How to pick the right acupuncturist for you (yes, even if it's not me!)
How to understand professional qualifications, find a good fit for your problem, find a good fit for your personality, and get the best results you can get. Below are some questions to consider.
What are you coming in for?
While all licensed acupuncturists' training teaches them how to treat all medical conditions, some of us have specialties and some of us have things we just don't like to treat. For instance, I am great at low back pain, making you look and feel younger, grief and sadness, constipation, PMS, middle age problems, libido, anxiety, knee pain, and several other things; but I'm not your person for foot, neck, or hip pain.
What to do: Look through a practitioner's website and see the conditions they mention most often and notice what pictures they tend to post. Do you see lots of pictures of people rubbing their back, knees, or neck? This could indicate they love treating orthopedic or musculoskeletal problems. That's great news if your back is hurting, but you may want to inquire further with them directly if you are experiencing anxiety to see if they have much success in treating it. Never hesitate to email the acupuncturist and ask them directly if they like to treat the complaints you're coming in for. A good acupuncturist will be honest and may even give you 2 or 3 names of other practitioners to check out if they feel the two of you aren't a good fit.
Also, just because they've never treated your specific condition doesn't mean they can't. It's a long story, but any fully qualified acupuncturist has the ability to break down any problems and treat them. If they seem enthusiastic about treating your unique problem go meet them and get a feel for them. If they seem reluctant to treat your condition, then maybe they're not a good fit for you.
Do you prefer speaking in Western medical terms or more light and energy flow type terms? Or a mix of both?
You can get a pretty good idea of what a practitioner is like by their website sometimes. Are you seeing lots of Western medical terminology, showing people with lab coats and stethoscopes on, or are you seeing more Buddha statues, sanskrit, and lotuses? Or not much of either? See how their presentation resonates with you personally. Also, realize that part of the benefit of acupuncture and Chinese medicine is that it does not separate the body from the mind. More physical conditions start in the mind than you'd ever imagine. A great practitioner is able to combine and customize your treatments to address both.
Another hint that is sometimes useful is to see what types of acupuncture they use. Though you can't completely depend on this, a person who practices esoteric acupuncture or 5-element acupuncture is more likely to treat emotional issues or issues that you can't quite put a name on than someone who uses mostly motor point acupuncture. Someone who uses motor point acupuncture and electroacupuncture is often more interested in orthopedic or sports acupuncture than in treating digestive issues. There are lots of us who blend styles and techniques.
Can you go in for a free or low-cost consultation?
This is the absolute best thing to do once you've established the practitioner's qualifications. You get a chance to see if your personalities fit and that goes a long way towards how pleasant and successful your treatments will be.
What do you look for when you go in for a consultation?
#1 How clean is it? No, we're not scrubbing in for surgery but this is supposed to be a professional medical clinic and that means clean.
#2 Is the practitioner really listening to you and answering your questions? A huge benefit of acupuncture is getting to the root of the problem so that you can eliminate the problem instead of just treating symptoms. This can only be done if the practitioner understands you as a unique person and where you are coming from. If you get a bad feeling during your consultation, speak up or don't choose that practitioner for treatment.
#3 Do you feel like your personalities mesh? You may be spending a fair amount of time with this person. You don't have to be best friends, but there should be a basic good feeling and the sense that you can trust this person to treat you. Lots of people are afraid of needles but having a good rapport will help get rid of some of that fear.
Are they just about needles or will they make lifestyle recommendations to keep you well?
Personally I feel that if a patient isn't offered lifestyle, dietary, qigong, or other recommendations then that patient is being shortchanged. "Acupuncture" isn't just needles. It's a comprehensive system of medicine. You should have homework made available to you as part of your treatment plan. Those who follow a treatment plan need fewer acupuncture treatments.
How are acupuncturists educated, licensed, and fully qualified?
Acupuncturist Education: All fully qualified, licensed acupuncturists have at least a 4-year Master's Degree in Acupuncture and/or "Oriental Medicine" (which is the herbal portion of what we practice.) Some acupuncturists also have a Doctorate degree, meaning that they have taken a year or more of study and done research in acupuncture or herbal medicine.
Acupuncturist Licensing: Most states now license acupuncturists, though there are some states that don't. The most common licensing designations you will see for fully qualified acupuncturists are "LAc" (Licensed Acupuncturist), "Ac" (Acupuncturist), and "AP" (Acupuncture Physician). The only real difference is what that practitioner's state chose to call the title. In some cases, such as Florida, acupuncturists are AP and they are also used as primary care physicians.
Acupuncturist Qualifications: Separate from licensing are the qualifying national board examinations for certification by the National Certification Commision for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine. These 4 examinations result in Board Certification in Herbology, Biomedicine (Western Medicine), Acupuncture, and Foundations of Traditional Chinese Medicine (the theory and philosophy behind all of it.)
In a nutshell: 1)To fully benefit from what acupuncture has to offer, make sure you select a licensed, NCCAOM Board Certified acupuncturist. Acupuncture is so much more than just putting needles in the right place. 2) If you are getting mixed messages from their website, email them to see if they enjoy treating the conditions you have. 3) If possible, meet them for a brief 15-20 minute conversation to see if you're a good fit.