Choosing a good acupuncturist

When I started ttc over the age of 40 and was gearing up for IVF, I decided I should start acupuncture to help maximise my chances. Boy, have I learned a few things since then!

How to tell if your acupuncturist is NOT a good choice:

I initially chose an acupuncturist who was quite close by, whom I eventually decided wasn’t a good choice. To help others choose a good one, maybe it would help to describe what made me think so …

  1. Didn’t ask me what day of my cycle I was on when I went, and didn’t alter acupuncture points according to where I was in my cycle.
  2. Did not have a clear understanding of IUI/IVF, i.e. what happens at different parts of the cycle.
  3. Didn’t seem to have a clear understanding of what happens in a natural cycle, e.g. when implantation occurs (7-10dpo).
  4. Wasn’t able to explain clearly what my Chinese medicine diagnosis was, or the rationale behind the treatment plan. [This wasn’t an ESL issue – the person was a born and bred kiwi.]
  5. In hindsight, seemed to be trying to treat so many things in one acu session (loads of needles; I was a total pincushion) that I started wondering if some of the points used were actually cancelling out the effect of others.
  6. Wasn’t actually formally trained in acupuncture. [I know, I know, what was I thinking?!]

When I switched to another [competent] acu, the difference was just night and day on ALL the above points.

Acupuncture Qualifications and Credentials

The New Zealand Register of Acupuncture has a list of those acupuncturists who are members of the NZRA. If someone is NOT a member of NZRA or another relevant professional association, you should certainly raise an eyebrow. However, the fact that someone is a member of one of these NZ ‘registers’ is NO guarantee of quality. The acupuncturist I mentioned above, who had NO formal qualifications in acupuncture, was (and is) a long-time member of NZRA. Current requirements to join NZRA include a “qualification that meets the NZRA’s criteria” and some form of clinical assessment, but it would appear that several acupuncturists with no formal qualifications appear to have been “grandfathered” into the association early on and not subject to these requirements.

So, who IS a good acupuncturist?

For those of you looking for an acupuncturist, here’s a list of people who come highly recommended by fertility patients around the country (note that I can’t vouch that they really ARE brilliant since I’m not a Chinese medicine dr myself, but am just sharing what others have said). The following interpretation guide should help:

**Absolutely raved about ALL the time by patients (including those who’ve had success!) AND I’ve also heard endorsements from at least one credible expert source
*
At least one or two patients have spoken positively about them AND I’ve also heard endorsements from at least one credible expert source
[no asterisk]
Have been recommended by patients, but I haven’t also heard any expert endorsement about their competence, nor any concerns

Auckland

  • Dr. Vitalis, Mairangi, North Shore, 09 486 5111 **
  • Laura Bradburn, Acudoc, Auckland Central, 09 626 7120 (but she’s apparently on maternity leave in late 2009)
  • Lisa Houghton, Acudoc (above) and the Motherwell Clinic, Mt Eden, 09-630-0067
  • Bessie Lu, Village Acupuncture, Mt Eden, 09 630 3168

Hamilton

Napier

Wellington

Nelson

  • John Black, Nelson Chinese Medical Clinic, 22 Nile Street, Nelson 03 546 8733 *
  • Paddy McBride, Acupuncture Richmond, 40 Oxford Street, Richmond, Nelson 03 544 0411 *

Christchurch

  • Dr. Tracey Bourner (Ph.D. in research), Riverside Acupunture and Chinese herbs, Opawa, 03 981 1683 *
  • Georgia Bryant, Acupuncture for Health, South Brighton, 03 388 7346 *
  • Eleanor Marks in St Albans 03 960 9702
  • Suzy Tapper, Ferrymead Acupuncture, 03 384 8589

What should I ask a prospective acupuncturist before agreeing to work with them?

