22.09.2013 Acupuncture

Is It Acupuncture?

Olivier LeJus explains what's needed for true acupuncture

I have been asked several times recently if there was any difference between a registered acupuncturist and a chiropractor, physiotherapist, or even a doctor practising acupuncture, and I must confess I did get a little hot under the collar.

It is true that the last decade has seen a push by other health practitioners to incorporate acupuncture techniques to their practice. So, I can understand why some people might decide that since their chiropractor is practising acupuncture in addition of his other specialties, there is probably no need to see somebody who calls himself a registered acupuncturist, but is unable to do anything else. Now that I have had my cold shower, and taken a few deep breaths as my mother used to recommend in my younger days, it is probably a good time to bring some clarification to this sensitive topic.

One has to remember that until 40 odd years ago, Traditional Chinese Medicine was still a mysterious alternative form of treatment being practised by a minority of Chinese-trained practitioners in the Asian community. The medical profession was, at the time, notorious for its negative attitude to this exotic form of medicine. To be fair, it is true that for a Western-trained mind, the concept of invisible channels of (Qi) energy circulating throughout our body can be quite difficult to grasp, especially when this can't easily be proven in a scientific manner.

As the years went by, rumours began to circulate that this strange form of medicine was actually quite good in treating many health problems, especially pain. At the same time, several forms of Oriental exercises like Tai Chi, Yoga and martial arts, which share similar concepts of energy flow, became more popular, the sniggering comments about acupuncture became less frequent, and the acceptance of this alternative form of medicine progressively grew.

At the time there were very few colleges in this country offering even the most basic courses in Chinese medicine, but the Australian medical profession was quick to catch this wind of change in the community. Many of us found it quite ironic that some doctors, who had only recently labelled this Oriental practice as being akin to witchcraft, were now incorporating a very basic form of acupuncture in their practice with very limited training, while confidently asserting that acupuncture was now acceptable as long as it was only performed by medical practitioners.

A landmark in the acceptance of Oriental medicine came when the first tertiary course in Traditional Chinese Medicine in Australia was established in 1994 at the University of Technology of Sydney (UTS). Now, almost 20 years later, students come from all over the world and within Australia to complete the undergraduate Bachelor degree, and progress to Masters and Doctorate levels with associated research programs if they wish. The minimum level of four years, or 3000 hours, of tertiary studies required to become a qualified acupuncturist illustrates the complexity of this form of ancient medicine, which is an art as much as a science. Once qualified, acupuncturists, like medical doctors, can choose to specialise in areas ranging from gynaecology, to paediatrics, oncology, sexual dysfunction, psychiatry, drug addictions or skin disorders amongst others.

In this holistic form of Traditional Medicine, the mind and the body have an intricate connection with each other. This explains why a qualified acupuncturist has to take a thorough case history of your condition prior to treatment, asking questions regarding your digestion, your bowels, your sleep, and your emotions even if your primary complaint is only muscular.

The ability to effectively treat your health problems relies on the expertise to assess the many conflicting pieces of information gathered during the consultation to make a proper diagnosis. This takes many years and even decades to master, which is something that an allied health practitioner with only a few weeks or even months of part time training will not be able to achieve. To give an example, I belong to a group of practitioners who have been practising Japanese acupuncture techniques for over five years, and we still have room for improvement.

To be fair, I have met a few doctors, and other health practitioners who have undertaken advanced training and who are accomplished acupuncturists, but it takes a lot of time and effort.

So, it can be tempting to forget about all this complex theory, diagnostic principles, skill training and just learn a basic needle technique in a couple of weekend workshops to be able to insert a few needles into the muscles to provide pain relief. But should it still be called acupuncture?

It can be useful teaching other allied health practitioners a simplified form of needling to add to their professional expertise if the patient can benefit. The problem begins when one starts thinking that being able to change a spark plug in a car instantly turns you into a qualified mechanic, although I am aware that not everyone is as clumsy with a spanner as I am!

Olivier Lejus. MHSc.,BHSc. is a registered acupuncturist practising in Sydney

Olivier Lejus

Olivier Lejus BHSc.MHSc. is a registered acupuncturist and Chinese herbalist practising in Sydney. A former casual university lecturer and tutor in Oriental medicine with over 15 years experience in clinical practice, Olivier specialises in Japanese- style acupuncture for the treatment of male and female infertility, migraine, pain, and insomnia.www.olejusacupuncture.com