The Many Different Styles of Acupuncture

The Many Different Styles of Acupuncture

If you take the time to enter the world of Acupuncture, it does not take long for you to realise it’s a big wide world. Visit 10 different Acupuncturists and you may well have 10 very different experiences. This is because Acupuncture is a diverse medical tradition. There are two major aspects to this diversity of practice. Firstly, Acupuncture is only one component of a larger system of Chinese Healing Arts, which also includes:

  • Chinese Herbal Medicine
  • Physical Culture (Tai Chi, Qi Gong)
  • Feng Shui (Geomancy)
  • Tui Na (Chinese Massage)
  • Meditation
  • Chinese Dietary Therapy

Each Acupuncturist you visit may bring elements of these other disciplines to their overall practice, both through how they conduct themselves and the advice and lifestyle counselling they offer.

Secondly, within the practice of Acupuncture itself, there are many styles and substyles. These styles can differ very markedly both in terms of how you are assessed and the therapeutic techniques used during your treatment. This may seem odd. But if you reflect on the rich history of Chinese Medicine, it is not surprising at all. Chinese Medicine has evolved over thousands of years and over a vast geographical area (all of the nations of East Asia and beyond). It has been subjected to many different cultural, political and scientific influences. The end result is a system that lives today in numerous interpretations and regional variations. We will distinguish between what we call the ‘Classical styles’ of Acupuncture and the ‘non-Classical styles’. This distinction is central to us because the role of our Association is to represent all professionals in Prince Edward Island who practice within the Classical frameworks.

Terminology can be confusing because ‘Traditional Chinese Medicine’ or TCM is commonly used to describe two overlapping, yet distinct medical systems. The first, and broader usage refers to the entire body of knowledge, clinical experience and commentaries accumulated through several thousand years of traditional Chinese medical history and recorded in such seminal medical classics as the Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine (Nei Jing), the Classic of Difficulties (Nan Jing) and the Systematic Classic of Acupuncture and Moxibustion (Zhen Jiu Jia Yi Ying). These classics and the principles they codify form the foundation of all styles of acupuncture in usage today. The second, more narrow usage of the term, TCM refers to the official state-sponsored standardization and implementation of Chinese Medicine in the People’s Republic of China after 1949.

With such a large corpus of material, different styles, slants and specialties are inevitable. A comprehensive set of core principles form the basis of the full system of Chinese Medicine. These are detailed in the sections on this Web Site titled, What an Acupuncturist Does andOur Scope of Practice. Where the different styles of acupuncture vary is in the relative importance they attach to each of the principles and concepts. For example, one style of acupuncture may place more importance on what is called 5 Phase Theory while another style may place more importance on the Ba Gang or 8 Principle Pattern approach. One style may place more emphasis on the internal medicine of Zang Fu or organ systems while another style may place more emphasis on the dynamic relationships of the meridian system. In assessing the patient, one style may place more emphasis on information gained from asking questions while another style may place more emphasis on information gained through palpating (touching) the patient.

What all Classical styles of Acupuncture have in common is the central importance they place on the traditional principles and therapies drawn from the big wide world of Chinese Medicine. Classical Styles in common usage today include the following (most of these categories include many substyles, examples of which are provided);

‘Family’ Style or Generational Acupuncture. This refers to numerous lineage-based Chinese styles typically handed down through apprenticeship training. Examples include Cheng Tan An style.

‘TCM’ Acupuncture. This refers to the official state sponsored uniform style taught in most schools in China and in the West. Most certification examinations are based on this system.

Barefoot Doctor Acupuncture. This is an abbreviated first aid approach to public health developed in China in the 1950’s.

Japanese Acupuncture. Examples include Meridian Therapy or Keiraku Chiryo systems such as those promoted by Shudo Denmei or the Toyohari organization, Abdominal or hara-based systems such as those developed by Yoshio Manaka and Kiiko Matsumoto, Moxibustion-based styles such as those developed by Ken Sawada, Isaburo Fukaya and Bunshi Shirota.

Korean Constitutional Acupuncture 

French-Vietnamese Acupuncture 

Five Element Traditional Acupuncture. This refers to a particular style developed by British Acupuncturist, J.R. Worsley and taught at several British and American schools.

Because of the eclectic nature of Acupuncture education in the West today, many practitioners draw from more than one of these styles in their daily practice.

In addition to these Classical approaches to Acupuncture, there are a number of non-Classical systems in wide use today.

There are a large and growing number of Reflexology or Microsystems of Acupuncture. Over the centuries, many different microsystems have been identified. These are areas of the body on which the entire body is reflected. One particularly popular system today is Auriculotherapy (ear acupuncture). It is widely used by acupuncturists to support and enhance their treatments. Auriculotherapy has proven to be so effective in the treatment of addictions (smoking, drug abuse, alcohol abuse), there are now many publicly funded detoxification clinics in the U.S. and Canada, in which Auriculotherapy is a central part of treatment. Other widely used microsystems include the Sooji Chim Korean Hand system of Tae Woo Yoo, the Korean Hand and Foot system of Jae Woo Park, Chinese Scalp acupuncture, the Japanese Scalp system of Yamamoto, and Chinese Wrist and Ankle acupuncture. The popular therapy of reflexology stems from these same understandings.

These various systems are typically applied on a purely symptomatic basis. The various principles of Chinese Medicine that enable a practitioner to integrate the whole history and circumstance of a patient are not applied when these microsystems are used. As such, they are not ‘Classically based’ (although this is not always the case – the Jae Woo Park system does apply Classical theory).

Many practitioners of the various Classical styles of acupuncture are also trained in one or more of these microsystems and routinely use them to provide a symptomatic complement to the overall treatment of the patient. But there are also individuals who are only trained in and only offer such microsystem approaches as auricular therapy or hand and foot acupuncture. They would not be considered Classical Acupuncturists. If this is important to you, be sure to clearly identify the training background of your practitioner.

We classify a large and growing group of people administering Acupuncture today as providers of Adjunctive Acupuncture. These are usually healthcare practitioners who use acupuncture as an adjunct to support their main therapy. These include many physicians, physiotherapists, and chiropractors. Their application of Acupuncture is tailored to conform to their systems of understanding the body and their Acupuncture training is often from days to weeks to, at most, months in duration. They generally do not rely on the traditional diagnostic systems of the other styles discussed above. They tend to use specific elements of Acupuncture as a technique. They generally characterise their approach as musculoskeletal or neurological.

To complicate matters, there are also healthcare professionals who have some training in Classical Acupuncture but not to a level comprehensive enough to qualify for licensure or registration as an Acupuncturist. This situation characterises many Naturopathic Physicians who do receive some Classical Acupuncture training as part of their schooling.

So, as you can see, the Acupuncture world is complex. If you are attracted to and interested in receiving Acupuncture healthcare within the framework of Chinese Medicine (discussed throughout this website) from someone practicing Acupuncture as a profession, you would do best to seek the care of an individual trained and certified accordingly. In jurisdictions where Acupuncture is a licensed profession, all that is required is to ensure your practitioner is licensed. In other jurisdictions, you need to find out which professional associations represent the fully trained Classical Acupuncturists in your area. The Association of Registered Acupuncturists of Prince Edward Island provides you with the guarantee that its members are suitably trained and certified in that regard.