Whether or not a prospective acupuncturist is on the above list, it’s always a good idea to ask them a few questions before you agree to work with them. Here’s a list of questions to help get you started:

Where did you train? What acupuncture or Chinese Medicine qualifications do you have? Have you done any advanced training or courses since then? Are you a member of the New Zealand Register of Acupuncturists or some other professional association? [The ‘gold standard’ would be a bachelor’s degree in acupuncture from a reputable school in China or elsewhere PLUS some advanced training (master’s degree or other), preferably specifically in acupuncture and Chinese medicine for fertility PLUS some sort of certification that actually evaluates competence. Note that being “registered in New Zealand” simply means being a paid member of a professional association and is no guarantee of competence.]
[Assuming this is at a first/introductory appointment:] What is my Chinese Medicine diagnosis? Please explain (in lay terms) what it means and what your treatment approach would be. [Just my view, but if someone can’t explain what they are doing in understandable terms, that’s a good indicator they don’t REALLY have a good understanding of it themselves.]
How would my treatment differ before vs. after ovulation in my cycle? [Wrong answer: It wouldn’t. A good answer might include explanations like: The follicular (pre-O) phase usually emphasises kidney yin treatment, whereas in the luteal (post-O) phase we typically treat kidney yang. Also, points used after O should be those that would support a pregnancy; some of the ones used before O are good for that phase of the cycle but not safe if you might be pregnant.]
How would my treatment differ during an IVF/IUI cycle vs. during a natural cycle? [Wrong answer: It wouldn’t. A good answer would show some thoughtful logic such as: You’d generally tend to use less aggressive acupuncture treatment while someone’s on stims – you don’t want to make their ovaries blow a gasket!]
What successes have you had with women/couples of a similar age and with a similar Western diagnosis to mine/ours? Please describe one or two recent success cases. [Obviously, more success cases similar to yours are better. But keep your ears tuned too for evidence of the kind of systematic detective work a good practitioner would use to ‘listen’ to how the body responds and tweak the treatment. A fertility-challenged body is like a squeaky old violin that needs to be worked with carefully to make it sing the sweetest tune it possibly can.]
What professional associations are you a member of? Which Chinese Medicine-related conferences and seminars do you regularly attend? How else do you keep up with new developments? [You want to make sure you are working with someone who understands Chinese Medicine as not just an ancient tradition that you get trained for once and that’s it, but as a growing discipline that creates new knowledge all the time. If your acupuncturist isn’t making an effort to keep up with the field, that’s not a good sign.]
What would you say are the two or three most important advances in Chinese Medicine for the treatment of infertility in the past few years. Do you have a copy of a good recent article I could look at? [If your prospective acupuncturist can’t rattle off a few really interesting recent developments that are relevant to your case, that’s a sure sign he/she isn’t keeping up with the play. And beware of someone who doesn’t want to give you an article “because you probably won’t understand it” – first, they may not actually have any relevant articles because they don’t keep up with the field, and second, that’s a hint that they don’t see you as an intelligent and active partner in your own treatment.]

If the choice is not clear cut after asking the above questions, I’d suggest doing a session or two with each possibility and seeing which one seems like a better fit for you. Even the raved about acupuncturists on the list above have some patients who just don’t ‘click’ with their style. So, make sure the person you choose feels right for you.

· Where did you train? What acupuncture or Chinese Medicine qualifications do you have? Have you done any advanced training or courses since then? Are you a New Zealand registered acupuncturist?

[see Qualifications and Credentials, above for how to evaluate answers.]

· [Assuming this is at a first/introductory appointment:] What is my Chinese Medicine diagnosis? Please explain (in lay terms) what it means and what your treatment approach would be.

[Just my view, but if someone can’t explain what they are doing in understandable terms, that’s a good indicator they don’t REALLY have a good understanding of it themselves.]

· How would my treatment differ before vs. after ovulation in my cycle?

[Wrong answer: It wouldn’t. Correct answers would include: The follicular (pre-O) phase usually emphasises kidney yin treatment, whereas in the luteal (post-O) phase we typically treat kidney yang. Also, points used after O should be those that would support a pregnancy; some of the ones used before O are good for that phase of the cycle but not safe if you might be pregnant.]

