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Quest for an Acupuncturist

By Sara Calabro

What is the most common reason that people give for never having tried acupuncture? Too expensive? Don’t think it’ll help their condition? Afraid of needles? None of the above.

According to an AcuTake reader survey, the number-one reason people haven’t tried acupuncture is because they’re not sure how to find an acupuncturist.

Whether you’re wanting to try acupuncture for the first time or looking to get treated by someone new, here are some suggestions for how to find an acupuncturist.

Where to Look for an Acupuncturist

After seeing the findings on that AcuTake reader survey—and considering how often readers email us asking for acupuncturist recommendations—we created a first-in-class acupuncturist directory that connects you with the acupuncturist who’s right for you.

The AcuTake Acupuncturist Directory helps you understand who an acupuncturist really is, as a professional and a person, so that you can make fully informed decisions about who to involve in your health process. All acupuncturists in the directory share their unique stories. They talk about why they became acupuncturists, what makes them different, why they love their work, and how they stay healthy in their own lives. They even debunk common misconceptions about acupuncture.

Acupuncture teaches us that health is a process—an ongoing journey rather than a one-shot, quick-fix deal. With this perspective on health becoming more prevalent, we’re empowered, in control, and feeling rightfully picky about who we invite along on our journeys.

When looking for an acupuncturist, we crave more than a laundry list of facts and accomplishments. We want information that we can relate to. You can find that here.

Do You Need Help With Something Specific?

Acupuncturists do not train by specialty the way biomedical doctors do. The notion of specialization runs counter to the premise of acupuncture, which is that disease emerges when there is disharmony among the interconnected physical, emotional and environmental factors that constitute health.

From an acupuncture perspective, it doesn’t make sense to separate anxiety, for example, from menstrual irregularities or migraines. Acupuncturists identify underlying imbalances that lead to general patterns of disharmony—which can produce multiple seemingly unrelated symptoms—rather than assign symptoms to isolated anatomical parts.

That being said, many acupuncturists develop an interest in certain conditions, which leads to post-graduate learning and continuing education courses in these areas. This tends to attract patients with these conditions, which results in referrals of similar cases.

Over time, this can mean that one acupuncturist has significantly more experience than another at treating infertility, for example—or erectile dysfunction, or digestive issues, or bipolar disorder.

Acupuncturists, by nature of their trade, are always thinking holistically, beyond the single symptom that brings a patient in the door. But it is a reality that some practitioners are more experienced than others at treating certain conditions—and get better results.

All acupuncturists in the AcuTake Acupuncturist Directory identify their areas of specialization, so you can search by whatever condition you need help with. If you can’t find someone who meets your needs, try contacting an acupuncturist in another location who specializes in your condition, and ask him or her for a referral. Especially within specialties, acupuncturists often know of out-of-town colleagues who do similar work.

Everyone’s Style of Acupuncture Is Unique

Another differentiator when choosing an acupuncturist is style of practice. Even among acupuncturists who specialize in particular conditions, strategies and techniques can vary widely.

For example, when treating pain, some styles of acupuncture require a lot of local needling, meaning that acupuncture needles are placed at the actual site of pain. Others favor more distal approaches—for example, addressing low back pain by needling the knee.

Japanese acupuncture tends to use thinner needles and less stimulation than more traditional Chinese styles. It can be a good option for people who have anxiety about needles.

There’s also five-element acupuncture, which concentrates heavily on emotional and spiritual imbalances; trigger-point acupuncture, a more Western approach in that it identifies problems in specific muscles; scalp acupuncture, commonly used for stroke; and auricular (ear) acupuncture, best known for addiction, smoking cession and weight loss.

It is common for acupuncturists to combine various treatment styles. However, rarely does a practitioner have extensive knowledge of and experience with all styles. If a particular style of treatment is appealing to you, perform a keyword search in the directory.

Once you’ve narrowed down some options for practitioners, it’s a good idea to visit each acupuncturist’s own website for additional information about their specializations and styles. Community acupuncture clinics sometimes have practitioners of various specialties and styles on staff; if this information is unavailable on the clinic’s website, call and ask the receptionist. Treatments at student clinics usually reflect the style of acupuncture that’s taught at the school, so reading online about the school’s curriculum can help set expectations.

As is true in any profession, not all acupuncturists are created equal. Finding the one who’s right for you can require a little investigating—and sometimes even trial and error—but ultimately, the benefits are worth the quest.

Photo by Mary Marsiglio

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