When They Tell You Where to Put the Needle

At Ikeda sensei's recent San Francisco seminar, an issue came up during the first day of lecture that seems to affect many of us in the acupuncture world:  patients who tell the acupuncturist where to put the needle. This is an interesting phenomena taken as an idea on its face, before even getting into the possible pathology behind it. Why would a person come to an acupuncturist for help if they want to control how they are going to be helped? Why wouldn't they just save the time and money and do what they want by themselves?

It was helpful to hear that my far more experienced teachers in another cultural paradigm deal with many of the same issues that I see here in the States, specifically here in Atlanta in my own little clinic. I had a couple of recent experiences with patients who tried to command me to do their bidding, and finally, I said no. Ironically in both cases, these were people who have complained to me about their bosses looking over their shoulders too much and micromanaging their work! Here are some reasons why patients who want to direct the treatment are going about things in a problematic way:

1) The acupuncturist is here to help the patient in the best way that the acupuncturist sees fit to do so. Sure, it is very helpful and necessary in some cases for the patient to say where something hurts and to describe his or her symptoms. But that is where the patient's initial contribution needs to end. I, for one, have an ongoing intention to continue improving as a practitioner, but I also have experience and training now that informs what I decide to do. I have thought about a plan for treatment to get us to the goal of both: a) lessening or relieving the symptom, and b) treating the root cause of the problem so that the symptomatic treatment has the best chance of holding. This means that no, I don't want you to bring me a list of points that some other acupuncturist did for you that worked for some problem under different circumstances. That was then, this is now, and I am not a technician. On the contrary, you should be skeptical of an acupuncturist who would seek to do someone else's point prescription, or just put needles where someone wants them to, in an indiscriminate manner, without evaluating the patient for themselves. Those are red flags. Acupuncturists who are engaged in the medicine will prefer and insist on doing their own treatments from top to bottom, and it should not be otherwise. 

2) It may seem like the acupuncturist is focusing on areas other than the problem area or painful area, but there is a method to that. I explain to the patient that we need to treat the root of the problem as well as its manifestation. I want the pain/discomfort/insomnia, etc. to go away as badly as the patient does, but what good does it do for me to just treat the symptom if it comes back in an hour? I am always thinking about how to make the problem go away and stay away. This is sometimes accomplished in a one-hour treatment, but often, it takes more treatments to accomplish such goals. It seems to be better to come back on another day rather than to do a long treatment on one day. 

3) Patients who can't seem to trust the judgment of their acupuncturist should probably ask themselves why. Why go to someone with training and experience, especially when the patient has no training nor skills as an acupuncturist, if the patient thinks that he or she has all of the answers?  It is insulting and disrespectful, not to mention just plain dumb, to tell someone how to do their job, especially when the person doing the telling doesn't know what is going on. Even other acupuncturists don't generally do that when receiving treatments. Usually, the person who wants to control the treatment has some control issues elsewhere in life that may need to be investigated. It's probably part of the reason why the condition is occurring in their body in the first place. 

Certainly, there is a back-and-forth dynamic involved between the acupuncturist and the patient. After all, the patient is paying and should get his or her needs addressed and receive something of value in exchange for their money. If a treatment didn't work as well as was hoped for before, your acupuncturist wants to find a way to make an appropriate change so that you, the patient, can get better. That's what both parties want. To be honest, I don't want to turn anyone away, really. But I would rather not see patients who behave in a way that puts me in a straitjacket or handcuffs while I am working. I will let those people go to make room for the patients who can truly receive and benefit. We will all be happier. 

Kerri Winston, Ph.D., L.Ac., is a licensed acupuncturist with a practice in Atlanta, Georgia's Buckhead area. If you are interested in learning more about how acupuncture can help you or your loved ones, please call 404-949-0550 or send email to [email protected].