A complete needle phobe, it’s safe to say I had my reservations when it comes to acupuncture, yet all these were forgotten after my twenty minute chat with Deborah Connor. Recommended by the British Acupuncture Accreditation Board, I wasted no time to getting to the all important question – does it hurt? Deb laughs, reassuring me that the needles are as fine as a human hair and that most of her clients don’t even feel them during the treatment. Reassured and slightly less terrified, I couldn’t help but be inspired by Deb and her story. After a successful career as a nurse, Deb returned to university and trained as a traditional acupuncturist. Graduating eight years ago, Deb now runs her own thriving practice and teaches those hoping to follow in her footsteps. Whether you are intrigued about how it all works, or are thinking of studying this ancient Chinese medicine, Deb proves that with the passion and love of helping people, those tiny needles have the power to change lives.
I’ve got to ask straight away, does it hurt?
(Laughing) No, it really doesn’t, the needles that are used for acupuncture are really really fine needles. I think in the west we have this idea of needles being the huge kind you use for injections or blood tests. Acupuncture needles are completely different; they are about the width of a human hair and are really fine and flexible. Most people say they don’t really feel the needle go in – they are usually quite surprised actually.
Have you always been interested in acupuncture?
I think my interest came by accident really, I was a nurse for many years and like a lot of nurses I unfortunately injured my back. Somebody had suggested that I tried acupuncture and I’ll be perfectly honest, at the time I did think how ridiculous – how can small needles in my hands and feet possibly do anything for my back? I had some treatment and it worked brilliantly and I think that sparked my interest. Once I got to the point in my nursing career where I thought I had achieved what I’d aspired to do, my thoughts came back to acupuncture because I couldn’t really imagine not working with people.
How did things progress from there?
I looked more into the research before acupuncture and then did a three year full time degree at Salford University in Manchester. I qualified in 2007 and actually went to China to do some further study; because of course acupuncture is based on Chinese medicine. It was nice to go there once I had finished my study in the UK and consolidate my learning. I then set up my own practice in St Helens, Merseyside in 2007 and it’s just grown and grown to the point where I’ve bought my own commercial premises and moved into my own building.
It might be a stupid question, but can you sum up the main difference between traditional Chinese acupuncture and its use on the NHS?
In terms of traditional acupuncture, the roots are in Chinese medicine, so the diagnosis, treatment planning and treatment itself is based on the principles of Chinese medicine. This principle is that we have channels, and chi flows around these all over the body. If that chi is balanced, we have enough and it flows smoothly, that person will be healthy and well. If the flow becomes in-balanced for some reason – the stress of life or some particular illness that throws the chi out of balance and what a traditional acupuncturist is doing is looking at the root cause behind these symptoms.
With medical acupuncture is the treatment principle is based on the western diagnosis. For example somebody goes to the doctor with arthritis and have knee pain, so the western acupuncturist will treat them based on the point used for everyone with that diagnosis. The traditional acupuncturist will base the treatment on what that individual client needs on that day, whereas I guess you could say its a little more one size fits all with the western style. The training for western acupuncture is usually shorter as well.
That definitely answered the question, thanks! What is the most enjoyable part of your job?
Oh gosh there are too many to list – do I have to pick just one? I think because I have a general practice it’s quite varied and every day is different. I think it’s also the close working therapeutic relationship you build with patients. Also often people come to acupuncture saying they’ve tried everything and this is their last resort – I hear that so often and it’s so rewarding when you can help your clients get better.
Great answer! What part do you find most challenging?
Oh my goodness – the paperwork! Patient’s notes and things like that I’m fine with, but the administrative side of being self employed – doing the accounts, tax return, that sort of thing.
How do you think acupuncture is changing – is it becoming a more accepted treatment?
I think its popularity is definitely increasing, even over the eight years I’ve been in practice. Things like The British Acupuncture Council’s acupuncture awareness week, online forums and celebrity coverage are definitely bringing more people to acupuncture. It’s a much more accessible treatment for people these days.
In your experience then, as a beginner trying to learn the art of acupuncture, what is the most difficult thing to get your head around?
That’s a brilliant question! I think as a student because traditional acupuncture also covers western science and biomedicine you are almost learning in two paradigms at the same time. The western diagnosis and pharmaceuticals (the language your patients will speak in) and the Chinese medicine theory and practice. I think I was really fortunate coming from a background of nursing, but you will definitely be taught all the required knowledge and skills if you aren’t from a healthcare background.
You have to be quite dexterous to be able to handle the needles and locate an acupuncture point and needle it (it’s different for every point), although in my experience students usually pick that up really quickly actually.
Have you ever had that particular moment that makes it all worthwhile?
Oh gosh I have that every week. I think amongst my favourites are a lady who had been trying to conceive for many years and had really lost hope. She came to me and had some acupuncture, got pregnant and had a lovely baby. Then there was a lady who for fifteen years had suffered the most terrible shoulder pain and it was really impacting on her life. After six treatments she could lift her arms above her head and was absolutely thrilled. I could go on and on – there are so many, that’s the beauty of this medicine.
Finally, what advice would you give to someone hoping to follow in your footsteps?
I would say first of all it is the best job in the world, so definitely go for it! I would say it’s important to have really good training; in order to be registered with the British Acupuncture Council the course you choose needs to be one that is accredited by the British Acupuncture Accreditation Board (BAAB). That’s a really important one because the BAAB ensure the level and standards of training are maintained, doing regular checks. Also many approved teaching institutions will consider mature students on an individual basis, so don’t let that put you off.
If you are ready to find the course that suits you and start your acupuncture training, take a look at the courses listed here. Good luck!