· How would my treatment differ during an IVF/IUI cycle vs. during a natural cycle?

[Wrong answer: It wouldn’t. Correct answer: You’d generally tend to use less aggressive acupuncture treatment while someone’s on stims – you don’t want to make your ovaries blow a gasket!]

· What successes have you had with women/couples of a similar age and with a similar Western diagnosis to mine/ours? Please describe one or two recent success cases.

[Obviously, more success cases similar to yours are better. But keep your ears tuned too for evidence of the kind of systematic detective work a good practitioner would use to ‘listen’ to how the body responds and tweak the treatment. A fertility-challenged body is like a squeaky old violin that needs to be worked with carefully to make it sing the sweetest tune it possibly can.]

· What professional associations are you a member of? Which Chinese Medicine-related conferences and seminars do you regularly attend? How else do you keep up with new developments?

[You want to make sure you are working with someone who understands Chinese Medicine as not just an ancient tradition that you get trained for once and that’s it, but as a growing discipline that creates new knowledge all the time. If your acupuncturist isn’t making an effort to keep up with the field, that’s not a good sign.]

· What would you say are the two or three most important advances in Chinese Medicine for the treatment of infertility in the past few years. Do you have a copy of a good recent article I could look at?

[If your prospective acupuncturist can’t rattle off a few really interesting recent developments, that’s a sure sign he/she isn’t keeping up with the play. And beware of someone who doesn’t want to give you an article “because you probably won’t understand it” – first, they may not actually have any relevant articles because they don’t keep up with the field, and second, that’s a hint that they don’t see you as an intelligent and active partner in your own treatment.]

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13 Responses to “Choosing a good acupuncturist”

  1. Duncan says:

    Lots of good info here, thank you.

    Have you visited all the acupuncturists listed under “who IS a good acupuncturist?”
    If not, how did you evaluate them?

    What part of the country are you in?

    Regards,
    Duncan

  2. Eve says:

    Hi Duncan,

    No, I haven’t visited them all – am just compiling a list that may be useful for people based on the following:

    ** [2 asterisks] Absolutely raved about ALL the time by patients (including those who’ve had success!) AND I’ve also heard endorsements from at least one credible expert source
    * [1 asterisk] At least one or two patients have spoken positively about them AND I’ve also heard endorsements from at least one credible expert source
    [no asterisk] Have been recommended by patients, but I haven’t also heard any expert endorsement about their competence, nor any concerns

    As I mentioned above, I can’t vouch that they really ARE brilliant since I’m not a Chinese medicine dr myself, but am just sharing what others have said. It’s not perfect information, but it’s hopefully more useful for people than just randomly picking someone out of the phone book AND I do encourage people to ask good questions and try out more than one acupuncturist before settling on the one with the best fit.

    Oh, and I’m in Auckland.

    Good luck!

  3. Janine says:

    Hi Eve

    This is the most wonderful website and I direct people to it all the time. Especially the “Questions to ask” when a client is new to what happens at Fertility Associates.
    I’d like to comment on “how to chose an acupuncturist”. A Bachelors degree in acupuncture has only been available in NZ for 3 years, so most acupuncturists do not have this, let alone a Masters.
    Experienced acupuncturists have a Diploma in acupuncture. Post graduate study is what counts to be a good fertility acupuncturist. This may simply be reading a dozen books, keeping up with research in both Western and Traditional Chinese Medicine, attending peer meetings focused on fertility.
    If an acupuncturist appears confident in talking about a natural or ART cycle,knows what a BBT chart is,what an AMH tests means, that Puragon comes after Bucerelin etc, then it shows an interest in fertility. The acupuncturist should be able to explain what they are doing to assist the client. Experience in fertility acupuncture also give the acupuncturist an idea of how to support the clients at stressful times.
    I hope this is helpful Eve.
    Warm wishes,
    Janine

  4. Tracey says:

    I live in Tauranga and used this website to find Centre of Balance in Hamilton before my December 2009 treatment. That frozen cycle ended up in my son born 13 August 2010 :-)))

    I also went back to Centre of Balance in December this year for another frozen cycle. Got a positive result on blood test day but following blood test showed falling levels.

