Updated: Feb 27, 2021
Americans aren’t huge fans of needles... culturally, we grow up scared of them... I will never forget taking my three year old son in for a vaccination - there were two medical assistants in the lab area. One of them grabbed the vaccine out of a cabinet, and the other quickly exclaimed, "no! you need to hide it! It will scare him!"
Quickly, I jumped in, "no! it's fine! He's fine! Making it a big deal is what scares kids! You're teaching them to be scared. There is nothing scary about a vaccine, he's fine!" Then I turned to kiddo, "Right buddy? Maybe a quick little pinch, and then it's over. It's all good."
We are taught to be scared of pain, so naturally, the idea of doing something that may cause some temporary discomfort is not on the top of our list...
This idea leads many people to be resistant to trying acupuncture, generally speaking, but the medical practice still continues to grow in the US. (Why? Because it works!) And as more information and education about the practice comes out, more people are opening up their minds to giving it a try for their ailments.
To help with some of that education, here is an acupuncture Q&A session with GoodMedizen's licensed acupuncturist (in Washington State, called Acupuncture & Eastern Medicine Practitioner) Courtney M. Zeller, AEMP, LAc, MS, who practices in Seattle, Wa. Below she explains which conditions respond best to acupuncture and what happens at a typical appointment.
Q: How did you become an acupuncturist?
A: Migraines. I was studying at the University of Washington for my bachelors, with plans on continuing to Medical School. I had been experiencing migraines since childhood (you can read more about her migraine journey here), and in my early adult life they became debilitating. I tried EVERYTHING, and nothing really worked. I was terrified of needles, and I mean TERRIFIED, but I was at my wits' end, and willing to try anything... With acupuncture and herbs, my migraines were "essentially cured." I know we can't use that language, but it's really true. Other than while I was pregnant, I haven't had migraines since. This "magical" experience changed my life, and I just fell in love with Chinese Medicine. So, instead of going to allopathic medical school, I studies Chinese Medicine and earned my Masters in Acupuncture.
There’s a lot of theory, clinical science, and practical application behind the practice of Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine. I have found that most people think you can take a 9 month training, or even a few weekend classes and call yourself an acupuncturist, but this is far from accurate. It is a full time (and I mean full-time, we're talking 6-9+ hour days, 5+ days a week for 3-4 years) Masters program that is required before sitting for Board Examinations. We take thousands of hours’ worth of courses in both Eastern and Western science, while also learning the actual skills of the modalities (including actual acupuncture, as well as palpation and examination techniques, cupping, tuina massage, moxibustion, and more), and having clinical rounds. And, at the end of the day, the required schooling is just learning the basics, how to keep patients safe, and when to refer them to other medical professionals - most of the effective clinical practice training comes from continuing education, internships, and a lot of experience.
Q: What happens at the first appointment?
A: A typical visit lasts 45 minutes to an hour. The first acupuncture appointment is longer, usually between and hour to and hour and a half. I’ll do an health history interview, where I listen to the person's medical history and gather less formal clues to what’s happening with them. For instance, people will say, “I don’t know if this helps but…” Those moments can give me a huge amount of information. Every sign and symptom your body gives is a little piece of the puzzle... often times something that the patient may think of as "normal" or insignificant, can be the last piece needed to solve the mystery!
Often times, our fist office visit interview is the most in depth health history intake that the patient has ever had. We start with them describing the symptoms that brought them to our office, then we dive deeper into potential associated symptoms, and finally, do a Chinese Medical Review of Systems, that touches on all of the organ systems to give us a good idea of what is going on.