In the long awaited return of The Newbie’s Guide to Alternative Wellness, this time we shed some light on an ancient practice that is often misunderstood because so many have a fear of needles – Acupuncture. My marketing staffer, Kristin Laing, sat down with Maryland Licensed Acupuncturist, Dolma Johanison, to talk about the benefits of acupuncture and what someone new to it can expect.
So many people hate needles, but they’re integral to Acupuncture. Why is that?
Your body has chi (energy) pathways called meridians. When your chi is out of balance, you experience illness and discomfort. In acupuncture, we put very thin needles – scarcely bigger than an eyelash – very gently into the uppermost layer of your skin at specific places on your body that correspond to the location where the imbalance is occurring and causing the symptoms you are experiencing, to assist in the movement of chi and blood. A needle can be inserted for a second or two, or for a few minutes, but in most cases, you barely feel it. The needles facilitate a person’s ability to reach their highest potential – physically, emotionally, spiritually and mentally.
How do you overcome someone’s fear of needles?
First, I find out what the scary part of the needle is – seeing it or feeling it. If the fear is seeing the needle, I will do the first few treatments are on their back, so they can relax and not be preoccupied with avoiding seeing the needles. If they don’t mind seeing the needle, but are nervous, I stay with them for a minute, and coach them through it with some verbal cues like “You might feel this”, or “This might feel like a pinch”. I also use needles that are a softer metal, a smaller diameter that won’t prick the skin as much as standard needles, and I apply them to parts of the body where there is more tissue even if I know a point in a hand or foot will get them more immediate results. I want them to develop a positive relationship with acupuncture and the needles. I check in with them to see where they are with their phobia, treat them around that, let them get used to how it feels. As they get more comfortable, see the effects of the acupuncture and have developed a rapport with me and trust in the process, only then will I move on to more challenging points that will have a greater impact on their treatment.
What kind of ailments or illnesses can acupuncture address?
Acupuncture’s greatest strength is preventive medicine but it is not its only strength and it helps every being (even pets!). People seek acupuncture for so many reasons: chronic and acute pain management, pregnancy, depression, anxiety, personal injuries, high blood pressure, headaches, sleep disorders just to name the popular ones. I have clinical experience working with cancer patients who use it to help with the side effects of chemotherapy and radiation, but it also helps the medicine work more effectively. Acupuncture doesn’t cure diseases – you need to see a medical doctor for that. But if caught early enough, acupuncture can delay the progression of an illness, help with pain management and can help medication work more effectively.
When should someone consider seeing an acupuncturist?
When you’re feeling fine, because it is about preventive medicine. There is scientific evidence that acupuncture boosts your immune system. I have patients who have gotten so much out of treatment that they want their spouse to go, but the spouse isn’t interested because they say they are healthy. They come to me, and then one day, they realize that the entire time they’ve been seeing me, they haven’t had bronchitis or the flu and don’t get a flu shot. Acupuncture works for everybody.
What is important for someone to know about seeing an acupuncturist?
It’s important to interview a practitioner because there has to be good rapport. They should feel comfortable talking with them; there should be a resonance. When I sit down with a new client for the first time, I explain that this is a partnership and it’s important to feel comfortable talking about things that are bothering you physically, emotionally, spiritually. A good conversation is a sign of a good fit. If you don’t feel that way – if you feel uncomfortable or even just ‘blah’, that’s going to impact the treatment, and you need to pay attention to that.
Also, you can be skeptical and unsure, curious, or a flat-out non-believer and acupuncture will still benefit you, but the benefit will be greater if you have an open mind and be with it.
Acupuncture is not a religion, it is medicine. You don’t have to leave your philosophy or religious beliefs to benefit from acupuncture. Most acupuncturists are coming from a holistic viewpoint, the belief that everything you’re experiencing is related, that the physical body, emotional and spiritual bodies all work together simultaneously. A death, job loss or a break up – that emotional stress will impact the physical body. An acupuncturist will spend time asking questions to get the full picture. A thorough consultation with an acupuncturist is very important for that reason.
What are good questions to ask someone you’re considering seeing for acupuncture?
- What can this do for me? How might I benefit from this?
- What are some areas of my life that this might improve?
- How long have you been practicing?
- Do you have any specialities? (Many do – nutrition, arthritis, pregnancy, sports injury)
What are some suggestions to help someone prepare for their first treatment?
Some practitioners will send you a form to fill out before you arrive, others will do it at the first appointment, but honesty in your answers will allow you to receive the best treatment. As a general rule, make sure you are hydrated and have eaten, as your body responds to treatment best when hydrated and nourished. Be prepared to talk about how you are feeling physically and emotionally, as sharing what’s going on in your life is a part of the treatment.
How can someone maximize their acupuncture experience?
The degree to which it benefits varies between individuals depending on age, lifestyle, and degree of illness, but the best way is to be open to lifestyle changes. If you tend to not eat well, not drink enough water or get enough sleep, you’re going against the rhythm or movement of the acupuncture toward health and wellness. If you receive a treatment and then go out and abuse your body or refuse to make lifestyle changes, it’s like you’re going against the treatment. Make the shifts that the practitioner recommends. Nutrition, sleep, and water, and it’s important to be open to the coaching that will coincide with treatment.
~ Dolma Johanison is a licensed acupuncturist in Maryland, and holds Masters in both Acupuncture and Mental Health. She has been practicing for 10 years, is a member of the adjunct faculty of MD University of Integrative Health, supervises in the student clinic, and has a thriving private practice in Poolesville and Ellicott City, Maryland. Dolma plans to begin pursuing her doctorate in acupuncture in the next year.
~ Licensed Acupuncturists are required to keep their licenses active through continuing education credits (CEUs) and are required to renew their licenses every 2 years, to prove that they have completed a certain number of of CEUs within that time period. In the US, they are required to be HIPAA compliant and licensed acupuncturists must adhere to a set of rules that will vary by state. Every state has a State Board of Acupuncture. In most Canadian provinces, but not all, health care practitioners must be trained in acupuncture in order to practice it as a complement to their own professional training. Standards for training are set by the regulatory bodies for each health care profession. Traditional Acupuncturists are regulated in British Columbia, Alberta, Quebec, Ontario and Newfoundland. The title of “Acupuncturist” is protected in those provinces. In provinces without regulation it is the consumer’s’ responsibility to inform themselves of the practitioner’s level of training.
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Love, Dr. Marissa