If you’ve never had acupuncture before, finding an acupuncturist can feel a little like playing the slots in Vegas—a real gamble.
You’ve decided to try a different kind of medicine, and you have no clue how to find the right person for you.
You don’t know what to expect—will there be beaded curtains, tie dyed wallpaper, funky music, and people walking around in Earth Shoes, or will it look like any other health care clinic?
The simple answer is that no two acupuncturists are alike.
Yes, acupuncturists can be independent thinkers, so you may find some that are off the grid. However, most are regular folks who help people heal by using the tools and principles of Chinese medicine — a system that’s been around for thousands of years because it works.
Key Questions to Ask Any Acupuncturist
What should you know about an acupuncturist before you book your first appointment?
Here are some things to ask:
“How much training in acupuncture have you had?”
This may be the most important question that you ask, because not all people performing acupuncture are created equal. Their training may range from about 200 hours of training for a physician to perform medical acupuncture, to about 2,400 hours of training for a licensed acupuncturist.
The training for chiropractors who perform acupuncture varies from state to state, but in most states they are required to have about 100 to 150 hours of training.
“Can you help with my particular problem/issue?”
Some acupuncturists treat any and all conditions.
Many specialize, however, in treating certain conditions, such as muscle and joint pain, stress and anxiety, infertility, or women’s conditions. Be sure to ask a prospective practitioner if they have experience in treating your condition and what kind of results they have achieved.
“What kind of acupuncture do you practice?”
There a many different kinds of acupuncture.
- Traditional Chinese acupuncture
- ear acupuncture
- Japanese style
- Korean hand acupuncture
- cosmetic acupuncture
- scalp acupuncture
Some kinds are more effective for specific conditions. For example, ear acupuncture is especially effective in treating addictions, such as smoking cessation and weight loss, and scalp acupuncture is more valuable for conditions affecting the nervous system.
“How many treatments will I need and how often?”
This is actually a trick question.
No practitioner should tell you EXACTLY how many treatments you will need on the phone before they have seen you, taken your health history, and made a diagnosis.
Everyone heals at a different pace.
Your conditions may be resolved in one or two treatments, or it may take many more. Generally, how long it takes you to heal depends on how long you’ve had your condition, the severity of your symptoms, your overall health, and the underlying cause of your condition.
“What do you offer beyond acupuncture?”
There are a number of other kinds of treatments that come under the umbrella of Chinese medicine, and you should ask what, if any, a practitioner offers.
Many licensed acupuncturists are also credentialed herbalists, and can prescribe herbal formulas to address your particular condition. Herbs can augment your acupuncture treatment and can be tailored to your specific needs.
Other treatments that may be offered include Chinese food therapy (choosing the right foods for your particular condition), bodywork, heat therapy, and cupping, which involves creating a vacuum in a glass cup on your skin to aid in pain relief.
“Do you accept my health insurance?”
Many health care plans don’t pay for acupuncture treatments. As a result, many acupuncturists are fee for service providers.
If you think your health insurance plan covers acupuncture, check with them to be sure. Also, make sure the acupuncturist you ultimately choose will accept your insurance as payment, or if not, if they will provide you with a detailed receipt so you can be reimbursed by your health plan.
If you have a Health Savings Plan or a Flexible Spending Account, acupuncture almost always qualifies for reimbursement.
Ask about fees and method(s) of payment.
The price of an acupuncture treatment will vary based on the style of acupuncture and your location.
For example, acupuncturists in larger cities tend to charge more than those in smaller towns. Be sure to ask a practitioner what they charge, both for an initial visit and for follow-ups. Also ask about forms of payment they accept and when payment is expected.
Again, ask your acupuncturist for a detailed receipt.
Ask about the little details.
Do they have adequate parking? Are they located near your home or work? What are their hours? If you have mobility issues, are they located on the ground floor or do they have an elevator, and are they handicap accessible?
Ask about the little things so you won’t be surprised when you get there and have to park six blocks away.
Now ask yourself — after talking with a prospective acupuncturist, you’ll have a gut feeling. Is this the right person?
Have they instilled confidence in you that they can help? Were they happy to take the time to answer your questions?
If they feel like the right person, then go for it. If not, keep looking.