“Help! I need an acupuncturist but where do I start to find the ONE that is the right match for me, and what I need help with ?”
Acupuncturists are as varied as conventional physicians. Hopefully we are all Walking our Talk and living by example of what optimal health can look and feel like for ALL of us. We are everything from quiet, zen-like and tender to outgoing, gregarious and active. We do Five Element acupuncture, Tan Style, Traditional Chinese Medicine, Master Tung… the list goes on and on. Knowing what type of acupuncturist will best serve your needs isn’t always easy, and making decisions about a health care provider in the already somewhat foreign world of acupuncture can be daunting. Finding the right acupuncturist to fit your needs and build a relationship can be difficult but your mind, body and spirit will thank you for years to come.
Here’s a list of questions to ask providers that you may contact for treatment:
What is your educational background?
This question can really help clarify what type of acupuncturist they are. You want to make sure they are trained and certified to practice acupuncture. The ancient art of Chinese Medical Diagnosis is one of the keys to practicing successful acupuncture and getting results. Not everyone is trained in these methods and you will want to make sure that the person you choose has a clear understanding of this.
There are a few choices regarding who can practice acupuncture:
- Licensed Acupuncturist (LAc): A licensed acupuncturist will have a Masters Degree or doctoral degree in Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine. They are required to have a minimum of 1800-2400 hours (I was trained in California which requires 3,000 + hours; the highest standard in the country) of instruction in acupuncture, point location, Chinese Medicine theory, including diagnostic methods of observation of tongue, pulses, face and body. Acupuncturists in most states must also be certified by the NCCAOM, an agency that regulates acupuncturists nationally. Most states (Oregon included) also license acupuncturists with the Board of Medical Examiners.
- Physicians: In the US, many physicians are allowed to practice needling (called “dry needling” by the medical community) after having only 100-200 hours of training! This is often referred to as Medical Acupuncture. While these physicians are open to holistic and alternative methods of healing, they are not trained in Chinese Medical Diagnosis and these needling seminars are often focused only on trigger point therapy for relieving muscle pain. This is very minimal training and often does not produce the lasting results that patients are seeking.
- Chiropractors and Physical Therapists: In some states, not Oregon, chiropractors or physical therapists can attend a 100-150 hour seminars to learn needling for pain syndromes. They are typically required to only perform acupuncture treatments that relate to chiropractic adjustments and trigger point release.
Again, they are not trained in diagnostic methods and often are reduced to only treating localized pain. Many complaints have been filed because of improper training techniques that are unnecessarily painful and bodily harm that is a danger to the unknowing public.
Obviously, public safety and effective care is our upmost concern and we only recommend seeing Licensed Acupuncturists because of their superior professional training and extensive clinical experience. Many local MDs prefer to refer to LAc’s (Licensed Acupuncturists) simply because they do not have the time to offer the same level of care that we provide at our office.
Do they specialize?
Some acupuncturists treat any and all conditions, but many will specialize in treating certain conditions. Specialists may focus on:
- Stress Relief, Anxiety, Depression
- Pain and Musculo-skeletal disorders
- Fertility, IVF support
- Women’s health
- Oncology, cancer and other debilitating diseases
You will want to make sure the person you choose has the knowledge and capability to treat your particular condition and constitution.
What style of acupuncture do they use?
There are many different styles of acupuncture such as:
- Traditional Chinese Acupuncture
- Five Element
- Ear Acupuncture
- Japanese Style
- Korean Style Hand Acupuncture
- Cosmetic Acupuncture
- Scalp Acupuncture
- Tan Style Acupuncture
Some of these styles are more effective for various conditions than others, for example, Five Element style often will treat mental – emotional problems, while Ear acupuncture treats addictions. Some are more effective for internal medicine problems, such as Traditional Chinese Medicine. You should find out which modalities your acupuncturist uses, many of us have been trained in and use more than one.
Which health insurance do you accept, if any?
Today, many health care plans pay for acupuncture treatments. Your acupuncturist should be available to find out what your benefits are and work with you to get the treatments you need within the scope of benefits offered. Ask if your acupuncturist’s office will submit the billing for you. Some acupuncturists do not accept insurance but will be able to give you a receipt called a superbill that you can then submit to your insurance company for reimbursement.
Community Acupuncture in a group setting or private treatments?
There are many clinics that offer community acupuncture where you are in a group treatment room, usually treated in recliners. This is a great option for those who need many treatments a week, or want to pay on a sliding scale because they do not have insurance benefits that cover acupuncture or simply enjoy the synergy that is created in a group atmosphere. Traditionally acupuncture treatments are 2-3 times a week for an acute (usually painful) condition to be most effective, and community acupuncture makes our treatments accessible to ALL people despite income or insurance coverage.
On the other hand, private treatments in a room all by yourself may be the retreat you need to get a break from your day and relax deeper into your treatment. Acupuncture is an accepted form of alternative medicine by the medical community and insurance companies recognize the cost savings of offering their members acupuncture coverage. Most major insurers offer acupuncture coverage and it is worth looking into your particular plan. Often the cost of the treatment is just your co-pay of $10-20; many do not require you to meet your annual deductible first. Private treatments guarantee more individualized treatments and the ability for the practitioner to add other modalities as needed.
How many treatments will you need?
You must be examined by an acupuncturist before you can get a realistic estimate about how many treatments will be needed. A general range can be discussed while on the phone, but you want an acupuncturist to do a full intake of your health history with possibly orthopedic exams along with the diagnostic tools of Oriental Medicine before they can give you a treatment plan. Depending on how long you have had your condition, the severity of your symptoms and the overall state of your health will determine the time needed for healing to occur. Your acupuncturist will look at the underlying causes of your problems and seek to alleviate your symptoms while transforming the root cause in order to prevent reoccurrence.
What other services do they offer?
Oriental Medicine encompasses not only acupuncture and herbal medicine but also, cupping massage, Gua Sha, Pediatric Sho Ni Shin, and nutritional therapy. Its principles have been around for thousands of years with proven results with people from many cultures across many, many generations.
The supplementation of herbal formulas to your treatment plan can be very effective in helping to relieve your problematic symptoms. Chinese herbs come in many forms, pills, teas, capsules and granule powders. Make sure your acupuncturist provides herbs that are coming from a reputable company and have been tested for pesticides, contaminants and heavy metals.
In addition to these modalities, other supplements may be talked about such as nutritional counseling to help you to incorporate foods into your daily diet that can assist in your healing.
Moxa and Cupping therapies may also be used. Cupping can be highly effective in the treatment of body pain and may be used to help resolve your problem.
What type of payments do you take and how much will it cost me?
The price of your treatments will depend on the location, experience and style of the acupuncturist and many, if not most, will require payment at time of service. Options for accepting payment should also be offered; cash, credit card, debit card and health savings account / flex spending payment cards are typical.
All of the above details factor into picking the right acupuncturist for you. Over time, you will be building a strong relationship with your provider, telling your friends and family about them as they work with you toward health and healing. To do this, you should be fully confident that your practitioner is your partner in health, offering you everything that you need to get better and feel great!