A regular at the clinic and I had an excellent conversation a few weeks back.
What initially began as Lisa asking how we were doing finding a replacement for our friend/colleague Tracy who recently moved to Vermont to open a clinic in Chester, turned into an exchange of ideas that left us both feeling relief from what the other had to share. I'm inclined to recount our conversation in order to make clear to our patients how we work in a particular sense, and why.
Finding an acupuncturist who is a good fit for Community Acupuncture clinics can be a tricky task. What we find most valuable in our clinical staff - and perhaps more to the point, what we don't find valuable - are traits many of our colleagues are unprepared for.
"What are you looking for in a hire?", Lisa inquired. I began to list a few characteristics: a clear communicator, an honest and hard worker, someone who can quietly command a room full of sleeping people...
...a Populist, a lover of People first and Chinese medicine second.
Now she looked confused.
I began to explain how acupuncturists are taught lots of different therapies aside from acupuncture itself while in school. As a result, graduates are often compelled to offer not only needle work, but also various lifestyle and dietary advice. And for many acupuncturists this is well and good. But I'd maintain this advice is not neccesarily always welcome or constructive for patients.
Two thoughts come to mind about giving lifestyle advice:
1. Patients often already know what we've been trained to advise, namely the benefits of: getting more exercise or more sleep, eating less low-quality food or not so late at night, etc.
2. Many patients already work with a nutritionist or naturopath or weight-loss group and so already have plenty of information at hand.
Community Acupuncturists consciously try to avoid adding to the information overload many are already reckoning with these days. Instead we simply offer people the time and space to decompress and sort things out through a steady stream of acupuncture treatments. More often than not this is plenty to help initiate a positive response, allowing people to see patterns and situations more clearly for themselves.
Lisa smiled and nodded.
"If I did have questions and wanted your opinion, would you be willing to share it?" she asked.
The answer is, of course, but we wouldn't just assume you didn't already know.
I asked her how she would have reacted during her first visits to the clinic when she showed up constipated and tired, if we had taken the liberty of suggesting she stop eating so much of her favorite cheese and drank more water. "I would have thought to myself 'I already know I should do that'. The reality of it is, I know I was eating too much cheese and not drinking enough. It's a pattern I get into when I'm all stressed out. The problem is when I get into that practice, it becomes a downward spiral - more stress, more poor eating and dehydration, constipation and fatigue - and more lousy choices to follow. Something else had to give before I could get my act together."
Knowing she was able to break this pattern a few months back, I asked what she attributed it to. "An attitude adjustment thanks to a string of acupuncture treatments", she answered quickly then went on, "the treatments help me deal better with stress. I'm able to let it all roll off my back. When this happens, I make better decisons all-around on my own, including around eating. I have the resolve to carry through the things I should do, and avoid more of the things I shouldn't. I can do this because I don't have that monkey on my back."
I was nodding now.
This is a great example of why we tend to give treatments (and enough of them) and not lifestyle advice, I explained.
It's also one of the most important traits of an effective Community Acupuncturist; they recognize what you just explained, to be true. They know that acupuncture itself has a knack to help people make healthier choices.
"So, did you find someone yet?"
Yes we did as a matter of fact.
Andy Wegman @ MAS