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Q: Do you believe that acupuncture can be practised effectively without a full understanding of the original Chinese doctrines?
A: Some questions seem deceptively simple until you start to unravel them. This is one!
For starters, it depends on how you define acupuncture. This was the cause of a great deal of discontent in 2000 when the House of Lords Report led to the creation of the Acupuncture Regulatory Working Group, because the definition of acupuncture was very basic:
"Acupuncture refers to the insertion of a solid needle into any part of the human
body for disease prevention, therapy or maintenance of health. There are various
other techniques often used with acupuncture, which may or may not be invasive"
This caused a huge amount of dissent within the BAcC because a phrase such as 'according to the principles of Traditional East Asian medicine' was not included. The brute reality was, and to some extent still is, that there is a thriving tradition of Western medical acupuncture based on a neurophysiological or segmental understanding of how it works, and more to the point a tradition whose research according to these principles was largely the reason that acupuncture was promoted into Group 1 of the therapies listed in the House of Lords Report. From the WMA perspective, acupuncture works by mechanisms which are not yet fully understood but which has enough research behind some of its interventions to justify its inclusion as another tool in the toolbox within scope of practice.
From a Chinese medicine perspective, there are two issues in the question. First is the extent to which one needs to be trained. There are a number of short courses in traditional acupuncture which we do not believe have enough teaching hours to instil a good understanding of Chinese medicine principles as well as passing on all of the practical training both as an acupuncturist and as a healthcare practitioner which meets recognised standards. The training levels recommended by the World Health Organisation are set at 3600 hours of degree equivalent training, and this is the level which the British Acupuncture Accreditation Board recognises as the bottom line for an accredited course.
The theory underpinning this is precisely defined, however, as the principles of Chinese medicine. Although these courses touch on wider appreciation of Chinese doctrines, both philosophical and religious, they are not a fundamental part of the training. This would be a degree level undertaking in its own right. However, to be able to practise effectively in a medicine which presupposes an entirely different world view and whose concepts need to be unravelled in this context, some understanding of the way that Chinese thought has developed is essential. There are a number of popular books and well-attended postgraduate seminars which encourage UK practitioners to develop a broader understanding of the wider context.
So, in summary, it is possible to practise effective acupuncture within narrowly defined limits without a commitment to, or understanding of, Chinese doctrines, but to practise traditional chinese acupuncture effectively one needs to have a thorough grounding in its principles and a good background sense of thw wider social and cultural context within which it developed.
Q: I am a PhD student in the field of Raynaud's disease and have recently been made aware of the potential benefit of acupuncture as an alternative Raynaud's treatment. My background is chiropractic and I have a Master of Chiropractic degree from the Welsh Institute of Chiropractic. My question is how would I begin to study acupuncture, and what courses are available? My brother is a Chiropractor and has done accredited weekend courses, but I am unsure if they are accredited with the BAAB as the duration seems too short. Any advice would be helpful.
A: An interesting question! As you are probably already aware, the BAAB accredits courses which confer automatic elegibility for entry to the BAcC and a list of these can be found here:
These courses are all three year degree equivalent, and are designed to underpin a career as a practitioner in independent practice. For someone who has already completed the western sciences modules which are integral to the courses and up to a third of their overall content it is possible in some cases to get exemptions from these aspects of training. Timetabling usually means, however, that the course duration remains unchanged.
There are a number of courses for statutorily regulated healthcare professionals, notably those associated with entry to the two main special interest groups, the British Medical Acupuncture Society and the Acupuncture Association of Chartered Physiotherapists. These are intended to provide a background in Western medical acupuncture, and offer the possibility of using acupuncture as a technique within the scope of practice already applied, as long as their is an evidence base for the intervention.
This is something of a hot potato at the moment, though. These are not the only courses in town, and an increasing number of less credible courses are becoming available which are much shorter in duration and also stary into areas which are not within the normal scope of practice of the SR professionals who use them. Not surprisingly this proves extremely irritating to BAcC members who see this as illegitimate encroachment on their patch. Our broader concern is that applying limited knowledge outside a well-defined paradigm is likely to provide sub-optimal treatment, and this in turn leads people to conclude that 'acupuncture doesn't work for me' when in fact it may well do in the hands of a professional.
A great deal depends on the extent to which you want to practise as an acupuncturist. We are always more than happy to see more people train as full-time traditional acupuncturists, but this is a major commitment. Our best advice is to visit any college open days of courses near to you and get a sense of whether this is a realistic and desirable option for you.
