5 Tips for Choosing the Right Acupuncturist

Don’t let needles or the no know-hows scare you; we’ve got the information you need to pick the perfect acupuncturist.


Acupuncture, dating back at least 5,000 years and originating from China, is the placement of disposable, hair-thin needles into specific points along energy channels on the body. Qi, your body’s energy, flows within these meridians, or pathways, and stimulating the current can help with a wide variety of physical and emotional conditions such as: poor digestion, skin issues, addiction, weight loss, pain management, HIV/AIDS, cancer, stress, and many others.

Though like any profession, not all acupuncturists are created equal. Treating a vegan patient can be a new challenge for health care professionals, leaving them defensive, clueless, or both. So as a long-time vegan acupuncturist and nutritionist with plenty of clinical and personal experience, I’d like to share some tips for selecting the right acupuncturist for you.

Ask For Referrals
References from people who have undergone sessions with an acupuncturist are the best possible resource. They would be able to tell you about the acupuncturist’s strengths, mannerisms, and any other tips only someone who has received treatment would know. It would be even more helpful if you are able to find someone who has received acupuncture for a similar health issue as what ails you––that way you can ask how effective their treatment was. If no one in your circle has tried it, check out Yelp. Look for an acupuncturist who has at least 10 to 15 five-star reviews.

Find A Vegan
Make sure you find someone who will be supportive of your lifestyle––and they understand what veganism means and how important it is to you––because many prescribe animal products in their herbal formulas without telling their patients. As most acupuncturists aren’t vegan or even vegan-friendly, try to find one who has experience with vegan patients. I’ve treated at least 30 veg people who showed me their prescriptions from other acupuncturists, and products like gelatin or donkey hide glue (yes, you read correctly) were in them. Since the herbs are in Latin or Chinese pinyin (Chinese words spelled with the Roman alphabet), how would someone who isn’t trained know?

Look For Experience
Since there are many variables with treatment, you want someone who is experienced and familiar with your ailment, and not an acupuncturist who might have just heard about the illness but never treated it. They may still be able to help you, of course, but first-hand knowledge and experience can only up your chances of healing. An acupuncturist who has been in practice for a while will most likely have the kind of background and experience you’ll need to find treatment for specific illnesses. Fresh out of school doesn’t mean they aren’t any good, by any means; it’s just that hands-on experience can only make you better. My skills as a doctor have greatly improved over the last 12 years I’ve been in private practice.

Mind Their Manners
I’m sure every vegan who has stepped foot in a medical office has heard: “You don’t eat meat? That’s why you’re sick. Eat it or you won’t get better.” This is when finding an acupuncturist who is vegan-friendly is important. When you’re feeling crappy, you want someone who is welcoming and going to listen and hear you out. I recently had a new patient, who has been dealing with cancer for five years, say after her first treatment, “Thanks for being nice to me.” I almost cried. Her dozens of doctors over the years weren’t mean necessarily; they just treated her like a statistic and not a person. They provided no reassuring words or even a smile––and both are necessary for healing.

Maintain Realistic Expectations
Acupuncture and Chinese medicine are incredibly powerful and healing. The improvements I see in my clinic are quite impressive. But be prepared: it isn’t always a quick fix. Acupuncture gets to the root cause of a problem, not just the symptoms. There are people who see 80-percent improvement after just a session or two, but this doesn’t always happen for everyone. Getting rid of the ailment, so your symptoms don’t come back or manifest in some other way, are ideal, and can take some time––so be patient.

I hope this helps you on your journey to wellness. For those of you who haven’t tried acupuncture, don’t be intimidated by the process. The hair-thin needles don’t hurt once they’re inserted, and in fact, most people fall asleep during a treatment. For those of you who have tried and didn’t find the right fit, I encourage you to keep these tips in mind and please try again. 

Heather Lounsbury (@DocHeatherof Live Natural Live Well is an acupuncturist, herbalist, and nutritionist who is passionate about spreading the message of holistic health.

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