Ask an expert - about acupuncture - finding an acupuncturist

8 questions


Unfortunately by its very nature traditional acupuncture, if undertaken according to classical principles, is a generalist practice. Indeed, in ancient times the specialists were somewhat disparaged for being limited in  their scope of practice, and the generalists were regarded as the supreme physicians. This very much fits with the idea that each individual is unique and different, and the true skill of the practitioner lies in looking at why these specific symptoms arose in this particular patient. This explains why twenty people with the same named condition might be treated in twenty different ways.

That said, we understand from the rather unusual nature of the problem you have that you might prefer to see someone who had seen this kind of problem before. This might prove tricky because the only two areas where we have advanced towards recognising degrees of specialism are obstetrics and paediatrics. There aren't really that many practitioners who are working in environments where the bulk of their patient work would be in the neuro/psychological sector. 

The one thing you do have going for you in York is a long-established college, the Northern College of Acupuncture. While the clinical work there will mainly be undertaken by students the faculty contains some of the most experienced acupuncture practitioners in the country, especially its principals. You could do a great deal worse than seeking a view from them about whether there is someone amongst them who has seen or worked with something similar. We tend to find that groups of practitioners very often know better than we could hope to track who specialises in areas of work or has spoken of such treatments.

We would be bound to say, however, that if you have seen someone in the past whose services have been very good, you would probably find that these would still be the best choice, especially if you have already had experience of their work and found them good.


A:  With some difficulty, we suspect. There was a considerable interest in the use of magnets on acupuncture points after a couple of presentations at our annual conferences well over a decade ago, but there has been a rather long period of silence thereafter. We think that there may well be one or two members who have become 'converts', but since the use of magnets is not within our usual scope of practice there hasn't been the development of a special interest group of which we are aware, as there is in the treatment of certain specific patient groups.

There is no doubt that there may be some substance in claims for efficacy, as this paper from around the same period demonstrates

We think the best way to track down whether there is someone who uses magnets may well be to ask some of the acupuncture product suppliers whether they maintain any records of training which they have offered in the use of magnets. We think it may be in breach of the Data Protection Act to supply you with details of their customers, but if you look at suppliers like Acumedic, Jong Baik, Scarboroughs, Oxford Medical, Balance Healthcare, Harmony and the like, there are often training courses which they point people towards for the use of products, and there may be conduit through the course organisers to BAcC members and other practitioners who have completed training in their use. This will be more to do with the technical and safety side than to do with acupuncture theory, but this is crucial for maximum safe therapeutic effect.

We just undertook a rapid search of google under the heading 'BAcC member magnets' and generated a number of useful leads across the UK, so this may in the end be the quickest way to find out by adding your home town to the search. 

A: The answer to your question is that from our perspective all BAcC members are good acupuncturists to have met the degree level entry requirement we have in place. The choice, therefore, is which is geographically closest, and you will find that if you enter St Albans in the search facility on our home page you will generate a list of the ten nearest practitioners. In fact, if you use the postcode search this becomes even more precise.

We are confident that all of our members in your area will be able to provide you with professional and effective treatment. However, we recognise that while a good rapport with a practitioner is not absolutely essential, most prospective patients like to see who they may be dealing with and where they work. You will find that nearly all of our members are happy to arrange for a brief visit and chat about whatever you might want to seek help for, and this will give you a chance to assess whether you can do business with them. You may even find that they recommend other forms of treatment alongside or instead of acupuncture, since their primary concern will be your well-being and the most effective way to restore balance.

Of course, equally effective is to ask a person who has already made the journey. If you know of anyone who has had acupuncture in your area they may well be a very useful and impartial source of good advice.

A:  It may sound a little like one of those silly advertising statements, but all of our members are the best practitioner in Cambridgeshire!  We are very confident that the degree level training which all our graduate entrants receive more than adequately equips them to deal with a problem like yours, and your best way of locating the nearest member to you is by using the postcode search facility on our home page.

Reflux is a fairly common presentation in clinic, which is why when we answered a query earlier this year we said:

There is surprisingly little research on the use of acupuncture for the treatment of acid reflux even though it is a very common presenting condition in our clinics. There are one or two studies like this


and occasional articles like this one

which suggest other possibilities for the appearance of heartburn symptoms, but not the solid body of evidence one might expect based on the usually quite effective treatment of this problem.

