HOW TO CHOOSE A GOOD TCM PRACTITIONER
Certifications, Specialty, and Personality
Looking to work with a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) practitioner for your holistic healthcare but not sure where to begin? Choosing the right TCM practitioner for you is a serious consideration involving many factors. Learn more about the TCM licensing, certifications, experience, specializations, and other concerns to keep in mind when picking your TCM practitioner.
What is a TCM Practitioner?
TCM practitioners are licensed professionals who are licensed to provide health care services following the practices of ancient China. ‘TCM practitioner’ typically refers to someone trained in both acupuncture and herbal remedies. They also might be referenced as students of Oriental or East Asian medicine. Treatments can include a variety of options such as acupuncture, massage, herbs and teas, qi gong, tai chi, and dietary and lifestyle suggestions.
TCM is used to treat a number of conditions like general aches and pains, digestive issues like IBS or colitis, infertility, neuropathy, arthritis, insomnia, and mental health concerns like anxiety and depression. Just like in Western medicine, you can find TCM practitioners who specialize in certain areas of care like mental health, infertility, dermatology, addiction, or injury recovery.
What is the Licensing for TCM Practitioners?
When choosing to work with a TCM practitioner, one of the most crucial boxes to check prior to treatment is that your practitioner is fully certified in the area of care you’re looking for. The difference between acupuncturists and practitioners of Traditional Chinese Medicine, who undergo rigorous training in herbal medicine, is a common area of misunderstanding.
Licensed acupuncture training requirements vary from state to state. In some states acupuncturists train under a masters-level program for about three years and are qualified to offer full acupuncture treatment. In some states like California there are more involved requirements that ensure all acupuncturists study Traditional Chinese Medicine and are trained herbalists.
On the other hand, a TCM practitioner studies in an accredited program for about four years after their undergraduate program. Most people consider this training equivalent to a master’s degree program. These certifications allow practitioners to provide acupuncture treatment, diet and lifestyle counseling, and herbal treatments, as permitted by state law.
Most states in the U.S. require both acupuncture and TCM practitioners to pass national board exams offered by the Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM), just like they do for medical doctors. To be eligible for the exam, applicants must have completed their training at an accredited program combining both classroom and clinical practice. There are currently over 50 master’s programs and 3 doctoral programs in the United States. Ask about your TCM practitioner’s credentials if you are unsure.
How to Pick the Best TCM Practitioner for You
Once you’ve found a list of qualified practitioners, how do you pick the best one for you? There are several factors to consider in making this important choice! Identifying specialty areas and finding a good personality match are two of the most important things to consider.
Much like doctors of Western medicine, TCM practitioners often have specialty areas. Some practitioners opt to focus on either acupuncture, herbs, or massage. There are also practitioners who specialize in treating certain types of patients such as those recovering from trauma, expectant mothers, cancer patients, or those suffering from mental health issues. If you have a very specific issue you’d like to address with a TCM practitioner, consider researching to find one that focuses in that area.
Common TCM specialty areas include:
- Pain management
- Digestive Issues (IBS, colitis, etc.)
- Women’s Health
- Pre and post-natal
- Autoimmune disease
- Mental health (depression, anxiety, etc.)
Most importantly, you want to find a TCM practitioner that makes you feel comfortable and well cared for. Many offices will offer consultations prior to treatment sessions so that you can see if that practitioner is well-suited to your needs and preferences. A TCM practitioner should make you feel calm and relaxed while answering your questions about the techniques being used as well as the details of your treatment plan.
What Happens When You Visit a TCM Practitioner?
When you visit a TCM practitioner you can expect a similar process to visiting other medical professionals. You’ll need to fill out some paperwork after checking in, so be sure to arrive a few minutes early.
Once you meet your TCM practitioner, they’ll start off with a consult to identify problem areas. This TCM examination process may involve a series of questions, an examination of your tongue or other troubled parts of the body, and checking your tongue and pulse. Remember to discuss things like bleeding gums and moods as they can also provide important clues about your diagnosis. Each of these requests, as strange as they may sound, help the practitioner develop a plan of care specific to your needs.
After the consult, the TCM practitioner will share their proposed course of treatment with you. This might involve acupuncture or massage treatments, herbal tinctures or teas, or suggested adjustments to your lifestyle or diet. You may be able to start the treatments that day, or need to schedule a follow-up appointment, depending on your specific practitioner.
Is Traditional Chinese Medicine Safe?
The practices used in TCM are designed to help, not harm the patient. The methods used involve all natural ingredients and processes. While potentially toxic low dose herbs are occasionally used they are considered inferior to food-grade herbs. Like any treatment, it’s important that the proper steps are taken and all treatment is done through a licensed professional.
It’s important to share all relevant information regarding your afflictions and daily habits with the medical professionals involved in your care so they can create a safe plan of treatment for you. It’s also important for your safety to make sure all doctors are aware of the other’s activities if you choose to partner with both TCM practitioners and Western medicine doctors.
What are the Benefits of Traditional Chinese Medicine?
While many people only go to see a Western doctor when they’re in immediate pain or discomfort from a condition, the philosophy behind TCM is centered around both reversible treatments and active preventative care. The methods are holistic, taking into account the patient’s mind, heart, and physical body when designing treatment plans.
An additional benefit is the limited use of chemicals and drugs. Much of the prescribed “medicine” is actually plants and herbs, so you can feel good knowing you’re caring for your body with all-natural products.
Patients who participate in TCM treatments have experienced incredible results. Whether seeking to remedy a particular health concern or improve general health and wellness, some of these benefits can include:
- Complete reversal of disease
- Shorten the experience of cold and flu symptoms
- Boost daily energy
- Improve mood and mental outlook
- Ease aches and pains
- Ease breathing
- Improve sleep quality
- Regulate digestion
- Improve menopausal symptoms
- Regulate menstrual cycles
At the end of the day, the best course of action when selecting your TCM practitioner is picking a qualified practitioner who helps you feel comfortable and healthy. What do you look for when choosing a practitioner of Traditional Chinese Medicine?