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Ask an expert - general

165 questions

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.


Q:  Please do you have a list of acupuncturists who specialise in addictions therapy - especially in relation to gambling addictions?

A: Sadly we are not aware of anyone who specialises in the treatment of gambling addiction, nor are we entirely sure that acupuncture as a therapeutic intervention would be sufficient in itself to deal with this problem. There is usually, to use the jargon, a multifactorial approach, in which acupuncture is but one component.
There is very little by way of research in this field. If you google 'acupuncture' and 'gambling addiction' you will find a report commissioned in Ontario which concluded that acupuncture could at best be described as having a small but relatively unimportant effect and probably no effect at all. The study is well designed, although from a Chinese Medicine perspective the variety of treatments seems a little spartan. CM is predicated on individual treatments tailored to the unique needs of the patient, and delivering the same treatments to an entire group would not always be appropriate. However, the points used were some of the more powerful on the body and if there were to be an effect, they would surely generate it.
You may find that some of the groups contained within the acupuncture microsystems group registered with the CNHC might extend their work in auricular acupuncture to gambling. This database can be found at There are also two organisations, NADA UK and SMART UK which deal with alcohol and drug addiction, each having several thousand members using the five point protocol and similar techniques. You may also find that these have a number of people who have dealt with gambling addiction.


In general, we tend to believe that Chinese medicine, treating as it does the person as much as the condition they have, can achieve some fairly extraordinary changes in all manner of conditions. For problems such as addictions, however, we tend to be more cautious, especially since we are aware that it often requires a more experienced practitioner not to be outflanked by a patient who is often very skilled at avoidance and deception.


It is always worthwhile talking to a BAcC member local to you to see what advice they can offer directly, and they may be aware of local initiatives. There are also practitioners in various fields such as hypnotherapy who may be able to offer solutions, but these are notoriously difficult to sort out by virtue of qualification alone, and a personal recommendation would be extremely useful. This 'expert' rather likes the approach taken by people using Ericksonian hypnotherapy methods, but these are also used in business coaching and not everyone who claims to be using the technique will necessarily be able to deal with a problem like addiction. 

A:  We tend not to like words like 'heal' and 'cure', partly because the former lends itself to pejorative interpretations of what we actually do and the latter begs the question of what counts as a 'cure' anyway. However, that aside, traditional acupuncture came into prominence in the popular consciousness in the West after Nixon's visit to China in the 1970s mainly as a form of pain relief, but has a 2500 year history of being used to treat a huge range of conditions, many very successfully. The World Health Organisation, for example, publishes a list
of all the conditions for which evidence of acupuncture's benefits can be demonstrated.
One of the principal reasons that acupuncture treatment has not received the recognition we believe it deserves in the UK healthcare system is that the standard of evidence required, the randomised double blind control trial, is more suitable for testing drugs, not dynamic interactions like acupuncture. Setting up trials is both costly and difficult, and at the moment no-one is particularly interested in funding them. It is interesting, though, that the NICE guidelines for conditions like lower back pain and some forms of headache now recommend acupuncture as an option.
Of course, a fundamental difference between Chinese medicine and orthodox medicine is that CM treats the person, not simply the illness or disease which they have, and to that extent to say that it deals with conditions is to miss the point slightly. Every patient with a named western condition will probably receive a different treatment because the presentation will be unique to each patient and with that the combination of points used and the reasons for using them. There is quite a large amount of background material on our website which explains this more thoroughly.

Why the emphasis on pain relief? Well, one certainty in measuring the effects of acupuncture in pain relief is that there are some very specific chemicals whose levels can be determined exactly, and for the purposes of research this is a very exact outcome measure. When acupuncture was first tested scientifically it was an obvious choice, and because the results were good, pain relief became associated with acupuncture as a primary reason for its use. For some types of pain acupuncture is a good choice, although from a Chinese medicine perspective pain arises from specific changes in the system. If the treatment did no more than provide temporary relief, a master practitioner would be asking themselves what else they could do to effect lasting change, and if that did not happen, would be talking to the patient about whether the extent of the relief and the time it lasted were worthwhile and whether other options for treatment might be more advisable.    

Q: Is there any evidence for the use of acupuncture in the treatment of Lupus? I have been told it is considered to be a contraindication by the Lupus organisation.

A:  There is a small amount of evidence that acupuncture treatment may be of benefit for people suffering with lupus/SLE. Studies such as this:
seem to point to a worthwhile benefit, but it is a single study with a relatively small sample group, so we cannot really put too much emphasis on the results. A much larger study would need to be done, and also need to be replicated by other researchers for us to make any specific claims.
One problem, of course, is that SLE can manifest in dozens of different ways, and at various levels of severity. There are very likely to be cases at the less serious end of the spectrum which go undiagnosed, and some which are diagnosed where the symptoms are relatively few and possibly respond well to treatment. At the other end of the scale there are severe cases which do not respond at all, and many of us have find memories of a professional colleague who died from SLE many years ago for whom enormous amounts of acupuncture were of no benefit.
The best view to take is that from a Chinese medicine perspective we treat the person not the disease. This means that although twenty people may have a standard named western condition, each one of the twenty may be diagnosed differently in Chinese medicine. The theoretical basis of CM is underpinned by a concept of energy, called 'qi', and its correct flow, rhythm and balance, and by an understanding of the Organs as functional units which do more than the western correlates (hence the capital letters). A skilled practitioner would look at the unique presentation of symptoms and make sense of these in terms of changes or disruptions in the flow and changes in the function of the Organs. This could mean that some cases were more amenable to treatment than others, but in every case would mean that the treatment was unique and different just as each individual is unique and different.

 Our best advice is to visit a BAcC member local to you and seek their advice. There is no substitute for a face to face assessment of what may be possible. From a western perspective there is no 'cure' for SLE, but from our practical experience this is just one of a number of auto-immune diseases where we have seen a considerable slowing down or halt in the disease process, and for many patients 'getting worse slower' is a viable and valuable treatment aim.

 As far as contraindications are concerned we have looked at all of the lupus organisation websites and have not seen anything which seems to contraindicate the use of acupuncture. If you have seen one we would be grateful to be sent details. If there is actual evidence of potential detriment we need to see it, and if not, we may need to discuss with them why they are 'dis-recommending' acupuncture. In severe cases where the immune system is badly compromised, our members all have clear guidelines to ensure that they minimise the risk of opportunistic infections, but we have never heard of any cases of problems arising as a consequence of treatment.