The difference between a certified acupuncturist and a licensed acupuncturist is approximately 2,500 hours of education in Chinese Medicine - in favor of the latter - plus the requirement to pass national board exams. That is the short answer.
A short acupuncture needle can have profound physiological effects, but for more deeply located points coupled with more stubborn pathogens, a longer needle is often in order. I wonder if certified acupuncturists are aware as much. Let us examine deeper, longer.
Since acupuncture has grown in popularity and gained acceptance in the western world it has expanded in employment beyond just Chinese Medicine practitioners, but by some MD’s and chiropractors as well.
In classic American fashion we’ve created an acupuncture “short-hand” - “express lane,” or “fast food” version of it if you will, not unlike the recently blurred line between a fitness class and a (dumb) yoga class; equally similar to TV dinners, fad health drinks and smoothies (that are chock full of sugar).
Doctors can now take a 200-hour course on how to use “acupuncture” to release particularly tight muscles or trigger points with the intention of relaxing proximal sinews and painful muscles. Dr. Arthur Fan points out that although such practitioners are claiming to “do acupuncture” or “medical acupuncture,” what they actually are doing is simple “neuro-modulation” – enhancing or diminishing muscular neurotransmitters via trigger point stimulation. This technique summates the practice of acupuncture about as well as prescribing statin medications does that of modern medicine. It has nothing at all to do with the paradigm of Chinese Medicine, which should set off a red flag for any moderately intelligent person with the capacity for discernment.
Acupuncture is one part of Chinese Medicine, which includes modalities such as cupping, moxibustion, Tui-Na massage techniques, blood-letting, Qi Gong exercises, herbal medicine, and dietary therapy from an Oriental-specific paradigm (that often produces as significant results as any amount of the aforementioned approaches). This is quite significant, as it illustrates that going to an “acupuncturist” who knows nothing of these other modalities would be even more absurd than going to a pharmacist instead of an actual doctor to get all of one’s medical advice.
What this notorious 200-hour course fails to teach, and certified acupuncturists subsequently fail to understand is acupuncture is more than some arbitrary technique to address only pain. Some insurance companies and the mindless muggles of the matrix have accepted acupuncture as a means by which to relieve physical discomfort, inadvertently presuming the way by which it does so is by inserting the thinnest of needles directly into the sight of said discomfort – a practice we’d figure any 12-year old would be capable of.
Other insurance companies ironically offer acupuncture coverage “only if services are rendered by an MD,” which shows that it isn’t really the acupuncture they recognize and cover, but the MD, him/herself, all while still offering compensation for this form of therapy that their policies imply they must not believe in.
Chinese Medicine is one of the many forms of holistic medicine, along with Ayurveda, homeopathy, and several other lesser-known schools (or at least lesser known to myself). In theory, holistic medicine is able to treat any condition under the sun, to varying degrees, not necessarily because of its extraordinary power, but because of its perspective. While the objective labels of western diagnoses are relevant and important, holism determines treatment based on physiological “patterns,” which means three different people can have bursitis for three different reasons, and applying the same (orthopedic) treatment to all is automatically disqualifying as holistic medicine.
Simply needling into someone’s trapezius or lower back without a thorough understanding of how the corresponding organ channels operate and the physiological pattern of the individual being treated will produce short-term results at best, long-term harm at worst. Such insufficient training might explain why there have been so many accidents with “dry needling,” and why it’s earned the checkered reputation it has.
The complete answer to the difference between a licensed acupuncturist and a certified or “medical acupuncturist” is more than just 2,500 hours of education in favor of the former. A great part of said 2,500 hours is ongoing clinical experience in a nationally accredited school or college of acupuncture, beginning with observing, culminating with practicing under professional supervision – none of which are required for certified acupuncturists. Licensed acupuncturists must pass several national board exams, as well as meet a minimum number of annual continuing education units in the field, also neither of which are required for “certified” practitioners.
Be sure that your acupuncturist has a Master’s degree in Oriental Medicine. Be sure that they are NCCAOM certified, and are diagnosing based on a medical paradigm, as opposed to just mindlessly inserting needles into pain based on generic orthopedic trigger points.
200 hours is about one third as many hours as Chinese Medicine students are required to formally study biomedicine, thereby actually making licensed acupuncturists more qualified medical doctors than vice versa.
Would you ever go to an acupuncturist with a gunshot wound? Then don’t go to a certified acupuncturist for acupuncture.