You Tell If This Is The Right Acupuncturist For You?
You’ve looked at their web site and you see that they are a licensed acupuncturist. If you have a specific condition, especially if it’s rare and/or complicated, you checked to make sure that this person at least alluded to what ails you.
And now what? When you’re looking, what are some things to look for as you search?
Since I’m a small clinic of one, I tend to prefer solo practices. You may feel differently. There are many different ways to experience TCM, from community-style and franchise to small private clinics. Personally, I think the web site gives a really good feel for the practitioner. If it’s a canned content website with lots of funnels to get you to buy into whatever, that’s a little bit of a turn-off in my estimation. If it’s a sloppy web site with typos, that’s even worse. But you feel good about their web site, which is a great first step, and so you make an appointment. You go, and…
Do you feel comfortable? If you are timely, and it is important to you that schedule is maintained, was the acupuncturist also timely? Did you feel like the practitioner listened to you? If you want an explanation for your condition or your treatment, did your acupuncturist offer you a clear and concise response?
If you felt anxious about needles, did the practitioner offer you other modalities and reassure you by using fewer needles and avoiding places that generally hurt, like fingers? As you left, did you depart feeling confident that you had a plan for your health?
When you go to the Western physician, the appointment is quick and you’re not always dealing with the MD. You may spend a lot more of your appointment time with the assistant. That’s not how it is when you go for acupuncture. You will spend time with your practitioner and it’s hands-on treatment, either because they’re placing and removing needles or because they’re giving you a bodywork treatment. It’s important that you actually like being around your acupuncturist, I think. Treatment should be something you look forward to and feel relaxed about afterward. Unless you have a rare condition (and can’t find anyone who treats it other than one particular acupuncturist whom you may not love but can tolerate), you can shop around. Feeling comfortable with your acupuncturist is important.
Acupuncturists spend quite a bit of time in school, they undergo grueling board exams, and they picked this profession because they care about people and they care about natural, holistic health. Finding just the right one for you might be a bit of a challenge (or it might be really easy), but it’s worth the effort.
Traditional Chinese medicine can change your life. If you’re thinking about trying acupuncture and other modalities of this wonderful healing resource…why wait?
Paula Bruno, Ph.D., L.Ac., is a licensed acupuncturist and herbalist, an AOBTA-CP traditional Chinese bodywork therapist, and a wellness educator. She maintains an active and growing practice at her Austin, TX offices. Dr. Bruno is also available for distance appointments for wellness consultation or coaching.
In her first career, she was a Spanish professor.
Dr. Bruno’s specialties as a traditional Chinese medicine practitioner include: • Musculoskeletal health (acute or chronic pain relief; Ehlers Danlos syndrome & hypermobility support) • Digestive support, gut health, and weight loss • Aesthetic treatment, including scar revision • Men’s health • General preventative care and immune support for all persons.
When you are ready to discover what traditional medicine plus a vibrant and engaged approach to holistic health can do for you, either contact Dr. Bruno or book an appointment online.