Why I Support The ANF

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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).

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3 Comments

  1. Upon my considering joining/supporting ANF, and in perusing the website, I was taken aback by your rationalization regarding PT’s / dry needling and your support of it…. and your comment about “us” and a tribal mentality. I could only conclude that you must be fairly uninformed about who has the tribal mentality and how that profession across the US (and world), has distorted the description of acupuncture by merely substituting it’s name with the label that their hierarchy has made sure is consistently repeated and repeated so that the public (and obviously even a lot of acupuncturists) eventually believe is actually something totally different than acupuncture. Perhaps you are unaware that “dry needling” is simply a particular/and aggressive acupuncture technique. And maybe you are uninformed about how the PT profession (as programmed by their hierarchy) consistently puts down acupuncture theories, ridicules the concept of qi and meridians, and on top of that they proclaim that “they” are the experts and that dry needling “is not” acupuncture, but their own invention. You probably also don’t know that on the PT profession’s agenda list, they’d like (and have already tried in one or two states) to get bills passed that would legally give them patient referral authority over us. And while there are more and more and more incidents of PT’s (and others) causing injuries and/or even just contusions and soreness or bleeding, it is they who are extremely well politically connected and who are completely part of the western medical system, and thus have zero problem charging up to $300 and billing insurance. The real reason the PT profession got their claws into acupuncture is for “business profit”…. not because it has any respect for acupuncture or asian medicine principles. Please don’t misunderstand what I’ve written here. I just felt it important to give you information and clarity on this very controversial issue. I also have no doubt that any PT who is also a fully trained and licensed acupuncturist would agree with these points. None of this issue is about who is good and who knows more A&P and who has better western medical lingo and who does trade with who.
    When acupuncturists have to pay thousands of dollars and years of schooling to qualify to practice a profession that to this day still is not considered an actual part of the health care system in the west, and which in many states is not acknowledged as qualified for insurance billing, how can we be so naive as to think that we are on an even playing field with the PT profession in particular? Their Federation does not play on an even playing field with any profession, that is a fact. So I ask you and anyone else on the Board, etc. of ANF to reconsider a potentially misplaced idea of tribal mentality. While I am supportive of what ANF is wanting to do, I’ll hold off for a while… because I (and many of my colleagues) are not interested in pretending that it’s fine and dandy that the PT profession has weaseled it’s agenda into law that allows them to do acupuncture with whether one or ten weekend seminars… at the expense of the acupuncture profession. Thank you, and again, this note is not mal intended. Della

  2. Hi Della,

    Thank you for taking the time to respond to my blog post.

    I’m really sorry that you are so angry about how the physiotherapy profession has co-opted the use of needling techniques in the U.S. I’m pleased that you’ve taken the time to so articulately share some of the problems with this.

    These are exactly the types of issues that the ANF seeks to address and ameliorate. First, we feel that acupuncture is greatly under utilised. This is largely down to the acupuncture profession failing to communicate a clear message to the public about how we can help. We feel that a strong and clear campaign would simultaneously increase demand for our services and also help to educate the public on the differences between what we do and what physios do.

    Second, and this is my opinion (not an official stance of the ANF), I agree with what Dr John McDonald said in a recent interview on Needle Chat that the chances of ‘dry needling’ as used by physios going away any time soon is extremely unlikely. ‘That horse has already bolted.’ The rational thing to do is to focus on increasing the resources, both financial and intellectual, of our profession so that the comparison is clearer for outsiders. Indeed, this type of focusing could eventually highlight safety issues which could lead to stricter regulations in our favour. But spending our limited resources on focusing on them instead of us is counterproductive.

    And third, I think you’ve misinterpreted my acceptance of the reality of PT dry needling with support of dry needling. I don’t support it. I accept it. I always like to say, ‘when you argue with reality, you lose 100% of the time.’ I don’t think physios should be allowed to use needling techniques, especially with so little training, but they do so I choose not to loose sleep over it. In fact, perhaps you’re unaware that here in the UK, acupuncture is not statutorily regulated so there are 0 government guidelines for training for people who needle. Given the correct premise licensing and ‘health and safety’ certificate, my hairdresser could start offering acupuncture tomorrow. Given this situation, getting really angry at individual physios seems counterproductive. I’m better off putting my efforts and considerable free time into supporting an organisation like the ANF to ameliorate the situation.

    I don’t see PT dryneedling as a problem for my clinic (just like I don’t see the economy or the weather as a problem for my clinic), and perhaps that’s why it’s not a problem for my clinic. In fact, the physio I see refers patients to me because she knows that what I do is different from what she does. Things will be even better when the public is better informed and knows that what they’re getting from the physio is not as efficacious or safe as the treatment that they can get from us. And that’s what the ANF can make happen.

  3. Greetings Mel,
    Gosh, I regret to say that I sense there is a slight disconnect in our views, and it seems that you are ever so slightly directing your tribal metaphor here.
    Maybe so, maybe not. I might add that I’m not concerned for myself/my business regarding PT’s. I’ve been in practice for 24 years, I’m not a newby. And I have for many years been involved in state laws and legislative process, and that includes a lot of research…. and dealing with the PT profession the past couple years… which in fact means dealing with the PT national hierarchy.
    And I also, just as many acupuncturists do, often have common patients with PT’s. Believe me, every single thing you comment on has been said before. And I guess that I got carried away with my note to you, as all I had intended to say was that your blog gave me pause about joining ANF because it made me wonder how well informed and experienced ANF individuals are. I am well aware of the ANF purpose, that is not an issue, and I certainly am very supportive of M.B.’s initiative and hope it picks up a lot of steam… or shall i say qi.
    Nonetheless, I thank you for your note, and I sincerely wish you all the best. Della

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