Q: I would like to find an acupuncturist for stopping smoking. I have had the procedure done twice . Once in 1983 and 1992, both successful.
One pin in the ear for two weeks, can touch it when needing a cigarette and the need goes away. Please can you tell me if there are any practitioners who use that technique?
A: The technique for stopping smoking by using needles in the ear is obviously not a traditional one in the strict sense. However, the use of auricular acupuncture for helping to deal with addictions of all sorts has become very popular, and as you have found before, it can work well.
As far as BAcC members are concerned, we do not keep a record of those who have added this technique to their repertoire. The only thing we can advise is that you might use our practitioner search function on the BAcC home page and ask a BAcC practitioner who works locally to you for their advice, i.e. whether they do this particular treatment or whether they know someone they trust locally who does. Our members are usually a very helpful resource in terms of finding out who is good at what in a locality.
Failing that, there is a group of practitioners who practise limited forms of acupuncture, called microsystems acupuncture, who are grouped together in the Microsystems Acupuncture Regulatory Working Group. It is highly likely that one of these may be doing exactly what you need. They can be located at http://www.macrwg.org/.
Failing that you have the two big detox assocations, SMART-UK and NADA-UK whose websites are easy to find and whose members use very limited techniques such as the five-point protocol to good effect.
Whoever you manage to find, it is important to reassure yourself that they are properly regulated and insured.
As a coda, you may also do well to investigate what additional support is now available through your local NHS outlets. The materials and secondary support have become a great deal more sophisticated in recent years as the Government has ploughed money into helping people to break the addiction to cigarettes.
Q: I am enquiring which is the best acupuncture training course in London. I already possess a Bsc Hons in Complementary Therapies and looking to do a post graduate course.
A: We are afraid that we are not in a position to say which is the best acupuncture course in London. Clearly we believe that the courses accredited by the British Acupuncture Accreditation Board
which offer automatic eligibility for entry to the BAcC are all of a comparable high standard, but there are others on whose standards we are not able to pass comment.
The problem may well be to what extent you can have your current BSc taken into account in seeking an exemption from parts of the training. The degree level training which all accredited courses offer does contain at least two thirds of the full time training in the study of acupuncture. It is possible that you may be able to gain an exemption from the western medical component if your training already covered this, but whether some of the skills in your existing degree are generic and could be offset against the requirements of the teaching institution for the training is not clear.
What we can say with certainty is that there are very few postgraduate courses in traditional acupuncture which would enable someone with a health-related degree to become a BAcC member on completion. Most that exist are only provided for western medical acupuncture, which is seen as self-contained module and added to an existing scope of practice as another tool in the toolbox.
Your best bet is to establish contact with course leaders in the London area or easily commutable courses and discuss your individual case with them. We are aware, for example, that one of the university based courses in the capital did have an acupuncture programme running alongside a complementary therapy degree, and there were students who crossed from one course to another by virtue of the modular structure of the training. We understood that this has now ceased, but we may be wrong, and a direct approach to the courses may well be the best way forward.
In our view, the most likely outcome is that it may require another two years training to achieve the same entry level as the average degree entrant to the BAcC unless some of the components of your first degree are clearly replicating large chunks of the timetable for the dedicated acupuncture courses.
Q: I am considering having acupuncture re non surgical face lift, would you like to recommend a qualified person and what qualifications should they have?
A: The advent of facial or cosmetic acupuncture is one of a number of areas where members undertake postgraduate training in a specific field to treat a particular group of patients. There are, however, as yet no agreed standards for each of these fields, of which cosmetic acupuncture is one.
All that we can say at this stage is that there are a number of courses which members and other practitioners offer in facial or cosmetic acupuncture which offer qualifications but none of these is as yet officially recognised. What we feel is that the use of these specific treatments is most effective if it is accompanied by treatment of the person according to traditional acupuncture principles. There aren'y different forms of acupuncture, and cosmetic acupuncture is not a separate field. The points uses are often in classical locations but there are a number of techniques which are not usually applied and for which people do have extra training.
As such there is no-one we can recommend as such, not any one qualification which we can vouchsafe. The best advice is to undertake a google search with the label 'facial acupuncture' or 'cosmetic acupuncture' and your area, and you will undoubtedly find one or two names. All that we can say is that you should ensure that anyone you go to belongs to a professional body and holds proper insurance. We have heard of beauty consultants undertaking weekend or day training, and we do not believe that this is adequate preparation for the safe and competent practice of acupuncture, nor that the techniques should be used without an underpinning of proper treatment.