Thoughts from the student clinic: Needling

I will be posting here thoughts and suggestions for student acupuncture interns based on my experiences at Bastyr’s Clinic For Natural Health. The goal is to help any student intern with any patient no matter the specific style of practice of their teachers and supervisors. All posts will be under the “Student Clinic” category. Please feel free to comment and ask questions.

First, needling. No matter the patient presentation or point chosen, every point is important and should, ultimately, 1), be rooted in shén 神 “spirit”, of you and the patient and, 2), have some specific effect. It’s too easy to treat the points as buttons we just need to push to activate some process – insert the needle, twist it around until the patient feels something then move on. The majority of effectiveness is lost, missed, with such an approach.

Instead, be fully present when needling. Feel the solidness of the metal in your handle. Twirl it and sense how the tip responds to movements of your fingers. Recognize that those finger movements are responding to your ideas and intent. Own this. What you think, know, and feel is transmitted to the tip of the needle and into the patient.

Next, don’t forget your patient is a whole, complete, living person. This is their flesh under your hands. It is a direct extension of their life, their experiences and beliefs. These acupuncture points, literally, reflect specific aspects of the patient’s existence, what they have been through, what’s going on right now, and where they are headed. Actively realize and appreciate this as you needle.

How does this point relate to what’s going on with the patient and how can it help? We tend to get very abstract in discussing patient cases. We think of symptoms, the patterns of disease they are associated with, what points “do”, etc. When treating the patient, bring it all back down to this person before you. Right now, right here, what’s the opportunity to help? Will this point stimulate the patient’s resources to arrive, calling them to the scene? Will it more aggressively engage backflow or accumulation, shaking things up in order to free the patient’s spontaneously arising processes? Do you want to leave this point energized or relaxed, with more or less than when you started? Light, heavy; quick, slow; deep, shallow; with, against the flow… These are the little movements through which profound movement and change happen.

Own the fullness of you, as physician, and the completeness of the human being before you, as patient. From your ideas about what’s going on and what you can do, to the specific intent of doing it, to actually engaging the patient’s being through needle and point, treat the interaction as a grand, fleeting opportunity to alter the world for the better.


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