How Does Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture Work?

This medicine is ancient. From all I have studied, the origination of what we in the West call Chinese Medicine came by way of India, and is thousands of years old. Through human migration, and inspired by invading countries, the medicine from the yogis of India pushed up into China. The medicine of the yogis in India is known as Ayurveda. Over centuries, the human desire to understand, to know, combined with the ability to document due to the complimentary ability to remain in one place for lengths of time produced volumes of work, cataloging acupuncture points, theory and technique, herbal identification and use. 

Medicine became a commodity and became a profession. Those proficient in medicine began to take on apprentices who carried on their work. Then, during the regime of Chairman Mao, this precious medicine violently became standardized, in order to be seen as worthy of burgeoning Western scientific standards. This is what we learn in our American schools. Our curriculum in based off of several important volumes of work that were spared from the burning, along with the hard work of tireless individuals from around the world who passionately and doggedly researched to keep the knowledge alive.

This medicine is born from thousands of years of the study of man and nature. And it is standing the test of time. This medicine works because it is born of us, born of our incredible capacity to heal and our bodies prime directive to BE WELL. 

This medicine is a conversation with the life force that animates our body and dictates our every breath. This medicine is not any one singular way- it is not only acupuncture. It is not only herbs. It is not only dietary guidance. It is not only mental and emotional evaluation. It is all of those aspects in various balances and combinations. And, it is empowering if done well, as it ultimately educates the patient about themselves and what it is to be alive.

This medicine is not force. This medicine does not strong arm a bodies cry for help into submission. This medicine nurtures and guides the patient toward and onto the road that is good health and alignment.

I have an analogy I share when I am asked "how does acupuncture work?" or "how many sessions will I need?". The analogy is about house training a puppy. You are the puppy, and the act of the puppy relieving itself in the house is whatever symptoms you are suffering with. Now, you can't force a puppy to immediately become housebroken. If you do that, it will most likely create other dysfunctions in that animal, like anxiety, aggression, depression. What is needed is to consistently reinforce the good behavior of going to the bathroom outside. Some puppies catch on rather quickly, whereas some puppies need more training. Two things are true; consistent and frequent reinforcement of the good behavior is critical, and two, the puppy WILL learn in it's own time. Now, one can help move that time along by ensuring that puppy is receiving the best training, but all in all it is impossible to predict exactly how long it will take.

This is how I advise my patients about the course of their treatment. Repetition is critical. Reinforcement is critical. Doing their best outside of each visit, meaning following the instructions I give for self care, is critical in determining the length of time needed to shift from dysfunction into wellness.

Did you want some science? Here you go:

Chinese Medicine Practitioner vs. Acupuncturist - what's the difference?

For the sake of accuracy, this post is only going to cover this topic as it stands in the state of California. The United States has several states which have different regulations for Chinese Medicine Practitioners. In California, if a person wants to study and then practice Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), that person enrolls at a 4-year university that specifically teaches TCM. Potential students need to have met a standard of pre-requisites before being accepted to the University.

During the continuous 4 years of education the student studies TCM theory, anatomy, physiology, physics, Qi cultivation, TCM diagnosis, Western Medical diagnosis, pharmacology, herbology…the list goes on and on. After completing all of the training and 1 year of clinical rounds and passing the universities exit exam and being awarded a Masters Degree in Traditional Chinese Medicine, the student then sits for their state board licensing exam.

This exam covers not only acupuncture, but also herbal medicine, TCM and Western diagnosis, anatomy and physiology, and pharmacology. After passing the state board exam, we are then awarded a state of California Acupuncture license. But, we are much more than just “Acupuncturists”. 

Those of us who have completed all of these steps are Practitioners of Traditional Chinese Medicine, which incorporates acupuncture as one modality of patient treatment. In spite of the fact that we are trained in many other methods, many TCM practitioners call themselves “Acupuncturists”. The reason I am writing about this is when I tell someone I am a Practitioner of Chinese Medicine, I get a blank stare. When I say I do acupuncture, they then understand. But, the challenge is, I do much more than just acupuncture. Being a TCM Practitioner, I diagnose within the scope of my medicine. I give dietary and lifestyle advise. I treat my patient with any combination of acupuncture, cupping, gua sha, moxabustion, and/or tui-na. I prescribe herbal medicine. I consult with their Western doctor. I order and interpret blood work.

I am much more than just an acupuncturist. Sometimes, I don’t even do acupuncture if that particular modality is not in my patients best interest.

To say to someone “I am an acupuncturist” is easy. It’s shorter than “I am a Practitioner of Chinese Medicine. I am a licensed acupuncturist and an herbalist. I also do cupping and give nutritional, fitness, and lifestyle advise to treat my patients.” Although my way of telling someone what I do is longer, it is truly accurate. I feel it also sets me off on the right foot with a potential client or referral source by elaborating and educating them right from the start that Chinese Medicine is much more than just acupuncture.

Although I am not a doctor, I still appreciate and value the root of the word, “docere”, which means “to teach”. I aim from the outset to begin educating others as to what it is I do. The expression “teach a man to fish” is very applicable to how I treat my patients, as I am not here to heal you but rather am here to guide you and teach you how to heal yourself.

Upcoming Changes

Thankfully things are still young in the life of this website, because we have decided to change our name! We loved To Be Set Free as the name of our business, however, the website was already owned which is why our url is We weren't interested in a bidding war with the owner (is it just me who finds it so SHIESTY that people buy names so you have to buy them if you want to use them? *eyeroll*) so out of the blue I toss out "Live Set Free" to Lauren and she loved it, so there it is. Also, it was available as a dot com. Yay!

Hopefully in about a month we should be set up at We really are happy with the new name. It feels stronger, more direct and empowering. Action oriented. Which is how we are, and how we want to help you create your life to be. We are very excited and inspired as we have a lot of pretty neat ideas and future dreams. 

Stay tuned!