    I do believe acupuncture was the key as the only negative result I have had was when I didnt do acupunture for my very first fresh cycle.

    I am looking for a recommended acupuncturist in Tauranga so I can have on-going treatment and not just on the day of transfer. Has anyone recommended anyone in Tauranga?

    Regards
    Tracey

  5. Lori-Ellen says:

    Hi Tracey,

    As an acupuncturist myself in Christchurch with a peer relationship with Debbie Karl, I would recommend her in Tauranga.
    Here is a link with her details http://yellow.co.nz/y/Acupuncturists/Debbie+Karl+Acupuncturists/103213930_240.html
    She is great to talk to if you call and explain your situation,

    Lori-Ellen

  6. Jane says:

    I used David Craddock at ponsonby acupuncture clinic, he’s the go to guy for fertility in Auckland. Out of my 4 IVF’s he knew exactly which ones I got pregnant on and which I didn’t. We called him magic needles.

  7. Janelle says:

    I used Georgia Bryant in Christchurch. Went to her after several failed IVF implants and then working with her last chance twin girls that are now 9 months old. She is awesome listens and makes you feel so relaxed and really knows her stuff. I would recommend her to anyone for anything. She is amazing I think she is truly amazing ,magic in fact. After 6 years of trying it was so easy!

  8. Marguerite says:

    I too used David Craddock at Ponsonby Acupuncture Clinic in Auckland. After spending all of my 20’s supposedly infertile (Doctor after Doctor saying I’d never have children) with polycystic ovaries and 2 cervical cancer scares under my belt, at the age of 33 I’m now the proud mother of 2 beautiful children. Thanks to Dave I no longer have cystic ovaries. He’s incredibly knowledgeable, makes you feel completely at ease, I now go to him first before seeing a doctor. He’s amasing, truly a natural healer.

  9. Sarah says:

    Hi, Thanks for this article, which I found very helpful.

    Have you heard anything good about Chinese practitioners of acupuncture and Chinese herbs? In my experience most acupuncturist prescribe at least off-the-shelf herbal pills. I am currently seeing one of the acupuncturists on your list and she prescribes the pills, but I got way better results with libido and cervical mucus when I was seeing a Chinese woman who prescribed the loose herbs you had to brew up. These do end up being quite a lot more expensive than the pills. Interestingly, she did hardly any acupuncture.

    I am wondering what you mean by a “credible expert source” when you say you have heard endorsements for some acupuncturists from at least one credible expert source. And, can you tell me how you came to hear from these expert sources?

    For the acupuncturists on your list with no asterisk you say they have been “recommended by patients”. I’m guessing this means the same as what you have for the acupuncturists listed with one asterisk, i.e. “at least 1 or 2 patients have spoken positively about them”. Because you worded these differently, when I read them I initially just thought that those without asterisks not only came without endorsements by at least one credible expert source (at least that you’d heard), but didn’t come as highly recommended by patients.

  10. Eve says:

    Hi Sarah,

    My understanding is that the loose herbs are generally better BUT it requires really really serious expertise to be able to put the right mix together for each person. So, just because someone prescribes loose herbs doesn’t mean you are getting a better brew for you than, say, if someone prescribed you the pill versions (which are pretty good).

    So, once again, it’s all about the competence of the practitioner, which is so hard to evaluate. If you personally were getting much better results in terms of libido and CM, then that in my view is a really good sign the mix is about right.

