Training To Be An Acupuncturist

students on an acupuncture courseHaving evolved over thousands of years, acupuncture remains a prominent choice of healthcare for millions of people around the world.

The practice of acupuncture is a sub-discipline of Chinese medicine. Many Chinese medicine doctors will often use a combination of Chinese herbs and acupuncture. However, acupuncturists will first and foremost only use acupuncture to treat their patients unless they have also been trained in herbs and other techniques.

Acupuncture first came to the West almost a century ago. However, it’s popularity didn’t start to take off until it became more frequently used in the 70’s and 80’s. Around this time various schools of acupuncture began to crop up across Europe and the United States, and the practice has continued to grow in popularity ever since steadily.

Fortunately, over the more recent years, Western science has been able to prove the effectiveness of acupuncture for certain conditions. However, there is still much of acupuncture’s practice that can’t be explained or proven by modern science as of yet. With the development of new models and methods of testing perhaps more aspects of acupuncture will begin to show it’s relevance from a scientific standpoint.

Studying Acupuncture In The West

Many people are drawn to the study of acupuncture due to its mystical appearance and its philosophical approaches to health. The practice is still very much based on ancient concepts such as the five elements, yin yang and the meridian theory (Jing Luo). However, modern practitioners also need to have a firm understanding of the Western view of anatomy and pathology.

Many independent colleges and Universities alike are now offering acupuncture training to help satisfy the demand. For example, the acupuncture courses with the University of Greenwich provide full time or part time training and provide their students with a degree certificate.

What To Look For In A course

a university libraryWhen looking for an acupuncture course, it can be difficult for the lay-person to know exactly what to look for in a course and what may suit them best. Taking a little time to delve into the subject of acupuncture, what is involved in the study and what the differences are between the different training colleges out there can be a time and hassle saver further down the line.


Firstly, a big consideration for most people is what kind of qualification they will have at the end of the course. Acupuncture courses are usually either a Degree or a Diploma course. A Degree tends to have a more prestigious standing than the Diploma, and there is usually an increased level of academic work as well as the practical learning when completing a Degree course. As such, students are also required to complete a dissertation in their final year.

However, on the flip side, a Diploma course can often be a bit shorter in duration, which means you could be practising more quickly.

This article explains more about the differences between a Degree and a Diploma.

Course Structure

Some courses will have a greater emphasis on practical application, whereas others will teach more theory and less practical. It is ideal to get a happy medium between the two as both are equally as important. If an acupuncture college has an on-site teaching clinic, then that is a good sign that the course will be able to provide you with a decent amount of practical training and clinical observation.

Styles of Acupuncture


Unless you have looked into the practice of acupuncture you many not be aware that there are several different styles of acupuncture. The most well-known style is Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Many people assume TCM to be the original form of acupuncture due to the use of the word ‘traditional’. However, TCM only emerged in the 1950’s due to the cultural revolution that took place in China. The origins of acupuncture stem from what is known as Classical acupuncture.

Five Elements

Another popular style of acupuncture is Five Elements. This practice is also more Classical in nature and bases it’s use and theory of the concept of the five elements.

Classical Acupuncture

Classical acupuncture is based on the classics of Chinese medicine, which are the oldest known texts on the practice of acupuncture and Chinese medicine. Classical acupuncture is the original style of the practice, from which all other styles have emerged.

Qualifications To Begin A Course

Most of the acupuncture colleges have varying degrees of entry requirements before being admitted to the course. Typically, you will need either A level qualifications with at least one science A-level or 5 GCSEs of at least a grade C and above.

Body Diagnosis In Chinese Medicine

a Chinese medicine practitioner taking the pulseBody diagnosis is an ancient art which has been used for hundreds, if not thousands of years by practitioners of Chinese medicine.

Typically, a Chinese medicine physician will use five forms of diagnosis when treating their patients. These methods of diagnosis are;

  1. Interviewing – listening
  2. Tongue diagnosis
  3. Smelling
  4. Pulse diagnosis
  5. Observing

It is in this last category of diagnosis, through observation that the method of body diagnosis is primarily used.

