How to Choose an
People choose to have acupuncture for many reasons,
and are turning to it in increasing numbers. However the
practice of acupuncture remains unregulated in the UK.
So, when you look in the phone book or do an internet
search and are faced with an array of practitioners, how
do you choose one? In the absence of regulation, how
do you know if they are properly qualified or practise
safely? And what do the letters after their name actually
mean? Here we will explain briefly some of the different
bodies to which acupuncturists in the UK belong, the
type of acupuncture they practise, how long they have
trained, and advise you what you need to look for
before booking an appointment.

Practitioners in the UK will usually be either 'traditional'
or 'western' in their underlying philosophy, training,
diagnosis and treatment methods. Acupuncture training
in the UK, whether traditional or western, places great
importance on evidence-based clinical research. Within
traditional acupuncture you will find practitioners of
Traditional Chinese Medicine and Five Element
acupuncture - both styles are based on the classical
literature of Chinese Medicine but emphasise different

Look for a practitioner who:

- has completed training appropriate to the type of
acupuncture they practise

- is a member of a professional body

- uses sterilised, single-use needles

- holds environmental health certificates* - one for
themselves and one for their premises - from the local

*(These certificates should be on display in the clinic.
There are lengthy environmental regulations with which
acupuncturists should comply. Inspection covers such
topics as training and competency, hazards, infection
control, cleanliness, personal hygiene, equipment, use
and disposal of needles, record-keeping and premises.
For example, floors in an acupuncture clinic must be
impermeable such as wood or lino, not carpet.)

- keeps a written record of your consultation and

- explains your treatment and obtains your consent
before proceeding

- will not advise you to abandon any western medication
or treatment you are receiving

- does not make exaggerated claims about the
effectiveness of treatment

Traditional acupuncture

Traditional Chinese Medicine
Practitioners may describe themselves as 'traditional'
acupuncturists or Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)
or Chinese Medicine (CM) practitioners. They take a
holistic approach to diagnosing, preventing and treating
diseases by identifying the underlying 'pattern' or root of
the illness and treating that, not just the symptoms.
Treatment may combine acupuncture, Chinese herbal
medicine, moxibustion, Tui na massage and dietary and
lifestyle advice. It is underpinned by concepts such as
Qi and Yin/ Yang. This is the style practised in China

Five Element
This style of acupuncture was developed by an
Englishman, JR Worsley, in the 1960s and 70s and has
many practitioners in the UK and USA, and, to a lesser
extent, Europe and Canada. Treatment may include
acupuncture and moxibustion and focuses on the
patient's 'spirit', with the emphasis on preventative
treatment and minimum therapeutic intervention.
Diagnosis is based on the theory that illness is often
caused by the seven emotions, and by assessing signs
such as the patient's personality, colour, sound and

Professional Bodies and Length of
Training - Traditional Acupuncture

Association of Traditional Chinese Medicine and
Acupuncture UK
Traditional Chinese Medicine
At least 3 years in traditional Chinese acupuncture
and/or Chinese herbal medicine (usually both) and
western biomedical sciences including anatomy,
physiology and pathophysiology.
Length of training - at least 3,600 hours, to degree
level or equivalent.

British Acupuncture Council
At least 3 years in traditional acupuncture, Chinese
medicine and western biomedical sciences including
anatomy, physiology and pathophysiology.
Length of training - at least 3,600 hours, to degree
level or equivalent

Western acupuncture

Also known as western medical acupuncture or medical
acupuncture. Treatment is not based on ancient Chinese
theories but on formulae developed for each particular
illness and based on a western medical diagnosis.
Practitioners are already qualified doctors, nurses or
other health professionals. If you receive acupuncture
on the NHS it will almost certainly be this style.

Professional Bodies and Length of Training
- Western Acupuncture

(British Academy of Western Medical Acupuncture)
9 weekends over the course of 8 months.
Members are already qualified medical professionals
such as doctors, nurses, midwives, physiotherapists,
osteopaths and chiropractors.

(British Medical Acupuncture Society)
Foundation course - two weekends (4 days)
or Monday to Friday (5 days)
Post Foundation training course - one day
Members are already qualified as doctors, dentists,
nurses, midwives, health visitors, physiotherapists,
osteopaths, chiropractors and podiatrists.

(Acupuncture Association of Chartered
Foundation course - 80 hours
Post-foundation training - one day
Members are chartered physiotherapists.

To illustrate the difference between traditional and
western styles, take the example of two patients
with knee pain. One patient has a chronic knee
condition with a dull ache which is worse when the
weather is cold and damp. The other patient twisted
their knee recently and it is inflamed and throbbing.
Both styles of acupuncture are likely to use the
same local points around the knee.

But in traditional acupuncture the two patients are
understood to have different underlying causes for
their pain, and different symptoms, and will
therefore receive different treatment. The first
patient may be given moxibustion, a warming
therapy, in addition to needles. For the second
patient, the practitioner may select certain
acupuncture points believed to reduce
inflammation. In western acupuncture the two
patients may receive exactly the same treatment,
based on a selection of points which have been
researched and established as being an effective
treatment for knee pain.

Ultimately your practitioner should be someone with
whom you feel comfortable as you will be sharing
information with them about your health, and you may
well be entering into a therapeutic relationship which
lasts several months or longer. Having satisfied yourself
as to their qualifications, training, safe practice and
professional membership you will learn a great deal by
simply ringing them or visiting them for a chat before
you decide whether you want to start treatment with


"What is Five Element Constitutional Acupuncture?"
Peter Mole. Journal of Chinese Medicine 85. October