    “Credible expert source” means a trained and very competent acupuncturist who is familiar with the work of someone. When a patient recommended someone to go on the list, I asked an acupuncturist I knew to be competent if they had ever met, worked with, or seen that person’s work. As you can imagine, many know each other professionally. And, as in other professions, it’s often quite obvious when talking with colleagues whether they know what they are doing …

    So, I don’t claim to have used any systematic or scientific method here; just trying to share what little information I have, which is unfortunately incomplete.

    The fact that I only have patient endorsements about some of these doesn’t mean that they are any less competent than the others; just that I only have that one perspective. No, it doesn’t mean they were less highly recommended by the patients.

    It’s really hard to know whether to even offer a list like this. But for me, going into the whole infertility rollercoaster blind, I was searching for something less random than just asking Dr Google … 🙂 Don’t take the list as gospel, by any means, but if anyone finds it useful as a place to start, then I’m glad.

  11. Sarah says:

    Hi Eve,

    Thanks so much for replying, and so promptly too. I found what you had to say very helpful. Before I read your reply I had spoken with another acupuncturist on your list and, like you, she also thought the loose herbs are better than the pills, at least in an experienced person’s hands. She used to prescribe the loose herbs, but patient compliance was low because of the time and hassle involved in brewing up the herbs. She said that for Kidney yin and blood the herbs work way faster than acupuncture.

    I had been concerned when seeing the Chinese woman that I only had acupuncture every 6 weeks and then with only 4 needles, but the woman I spoke with yesterday said Chinese often only use a few needles, but can do a very powerful type of acupuncture. These weren’t her exact words, but I think that’s the gist of what she was saying.

    Another concern I had with the Chinese woman was that the day I had the acupuncture, that was done and herbs were chosen before I’d even had my pulses taken or my tongue looked at, but the woman I spoke with yesterday said the very good Chinese practitioners are trained in how to read the face as well.

    After this conversation, I have decided to go back to the Chinese woman. For those interested her name is Diana Mei and she has clinics in at least Dunedin, Auckland and Christchurch. I got great results with increased libido and good cervical mucus and had only been seeing her for 3 and a half cycles. I also had improvements in other non-fertility-related symptoms. Diana Mei comes from a family of doctors, is a gynecologist and is 47 so has been doing this work for quite some time.

    The loose herbs are very expensive and I did wonder if I was being overcharged, but after speaking to two practitioners who either prescribe loose herbs now or used to, it would appear that I wasn’t overcharged, at least not for the majority of what I bought. Chinese practitioners charge differently too in that they tend not to charge for consultations, but just the herbs and acupuncture. According to the two women I spoke with, it takes a lot of time to measure out the herbs, which was surprising to me, and this is where a good bit of the cost of the herbs comes from.

    With Diana Mei you don’t have to take the whole package of herbs so you can end up spending differing amounts based on what you can afford. The cheapest option does end up being more per week than the cost of an appointment with an acupuncturist and you can spend up to around $315 a week. If you choose to spend less, I was told it would just take a bit longer to get there.

    I’m sure all acupuncturists have their success stories. I will share one Diana told me about with one of her clients. She had very large fibroids and hadn’t been able to conceive. Western gynecologists had basically told her she wouldn’t be able to have a child, but with Diana’s treatment her fibroids shrunk and she conceived a child at 43. She is now trying for a second child with Diana’s herbs and is now 45. I hope it is OK to give out this much information.

  12. Heiko Lade says:

    As an acupuncturist and member of NZ Register of Acupuncturists, I am all for the promotion and recommendation of acupuncture by suitable qualified acupuncturists to assist with fertility or any health problem for that matter.

    But let me inform you of a few “facts” in regards to acupuncture and fertility and IVF. The actual success rate of IVF is still very low.It is improving, be it slowly. Some reports suggest that the FAILURE rate of IVF is somewhere between 75% and 93%. Note I say failure rate, not success rate. Research has shown that acupuncture can increase the success rate. The true results of IVF are somewhat clouded, because they only take into account the success of getting pregnant. Of those that get pregnant with IVF there is another whole large percentage of people that then miscarry. It is very difficult to get the actual true result of the percentage of successful full term pregnancies. For obvious reasons I don’t think IVF centers like to give out the statistics for all the miscarriages after IVF.