According to Chinese medicine, there are various signs and symptoms that one can readily observe about a person which can give away vital clues to the health of the patient. This method of body diagnosis is broken down into looking at different areas of the body, as listed below;

  • Face/head
  • Back
  • Trunk
  • Arms/hands
  • Legs/feet

What does a Chinese medicine practitioner look for?

When utilising the method of body diagnosis, the practitioner is typically looking for markings, discolorations, changes in complexion and so forth to gain an insight into the overall health of the individual.

The system of five elements plays a crucial role in understanding body diagnosis as each of the body parts are categorised into the five elements of wood, fire, earth, metal and water.

The theory of body diagnosis suggests that the internal environment of an individual is reflective on the surface. Therefore, inward or internal turmoil can create an outward reflection and expression on the surface of the body.

The causes of disease are going to be affecting the body at an organ and channel level from the perspective of one who practices Chinese medicine and acupuncture.

Sometimes, when there is illness, internal turmoil of some kind, emotional imbalances and so forth, the causes can reflect themselves immediately (or very quickly) in outward signs and symptoms that we can observe by looking.

Sometimes, however, the disease can help me more insidious in nature and start to creep on over time. In these cases often the patient will not know what’s wrong with them or even that there is something wrong. However, with the various diagnostic skills (one of which being body diagnosis) the practitioner will know what is wrong, or at the very least which organs and acupuncture channels are affected and then be able to start treating the condition.

Liver Lines

a woman frowning showing liver linesAn easy way to understand this is first to consider the functions of the liver in Chinese medicine. The liver is a vital organ and is responsible for filtering the blood, among other things. However, in Chinese medicine, it is in charge of a great many more tasks than just this.

From a Chinese medicine perspective, the emotion of anger is related to and predominantly affects the liver (even though the whole body feels and experiences the emotions). If the anger is not resolved, released or expressed, then it is said to get ‘stored’ or stuck in the liver as the person begins to ruminate on it. This ‘stuck’ emotion over time can lead to blood stagnation which in turn can also create heat in the liver.

Besides, the emotion will also cause a certain amount of contraction in the liver, and the person will experience the feelings of anger, frustration, and so forth. This, in turn, can affect the person’s posture, attitude, temperament and facial expressions. When this occurs, and a person is experiencing anger, it is easy to see that the individual will most likely have a frowning expression on their face. If the anger persists over them, then this facial expression becomes more and more practised until two verticle frown lines begin to appear at the medial ends of the two eyebrows. These lines are known in Chinese medicine as ‘liver lines’ as they relate to the discord in the liver that can also manifest as the emotion of frustration and anger.

This is generally how a Chinese medicine or acupuncture practitioner will use the various tools of body diagnosis in order to interpret the health and imbalances of their patients.

Five Elements Health Project

elemental yin yangThe five elements is a cornerstone of ancient Chinese medicine and has been used for thousands of years to help practitioners of the Chinese herbalism and acupuncture interpret health and disease.

The theory of the five elements came about from the ancient masters of Chinese medicine observing the changes of nature and their impact upon health and disease. As such, they categorised everything into the elements of wood, fire, earth, metal and water.

When it comes to the human body they also divided the twelve main organs into the five elements. These categorisations are;

  • Wood = Liver and Gallbladder
  • Fire = Heart, Small Intestine, Pericardium and Three Heater
  • Earth = Spleen and Stomach
  • Metal = Lung and Colon
  • Water = Kidney and Bladder

The Sheng and Ke Cycles

The Sheng and Ke cycles, which are also known as the feeding and controlling cycles respectively,  are two natural movements of the energetics between the five elements and interprets how the different organs and elements help to feed, compliment and control (hold in place) each other. For example, fire feeds earth but it also controls metal, earth feeds metal but it also controls water, metal controls wood but it also feeds water, water feeds wood but it also controls fire and wood feeds fire but it also controls earth.

When these dynamics are out of balance then ill health can occur. Therefore, the Chinese medical practitioner aims to see where these dynamics may be out of balance and work to restore the harmony between these organs and elements.

More Info On The Five Elements

Here is a great explanation of the five elements in more detail by Joel Penner