Report back from the boutique

A patient started coming to see me recently – her first acupuncture ever – because she was getting ready for insemination.  She was getting a lot of acupuncture to increase her chances.  Since we weren’t open on one of the days she wanted acupuncture, she went to someone closer to her home.  She confessed this to me today.  

“I feel like I cheated on you!”  she said.  “I went to another acupuncturist on Wednesday…”  

I quickly found out who the acupuncturist was and deduced the boutique part of the equation.  At the same time, I found myself kind of freaking out.  I have had lots of patients come to me after getting boutique acupuncture.  But I never had a patient who had only ever experienced community acupuncture go get boutique acupuncture, and then come back to tell me about it.  

“Oh, so… did you get lots of time and attention and talk?  How was it?” I asked.  In retrospect, I can’t believe I was actually worried that she would feel like she was getting shortchanged somehow, at our clinic, after getting all of that at the boutique.  The programming goes deep, I suppose.  

But no, this is what she said:  

“Yeah, she talked a lot, and told me I had great qi, whatever that means. But about half an hour after the needles were in, just as I was really dozing off and getting into it, she came in and said ‘time’s up!’ and took the needles out.”

My patient was rudely awakened and disappointed, and I was reminded again of what a perfect and beautiful thing we are doing. 

Author: ellengrover

is a punk at Philadelphia Community Acupuncture and POCA's current membership coordinator. Email her at

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  1. I love it!

    I think one of the best things about community acupuncture is being able to determine your treatment time!!! My patients love it, and I love it when I am a patient, too. Maybe it’s slightly a part of my control-freak nature, but all kidding aside, I think there is something extremely valid to being able to “know” when you are done, and to also “know” you won’t be disturbed until you are done. I think too many people are tired and wired and they need that chance to really unwind and go deep into their treatment and catch up on some much-needed rest; I think the chance to rest is probably just as important as the actual needles themselves. I also think it is really UNrelaxing to be drifting off privately in a room and suddenly woken up by the acupuncturist and told that time is up. It’s great that your patient appreciated that, and really neat to hear your thoughts and feelings about this!

    It’s somewhat ironic you mention this here. A similar experience just happened to me. I just opened my clinic last week and a patient came who has been getting acupuncture and herbs from a boutique guy who was also her teacher at acupuncture school. I put in her needles, let her have her rest and returned to take the needles out when she felt she was done; in the meantime I mixed her up an herbal formula, too. When she was finished she said “wow, I can’t believe I wasted all that money and traveled all the way out to see the other guy – your treatment was awesome and I love being able to relax for as long as I want.” Just because we’re not “boutique” doesn’t mean we aren’t as valuable or even more valuable than the “boutique” treatment!

  2. Snooze never lose

    I love the fact that my patients actually get to cook to “doneness”. I have always found that often if a needle went in glitchy and it came out smooth they will almost always report a good result

    I dont think that the boutique experience can allow a patient to get that clean release as often simply because the room is needed for the next patient

    I think that as we are often sedating excess conditions here in the West and  to have the patient have the needles in for a long period makes a lot of sense and CA is an ideal way to allow patients that time to cook

    When I worked at a health club in Japan many years ago I would walk into big rooms with lots of reclining chairs in rows in darkened quiet rooms , like deckchairs on ferries , and there would be loads of people just snoring up a storm having a sleep.I used to think that it was strange that people would disappear into a womb like room just to get a nap and then realized that Sunday was the only day when workers had sanctioned relaxation time , working 6 days and often late into the night with after business expected socializing.If Dad hopped off to the gym with his gym bag who was to know that he was getting a massage and a nap, rather than working out!!

    When I go into my CA sanctioned slumber rooms I totally understand the need for such a space in peoples lives where often all time has to be accounted for in some sort of busyness. I tell my patients that there really is nowhere to go when someone has pinned them to a chair !!



  3. Great Story

    I have heard similar things from community patients who end up in a one-on-one setting: they are largely neutral with regards to the extra attention and talking (most don’t mind it but don’t need it either), but they really comment about how short the treatments are, and about how they don’t like it.

    I have a patient who surprised me by telling me that she had seen three other acupuncturists before she saw me and none of them had helped her. All were boutique types, and all were experienced practitioners. This patient has some really serious pain issues, and yet my experience is that she gets immediate relief from every treatment. I was very surprised to hear about the three other acupuncturists, first because I was impressed that she kept trying acupuncture at all after three disappointing experiences, and second (as I keep saying) I don’t think of myself as a technical whiz when it comes to acupuncture, and a couple of the acupuncturists she gave up on were definitely in the technical whiz category. I asked her how long the needles stayed in with these other acupuncturists, and she said not longer than half an hour. At WCA she typically stays for over an hour. So that is my theory about the difference in the treatment outcomes: it’s the needle retention time! I mean, I know she likes me and everything, but I don’t think it’s that. I think she is a person who needs time to get in to the treatment. She goes really deep, and I can’t imagine cutting that short or interrupting that.

    It’s really too bad that so many acupunks got the TCM brainwashing of “OMG you will drain people if you leave the needles in too long!” I think the opposite is more often the case, that nothing much happens if the treatment is too short.


  4. resting until you are ready to wake


    It is
    interesting to read your post and the comments about others who have had a
    similar experience with patients trying community acupuncture before any
    boutique style acupuncture and then returning to CA following a BA experience. Years
    ago, when I had worked only a short time at WCA, I had this experience one time
    and did not know what to think about it. I had not fully understood or
    appreciated the strengths of CA when this first experience of having a patient
    praise my CA treatment over another acupuncturists’ BA treatment occurred. I
    was also a complete novice practitioner at the time (definitely not a technical
    whiz with acupuncture) so I was not sure I could possibly have had as good an
    effect as a more experienced practitioner, much less a better effect. I now
    believe that main difference in treatment effect was due to the WCA clinic
    format and specifically the longer treatment time, where the patient is
    encouraged to rest until naturally ready to get up.

    I have
    since had patients try CA first and BA afterwards at least two other times and
    the experiences have matched up with Lisa’s comment on this post. Lisa wrote
    “[patients] are largely neutral with regards to the extra attention and
    talking (most don’t mind it but don’t need it either), but they really comment
    about how short the treatments are, and about how they don’t like it”.
    Like most, if not all, recent acupuncture school graduates, I assumed due to my
    training that leaving acupuncture needles in for over thirty or forty minutes would
    weaken some patients, because the needles stimulate a patients’ natural energy
    to move, which in theory uses up some energy in the process. Three years of treating
    patients in a relatively large community acupuncture clinic have shown me that
    Americans are mostly in ill health because their energy is trapped or stuck due
    to some form of repetitive stress (mental or physical), not due to weakness of
    any kind. Stagnation of energy over a long period has the potential to lead to
    weakness, yet even apparent weakness caused by long-term stagnant energy often
    responds well to dispersing the stagnant energy without any focus on boosting
    energy in any way. American patients are rarely truly weak. Skip and Lisa have
    each written about this concept of culturally relevant usage of acupuncture
    theory, yet I feel it is useful to re-state here.

    apparent weakness, assessed through acupuncture diagnostic methods, ends up
    being energy that is stuck in some way. Over time and through consistent
    acupuncture treatments, i.e. at least one time per week, this built up pressure
    moves in a way that releases it. I notice that my patients feel their energy
    return a little bit at a time at roughly the same rate as the pent up energy releases.
    I really appreciate reading about your experience related to long VS short
    treatment times. I think letting patients rest with the needles in until they
    are naturally awake is a very effective and intuitive way to treat a population
    of patients that are more stuck than weak most of the time.

    Thanks for
    the post.