    I was an NZQA approved assessor involved in getting all NZRA members competent according to the National Diploma of Acupuncture over 10 years ago. To my knowledge no member was grand parented through. I will put my money on that statement.
    It is perhaps true that some older NZRA members may have had much less official academic training, purely because there were no colleges back then in NZ!! They may have learnt privately or at smaller colleges overseas. I think they would have learnt a lot just by being in practice for 30 years plus though !!

    I suggest don’t be too demanding or critical that the acupuncturist needs to discuss with you all the minute western medical details such as which day of the month the egg is doing what and that on day 7 they will do a different acupuncture point. Because mid cycle the hormones are doing this and after they are doing that. Its the jargon that western people like to hear. It gives them reassurance that their acupuncturist “knows” their condition. Western people do not have a concept of “liver qi stasis” or “damp and heat in the lower jiao”. Acupuncturists go to college for 4 years to learn all that and then to try explain it in 5 minutes while the patient is lying down on the bed is somewhat challenging.

    I have one other real important point that I would like to bring across. If you went to China and went into the Traditional Chinese Medicine Gynecology/Fertility ward to seek treatment. You may be shocked to learn that they would NOT do acupuncture. Let me repeat that. Doctors in China don’t use acupuncture for fertility treatment.

    They use Chinese herbs for fertility.

    Chinese herbs is a completely separate and independent study to acupuncture.It is about another 4 years training on top of acupuncture. The well known TCM fertility specialist and author from Sydney, Jane Lyttleton, started off doing acupuncture for fertility but by default had to learn Chinese herbs in order to get the results that she as after. In the same way that Lisa Houghton ( who is on the list above), after moving to Auckland couldn’t wait to finish her Chinese herb studies.

    Carl Orr, of Queensland, a well know Chinese medicine fertility specialist has actually done the research at Brisbane university confirming that Chinese herbs give far superior fertility results than acupuncture.

    Ironically, Fertility associates in Wellington refer me patients for acupuncture but then warn people NOT to take Chinese herbs. Unlike Mr Paul Sutherland, a gynecologist in Sydney who has been referring patients for Chinese herbs for over 15 years.

    And yes regretfully, the Chinese herbs are very expensive now. They exported all over the world because of the growing demand. I am guessing, results speak for themselves.

    Well now you might ask, which NZRA acupuncturist has also obtained at least the minimum of a diploma of Chinese herbal medicine in addition to their acupuncture degree.
    Ring NZRA 0800 228 786 and ask.

  13. Donna Hall says:

    Hi, I’m an acupuncturist practicing in Auckland.

    Thanks Heiko for posting this important info.
    I would also like to add the following.
    NZ currently has two organisations that provide registration for acupuncturists – the other is NZ Acupuncture Standards Authority (www.nzasa.org)

    Traditional Chinese Medicine has many aspects, and practitioners work from several different teachings. Each practitioner will provide treatment according to the way they practice. Examples include yin yang theory, channel theory, five elements, extraordinary channels and many more – a practitioner will diagnose and then treat from their way of practice

    Traditional Chinese Medicine also incorporates lifestyle and nutrition as part of the treatment along with acupuncture and herbs. Tai Chi, Qigong and tuina or massage are often included in this as well.
    Traditional Chinese practices for women’s health include ways to heal following miscarriage and birth that are very much to do with diet and lifestyle, including to prevent and heal many of the conditions found with western culture and lifestyle.

    The professors I studied with in China who specialised in women’s health use acupuncture in combination with all that I have mentioned above. For some conditions they gave acupuncture daily with good success.
    Some of the problems currently encountered here for women with fertility issues stem from from aspects of western culture and lifestyle, so treatment needs to incorporate all aspects, being acupuncture, herbs, diet, lifestyle, as well as western medicine which might include supplements such as vitamins, iodine and folate etc.

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