The general population is often unaware of the training acupuncturists must undergo in order to become licensed healthcare practitioners. Here are some basics to offer some insight about Chinese Medicine, Acupuncture, and the licensure process.
What is Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)?
Diagnosis and treatment in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is based on thousands of years of studying the purpose, flow, and impact of Qi (energy) in the body. TCM therapies include acupuncture, Chinese herbs, Asian bodywork, moxibustion, cupping, and qigong, to name a few. The basic foundation for TCM is that Qi (pronounced “Chee”), or the life energy, flows through the body. This energy flows though the body in channels known as meridians that connect all of our major organs. According to Chinese medical theory, illness arises when the cyclical flow of Qi in the meridians becomes unbalanced or is blocked.
The essence of Chinese medicine is the people. Both the practitioner and the patient are interested in a healing process that includes the mind, body, and spirit. As a holistic medicine, Chinese medicine focuses on healing the root causes of disease, in addition to treating symptoms. It involves attentive, non-invasive, patient-centered care for the promotion of health and well-being.
The most well-known traditional Chinese medical modality, acupuncture, is the practice of inserting sterilized, stainless-steel needles (that are often as fine as a human hair) into the body at specific points to relieve pain or treat an imbalance or disease. Acupuncture points are areas of designated electrical sensitivity that have been shown to be effective in the treatment of specific health problems. They have been mapped out by the Chinese over a period of more than 2,500 years.
How Does Acupuncture Work?
The insertion of needles into specific points can alter biochemical and physiological conditions in order to treat a wide variety of illnesses. Research suggests that the needling process, and other modalities used in acupuncture, may produce their complex effects on a wide variety of ways in the brain and the body. For example, it is theorized that stimulated nerve fibers transmit signals to the spinal cord and brain, thus activating parts of the central nervous system. The spinal cord and brain then release certain hormones responsible for making us feel better overall and, more specifically, feel less pain.
Acupuncture may regulate blood circulation and body temperature. It may also affect white blood cell activity (responsible for our immune function), reduce cholesterol and triglyceride levels, and regulate blood sugar levels. In general, acupuncture appears to transmit its effects via electric, neurologic, hormonal, lymphatic, and electromagnetic wave pathways.
Graduate Study in Chinese Medicine and Licensure
The program I studied at AOMA: Graduate School of Integrative Medicine fka Academy of Oriental Medicine at Austin is a rigorous and comprehensive program that includes extensive clinical training. Students receive education in acupuncture, Chinese herbal medicine, Chinese medicine foundations and theory, biomedical sciences, mind-body exercise, Asian bodywork, practice management, case management, and clinical communications.
Program Totals include: 200 credits (2,898 hours), 159.5 didactic credits (1926 hours), 40.5 clinical credits (972 hours). This usually takes about 4 years to complete.
After completion of program requirements, practitioners of Chinese medicine must pass medical board exams in the state(s) in which they choose to practice. Licensure includes the passing of 4 national board exams in:
(1) Chinese medicine foundations
(2) Acupuncture and point location
(4) Chinese Herbology
Some chiropractors and physical therapists offer "acupuncture" or"dry needling", but unless the chiropractor or physical therapist studied TCM / Oriental Medicine, they have not been trained in the entirety of the Chinese Medical system, and therefore, they do not practice the same kind of acupuncture that I and other graduates of Oriental Medicine practice. Often times it means they completed 300 hours to obtain certification, compared to the 2,898 hours I completed. I have met chiropractors who offer acupuncture and I think very highly of them as practitioners. My intention here is to be sure that you, the patient, are informed of the difference.