Acupuncture and traditional Chinese herbal medicine have been practiced quietly in Asian communities in the United States for more than 150 years. It remained "underground" as an isolated cultural phenomenon until 1971, when interest was sparked by the experience of The New York Times reporter James Reston. His experience of acupuncture in China led him to write an article in which he stated, "I have seen the past, and it works."
Acceptance of Acupuncture in the West: At the time Reston's article appeared, no states had any legislation regarding acupuncture. By 1976, eight states had legalized acupuncture and six schools had been established. Twenty years later, there were more than 40 schools of Oriental medicine, and 29 states and the District of Columbia have licensing laws that regulate acupuncturists. Legislation has been drafted or introduced in 12 other states.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) estimates that between 8 and 12 million people receive acupuncture each year in the United States, and its popularity continues to increase as more people hear of its effectiveness. No longer considered a fringe element, acupuncture has been endorsed by the American Osteopathic Association, the American Chiropractic Association, and the American Veterinary Medical Association.
It has been incorporated into the substance abuse treatment programs of more than 20 hospitals in the United States and is considered so effective that drug offenders in Florida's Miami-Dade County have a choice of either receiving acupuncture treatment or going to jail. In Portland, Oregon, drug offenders in the treatment program must receive acupuncture as a condition of their probation or parole. Gradually, hospitals and conventional medical practices are also adding acupuncturists to their staff as the demand for their services continues to grow.
Finding a Practitioner through Referral: Now that acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine are rapidly entering the mainstream of the practice of medicine in North America, an increasing number of people are interested in finding a qualified practitioner. As with all professional services, the best way to find a practitioner is through a referral.
If a trusted friend or relative has had favorable experiences with a practitioner, many people will feel safe consulting that physician. Referrals are relatively easy to come by in places such as California, where there are thousands of practitioners; most people know somebody who has received acupuncture or herbal therapy. However, in many areas this isn't the case; it is necessary to find a practitioner without the advice of a friend or relative.
Finding a Practitioner through the NCAA: Fortunately, there are certifying agencies that establish standards that a practitioner must meet to be considered qualified. The most established is the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCA), in Washington D.C. After three to four years of training, a student is qualified to sit for a licensing exam.
The NCCA's extremely high standards for scholastics and clinical training become evident to any student who has been through this rigorous process. Since 1984, it has certified more than 7,000 practitioners of acupuncture and more than 1,000 practitioners of Chinese herbology. NCCA certification is used as the basis for licensure in 90 percent of the states that have set standards for the practice of acupuncture. The NCCA will provide a list of the certificate holders to anybody seeking a qualified practitioner.
Finding a Practitioner through an Association: A number of national acupuncture and Oriental medicine foundations also provide referrals. The American Association of Oriental Medicine advises prospective patients of qualified practitioners in their area. For those who have access to the Internet, an excellent place to find referrals is at the Web site www.acupuncture.com. The site lists practitioners all over the world in addition to North America, and it is also a good source of interesting information about traditional Chinese medicine.
Finding a Practitioner through the Yellow Pages: Generally, the yellow pages lists practitioners under Acupuncturists. It is well within your rights to call practitioners and ask them about their training and experience. If you have a particular condition, ask them if they have any experience in treating it. Like all professions, skill levels vary. It is also important to work with somebody with whom you feel comfortable. In some areas, other health care professionals might provide a referral to an acupuncturist, especially if they work in a holistic group practice.
If you're seeking a qualified traditional Chinese herbalist, the NCCA also provides a list of practitioners who have passed their exam on herbal medicine. Otherwise, a good place to look is California. As of this writing, it is the only state that requires a practitioner to be proficient in herbal medicine in order to pass the state licensing exam. For this reason, schools of Oriental medicine in California have four-year programs, while most schools outside of California have three-year programs. This is rapidly changing, and some schools outside of California now offer a thorough exposure to herbal medicine.
There are also many good herbalists outside of California who haven't yet taken the relatively new Herbalism exam. These practitioners can often be found by a referral from a satisfied patient.
In China today, patients are treated with both Western medicine and traditional Chinese medicine. Today in the United States, where the number of traditional Chinese medicine practitioners is increasing, more and more patients are also reaping the benefits of both healing systems.
Before choosing a practitioner -- any health practitioner -- it is important to discuss with them your needs and health problems, their treatment style and qualifications, fees for services, and similar issues.
For more about traditional Chinese medicine, treatments, cures, beliefs, and other interesting topics, see:
- How Traditional Chinese Medicine Works
- How to Treat Common Ailments with Traditional Chinese Medicine
- Traditional Chinese Medicine for Coughs, Colds, Flu, and Allergies
- Traditional Chinese Medicine for the Digestive System
- Traditional Chinese Medicine for Pain Relief
- Traditional Chinese Medicine for Overall Health
ABOUT THE AUTHORS:
Bill Schoenbart has been practicing traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) since 1991, when he earned a Masters degree in TCM. He teaches TCM medical theory and herbalism at an acupuncture school in California, and also maintains a clinical practice.
Ellen Shefi is a licensed massage technician, licensed acupuncturist, and registered dietician. She is a member of the American Association of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine, the American Herb Association, and the Oregon Acupuncture Association.