When Kath Berry approached me in September at the British Acupuncture Council conference and shared Matt Bauer’s plans for the ANF, I pretty much understood what she was saying before she could get the words out. And I knew immediately that I was sooooo in.
Matt’s vision for what we can do for the profession is exceedingly ambitious. It’s also a no brainer. I stood there simultaneously thinking:
‘This is such a brilliant idea!’
‘Why hasn’t this already been done?’
‘Omg, I’m actually having a conversation with Kath Berry! She’s like the hot Australian Barbara Walters of the Acupuncture profession!’
As acupuncturists, we are blessed to have probably one of the most satisfying jobs on the planet. We help people get better, often where others have failed. We reduce human suffering. How cool is that?
We also get blank stares at cocktail parties and condescension and ridicule from (not all, but enough of) the medical profession.
‘Do you really believe in it?’
‘Does it really work?’
‘I had Reiki once.’
‘Are you a vegetarian?’
And depending on your personal style and disposition, you either engage and start referencing Cochrane Reviews and the high rates of iatrogenicity in mainstream conventional care and casually mention that you’ve completed a 3-5 year degree, thank you very much. Do you even realise how many letters I have after my name? Or you start telling people that you’re a real estate agent while beating a hasty retreat towards the crudités.
Not to be Captain Obvious, but it’s 2015. Acupuncture not only has a track record spanning millenia in South East Asia, but at this point it’s been used and systematically studied in the US, Europe, and Australia for over 40 years now (a conservative estimate). It’s remarkable and frankly, quite ridiculous that for the mainstream it’s shrouded in the level of mystery and abtruseness (thank you, Thesaurus.com) that it is. We don’t know exactly how it works. But we know a heck of a lot more than most people realise (and we certainly know more about how acupuncture works than many drugs and other treatments currently used in conventional care).
The ANF is about creating a mature, reasoned, Evidence based voice for our profession. It’s about combining our efforts so that educating people is not such an uphill endeavour. It’s amazing and gratifying to see as we approach different researchers and professional groups around the world, how many people were already working individually on this problem about how to create a clear message about what acupuncture is and isn’t. And once we explain to them what the ANF is about and what we hope to achieve, I see the same reaction that I had: ‘I am sooooo in.’
If I had to speculate why something like this has never been tried before, I would reckon that it’s because historically, we acupuncturists have had a tendency to focus on our differences rather than our similarities.
‘Oh, you went to a Five Elements practitioner? No, TCM is more rigorous. Let me tell you about TCM.’
‘Oh you went to a TCM practitioner? The Japanese style is gentler, I know a guy.’
‘You can’t get real acupuncture from your GP.’
‘Don’t get me started on physios and ‘dry needling.’’
While these positions may feel valid, let me ask you to imagine, for a moment, a special interest about which you know very little and that can seem strange to the uninitiated. I’ll use the (somewhat contrived) example of Civil War Reenactment enthusiasts (no disrespect to those among you for which this is a past time).
Now imagine you’re at another cocktail party (you lush), and you meet a Civil War Reenactor. Making friendly conversation, you ask him to tell you a bit about it. But rather than give you a general idea of what it involves and why it’s cool, he starts to lecture you on how the Farbs aren’t legitimate, the Mainstreamers are Wannabees, and that the only ones who could be considered legit are the Progressives (Thank you, Wikipedia). This type of explanation, which is obviously very meaningful to him, might obscure rather than illuminate, and would almost certainly bore. You are no clearer about what Civil War Reeacting involves and despite his best intentions, the chances of you giving up a Saturday morning to watch one of these events has not increased one iota.
I’m now going to take this opportunity to share something with all of you that’s very personal and could open me up to judgment and ridicule. I never really imagined coming out in such a public setting, but that’s a risk I’m just going to have to take. I’m tired of being ashamed and living a lie. So I’ll just go ahead and say it.
I see a physio. And I let her stick acupuncture needles in me. And I let her call it ‘acupuncture’.
And I like it. There I said it.
Has she had as much training as me? Nope. Is she good at what she does? Very. Are all physios great or even competent at using acupuncture after such limited training? Certainly not. She’s done more training than most and to be honest, I just got lucky. And you know? I’m sure most physios would be decidedly unimpressed at my attempt to do a shoulder exam. Does that mean I should stop doing them? Or continue to do them, such as they are, and call them something else? Or might I best serve my patients and myself by seeking further guidance from a mature and helpful physiotherapy profession on how to do shoulder exams properly and thoroughly for the best results?
Please, don’t misunderstand me; a big part of what the ANF aims to do is educate the public about different training levels and what it means to be a ‘qualified acupuncturist’ (pitchforks down, please). That said, when we focus on narrower definitions of ‘acupuncture’ and ‘acupuncturists’ and entertain a tribal mentality within us rather than about us, we confuse rather than inform and we do not succeed in our aims of educating the public about this powerful, legitimate medical option.
I imagine that many of you are tired of having the same asinine conversations over and over about what we do. I know I am. (It’s time to start enjoying cocktail parties again, people!). You want to be taken seriously and seen as a legitimate healthcare professional and you want people near you to think of you first when they have one of the many conditions that we enjoy success in treating, rather than going straight for the medicine cabinet or heading to the holder of the prescription pad and only darkening your doors as the very lastest and most desperate of resorts.
The ANF is about addressing the many misconceptions about acupuncture for you and giving you a voice – and not an embarrassing, cringe-worthy, hippy dippy or defensive voice. But a clear, intelligent, reasoned, scientific voice that lets people know what it is that we do and how we can help.
And I support all this, and I like cocktail parties, so this is why I support the ANF. (Thank you, ANF).