In American culture where more is more; saying more, doing more, striving more. I would like to invite you to entertain the idea that less can be more. This is especially true in the context of Chinese medical treatments. I have talked with colleagues, teachers, and long-term practitioners on their perspective with respect to how many needles to use in a treatment. The answer to this question is often, it depends. There is no such thing as one-size fits all when it comes to holistic health, and that’s a large part of what I really love about this field. With that said, guidelines are helpful.
I am constantly checking in with myself as I plan treatments for my clients. When is a point necessary and relevant and when have I crossed over in to the realm of over-treatment? Most advanced practitioners and teachers that I have studied with hold the perspective that less is more when it comes to amount of needles used and the selection of addtional treatment modalities in general (i.e. herbal medicine, gua sha, cupping, e-stim, etc). If too many points are used, or the client is exposed to too many treatment modalities at once, the body will have a tendency to get confused. If the body doesn’t understand the messages being given, then the treatment will either have no effect at all, or worse, may lead to further imbalance.
There is a temptation to select points symptom by symptom, but this is not how acupuncture works. Instead, an acupuncture treatment is based on a pattern diagnosis that is determined by a variety of factors. Some of these factors include; the symptoms experienced and the tongue and pulse diagnoses. I have had many a client say, ‘that’s it’ to me when I finish their acupuncture treatment. My ego surges and I feel an immense sense of guilt. I question whether or not I have done my best. I start to wonder if there was something more I could have done. In reality, it is always my intention to select the most relevant points and treatment modalities for every person that I treat. The main objective for me is to create a harmonious balance among the points selected in order to alleviate the pattern(s) creating pathology in the client.
It is because this ‘less is more’ perspective is the one I have been exposed to most frequently, and is the perspective held by the practitioners that I respect the most, I have adopted this viewpoint also. My treatments are gentle, and I rarely use more than 10 needles per treatment. Acupuncture is not a practice where more needles means a more effective treatment. Different practitioners have different ideas on this, and that’s part of what makes this practice so great. The treatments and practitioners that offer them are so varied that a client is more likely to find the practitioner and treatment style that works for them.
I don’t like hard and fast rules in general and especially not when they are applied to such an individualized practice as acupuncture, but one rule, or perhaps idea, I mostly follow is ‘less is more.’