Obviously there are physical problems such as hiatus hernia where there has been a physical change in structure of the oesophageal tract which can cause heartburn. If this is the case, then it will seriously limit the possibilities for treatment in any system of medicine. If investigations show that this is not the case, however, then there may be some value in using acupuncture treatment.

From a Chinese medicine perspective the classic presentation of reflux or heartburn is described as Stomach Fire or Rebellious Stomach Qi where the energy of the Stomach does not follow its normal pattern of causing food to descend but lets it stay in the Stomach or reverse its flow to create the classic symptoms with which people suffer. Knowing the immediate precipitating cause, however, does not mean that one goes straight to this for treatment. The flow of energy in the body, called 'qi' in Chinese, is a complex interweaving of channels connecting Organs whose functions are also inter-related. The art and skill of the practitioner lies in determining what the primary underlying imbalances are, in the belief that treating here will cause the symptom to go and stay gone rather than be treated simply as a symptom.

This is one of the primary differences between Chinese and conventional medicine. From the Chinese medicine perspective the symptom is an alarm bell telling the practitioner that the system is out of balance. Thus twenty patients with the same symptom could have twenty different underlying causes and therefore twenty different treatments, in contrast to the standard western procedures which have two or three main strategies for a problem. In Chinese medicine the balance of the system is unique in every patient, and this means that each treatment plan is also unique.

It follows that this does limit what we can say about individual cases and why we invariably advise people to visit a local BAcC member for an informal assessment of what is going on and whether treatment would be of benefit. Most practitioners can get an idea in a very short time of what is going on and as a consequence give a good informed view of what might be possible. This would invariably take into account other changes in the way that everything functions which are perhaps not significant enough to concern anyone but from our perspective enrich the picture which we have. Reflux and heartburn are often accompanied by changes in digestion and bowel habit, and secondary information can refine the diagnosis a great deal. A practitioner can take all sorts of other factors into account, including mental and emotional ones, to offer you a much more precise assessment of what may be possible.

This remains the best advice we can possibly give to determine whether acupuncture really is the best option for you, and also to reassure you that this is such a commonly addressed issue that all of our members would tend to regard it as a 'stock' item.

Q:  We  are very attracted by the Channel Islands, and would like to move there. My husband has been practicing acupuncture in the USA for 30 years. In USA and in China, he learned TCM. He is an American citizen and I am German citizen. How would it be possible for him  to practise his profession  and help the people on the Channel Islands?

As far as we are aware,  the level of qualification which your husband has achieved in order to be able to practise in the USA should be more than adequate to meet the eligibility requirements for practice. We are familiar with the requirements in Jersey, having had extensive correspondence with the government of Jersey when the new Code of Practice

was introduced, and we are sure that the current US standard more than meets the criterion set down in page 22 of the document.

Guernsey and Alderney have a very similar statement in their byelaws

We believe that Sark submits to, or complies with, the laws of Guernsey in most matters, but with a population of 600 we think it is highly unlikely that you will be choosing this as your primary practice site.

In all matters to do with registration for acupuncture practice we always advise people to initiate a dialogue with the authorities under whose jurisdiction they fall. In the end they will always have the final word on who and what is acceptable, and practitioners will always become visible sooner or later, so hoping to go unnoticed or uninspected is not a good option.

There are a number of aspects of the legislation in Jersey to which we took exception, mainly around requirements for second sinks in treatment rooms for washing equipment to be re-used. The laws apply to all skin piercing activities, and although none of the equipment we use is re-useable, our members were required to comply. This illustrates what we have always told our members, that whatever standards we set, the local authority rules, if higher, are the ones they have to follow. 

The only factor on which we cannot comment is the more general one about residency on the islands. Jersey, for example,. has fairly stringent rules for who can and cannot live and work on the island, and you would need to take advice from the relevant authorities on eligibility to work there.  The summary here

is quite useful and the formal portal

gives further detail and paperwork.

We wish you every success in your endeavour.

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