In my emergency session with my Chiropractor today he asked me “How do I find a good Acupuncturist? I know a few, some pretty well known ones as well, but what qualities would I look for to know that they are good?” I thought to myself, this is a very interesting question. How DO you know if someone is good? or bad for that matter?
Acupuncture is a strange art and medicine, and so called “book knowledge” isn’t exactly the sole qualifying measure to rank us among. So, then what is? It’s certainly not your score on the CALE or National Exams, as we all know those tests don’t exactly test our ability to practice the medicine - just memorize it. Your grades in school, or how long you’ve been in practice aren’t very good measures either. Acupuncturists as a whole are a very diverse group of people, some book smart, some ridden with test anxiety, some with poor business skills, and some with great business skills, some well versed in herbology, others in electro-stim or Facial acupuncture and the list goes on from there. Everyone is in a sense their own little niche of acupuncture.
For someone coming to acupuncture for the very first time, they may rely on the providers their insurance covers, who’s closer, or who has the best Yelp reviews. This may help narrow down the search, but it still won’t necessarily point you in the right direction to the right or “best” acupuncturist for you.
The interesting thing I’ve found about acupuncture, and coincidentally is also the same reason it’s hard to “scientifically” test acupuncture, or write a standardized test for that matter, is that there really is never ONE correct answer for any question. If a patient came to me with one problem, and then went to 10 other acupuncturists, chances are every single one of us would provide a different treatment, even a different diagnosis. For every one way to treat a patient, there is literally an infinite combination of other equally effective and “correct” ways to treat the same patient. In acupuncture there is rarely a wrong answer, and consequently, almost every answer is a right one. Even our textbooks disagree on treatment methods and even point locations.
With all of this ambiguity to the medicine it starts to seem impossible to find a “good” acupuncturist. How would you base your rankings? There’s really no good system to do so. What it really comes down to is your connection with the practitioner. Does this person feel like a good fit? Do they understand what I am saying to them? Are their treatments effective for me? What is good for one person may also not prove true for another and vice versa. In acupuncture school I recall figuring out very quickly which colleagues I felt were “good” practitioners, they were smarter, better with their hands, more understanding of the medicine, I ranked them by their grades and how they performed on tests. When we got into clinic however, I found that these same people I had considered “poor” practitioners, were actually quite adept at treating patients, and the patients who enjoyed coming to them were nothing like me at all. In some sense it was sort of the epitome of “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” What didn’t work for me, worked great for someone else.
In my own practice I’ve found that this medicine above all else is a very intuitive and even to some extent a psychic medicine. I base many treatments off of what my patients aren’t telling me, and the energy I feel from them. Sure this sounds awfully woo-woo-heeby-jeeby but in a field where every right answer is also a wrong answer, you eventually have to find your own calibration to decide how to proceed with a treatment.
I suppose I may have just confused some of you even further, since there’s no tried and true way to find a “good” acupuncturist other than to follow your intuition and stick with the practitioners you connect with the best. Perhaps the Acupuncturists with grand Yelp reviews and referrals merely connect more easily with a greater volume of people, and the ones with less glowing reviews have a more specific niche of people they do well treating. In the end, choosing an acupuncturist becomes a lot like taking a tricky multiple choice test, you may be well aware of one wrong answer, but it’s up to you to determine from there which of the remaining is the most correct.
Kim Peirano, MS, L.Ac.