How to Become an Acupuncture Technician

The Basics

Imagine being overly stressed, worried about events in your life, or having to deal with a chronic emotional or psychological issue, like being addicted to drugs. The hopelessness that comes with dealing with these life difficulties can make the situation that much worse. Some people turn to psychologists or social workers to talk about their problems and find solutions to the issues in their life. Other people make changes to their diet and lifestyle to boost their energy and feel as though they are more grounded. Still other people turn to alternative medicines, including chiropractic and acupuncture solutions.

Acupuncture has been a popular treatment for many ailments for thousands of years in China. Yet, the practice has only recently gained popularity in the West. Europe has done well to adopt a positive view of acupuncture, but there are still many in the United States that view acupuncture as pseudo-medicine. Nevertheless, acupuncture technician is a career path that is gaining popularity throughout the United States.

What is an Acupuncture Technician?

An acupuncture technician is a trained specialist that uses ancient Chinese medicinal practices to help treat their clients’ psychological and emotional problems by manipulating specific pressure points. Acupuncture technicians are not to be confused with acupuncturists. The primary difference between the two is in the types of treatments they can offer. Acupuncture technicians are more limited in what they can do. In fact, acupuncture technicians are only allowed to work on the five pressure points of the outer ear, known as shen men, sympathetic, kidney, liver, and lung.

Because of this, acupuncture technicians are sometimes called Chinese auricular therapists, auricular detox technicians, or acupuncture detoxification specialists. Conversely, acupuncturists can work on pressure points throughout the body and can treat many more ailments, including various physical conditions.

What Does an Acupuncture Technician Do?

As mentioned above, acupuncture technicians perform acupuncture on the five pressure points in the auricle area of the ear. Pressure on these points can be exerted in a number of ways. Technicians may manually manipulate the pressure points with their fingers, or they might use magnets or lasers. However, the most common type of treatment is the use of small needles, which are placed on these pressure points to help align the body’s energy pathways. This technique is used because according to traditional Chinese medicine, every illness is the result of an imbalance of energy in the body. The stimulation the body receives from manual manipulation or the insertion of needles into pressure points results in a release of energy and tension that brings the body’s energy back into alignment. This, in turn, helps clients experience improved psychological and emotional health.

Acupuncture technicians can effectively treat many different psychological and emotional conditions. Depression, stress, and anxiety are likely the most common ailments acupuncture technicians treat. There is also a high demand for acupuncture services to treat addiction through acupuncture’s detoxification processes. Some acupuncture technicians also specialize in treating emotional trauma, such as that caused by a natural or man-made disaster.

For example, an acupuncture technician whose client has lived through a tornado and who is suffering from a great deal of stress in the aftermath of that natural disaster, would utilize auricular therapy to help the client relieve that stress. By placing needles in the five pressure points of the ear (or by using one of the other manipulation methods mentioned above), the acupuncture technician helps unblock congested lines of energy in the body. The result of this treatment is that the client experiences a greater level of relaxation and calm, as well as a boost of positive energy.

When treating addiction, acupuncture technicians utilize the same manipulative procedures of the client’s ears. When using acupuncture needles, technicians will insert between 1-5 needles into their client’s ear and have the client sit and relax with the needles inserted for 30-45 minutes. Not only does this relax the client, it reduces the client’s stress and is also proven to reduce cravings.

Where Does an Acupuncture Technician Work?

Acupuncture technicians are employed in a variety of settings, but typically work in rehabilitation programs, especially those that focus on detoxification and drug and alcohol treatment. Some mental health facilities also employ acupuncture technicians to provide supplemental treatments for individuals that suffer from a psychological or emotional disorder.

Many other acupuncture technicians work in a private setting, such as an acupuncture clinic, where their ear-specific services are offered in conjunction with the broader scope of services provided by an acupuncturist. Some acupuncture technicians also work in chiropractic clinics or other settings in which alternative medicines are offered. Yet other technicians are employed by psychologists and other mental health professionals to provide services to their clients.

What are the Education Requirements to Become an Acupuncture Technician?

There are two primary ways in which to become an acupuncture technician. The first involves a total of 70 hours of education and training as part of a certification course accredited by the National Acupuncture Detoxification Association (NADA). These courses include 30 hours of classroom-based learning in which students learn about the five pressure points in the ear and how those points can be manipulated to treat certain psychological and emotional conditions. Then, students participate in a 40-hour practicum experience, in which they practice their skills and training in a clinical setting. Once these requirements are fulfilled, students are granted certification as an acupuncture technician.

The training protocol discussed above is for non-acupuncturist health providers only. For example, a hypnotherapist that also wants to provide basic acupuncture services might participate in a NADA training program. NADA trainees often must work under the supervision of a medical doctor or a licensed acupuncturist. Furthermore, NADA certified acupuncture technicians cannot perform the same level of services as a licensed acupuncturist. The regulations governing the type of work acupuncture technicians can do and the supervision required vary from state to state. Information about each state’s laws is available from NADA.

The other pathway to becoming an acupuncture technician is governed by the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM). To qualify for this certification, individuals must complete either an apprenticeship program or an educational program that includes both classroom-based education and a practicum experience. For students that choose the apprenticeship option, 4,000 hours of supervised practice under the direction of a licensed acupuncturist is required. Typically, 3-6 years are necessary in order to complete these hours.

Students that choose instead to pursue certification via a formal education should first complete a bachelor’s degree because all accredited certificate programs for acupuncture technicians are at the graduate level. The field in which one gets their bachelor’s degree is not necessarily important, although a major in nursing, human services, or a related career area would be helpful. From there, students participate in educational and training activities as part of a graduate certificate or diploma program in acupuncture.

Regardless of how individuals pursue certification, they must also take a clean needle course, which is required to be certified by NCCAOM. Clean needle courses are administered by the Council of Colleges of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine and cover many critical topics associated with using needles, including clean needle techniques. In addition to being required for certification, this course is also a requirement for licensure in case people that pursue a career as an acupuncture technician wish to move on to become a licensed acupuncturist.

There is also an extensive round of testing that acupuncture technicians must pass before they will be certified by NCCAOM. There are three certification exams: Foundations of Oriental Medicine, Acupuncture with Point Location, and Biomedicine. Each exam is comprised of 100 multiple-choice questions and must be completed in 2 ½ hours or less. This examination is only open to individuals that pursue certification through NCCAOM.

Lastly, in some states, acupuncture technicians can be licensed to practice. Licensure can be dependent upon a variety of factors, including education and training received, test scores, apprenticeship experience, and certification status. Typically, a state oversight board, such as the medical board or acupuncture board, licenses acupuncture technicians. Licensed technicians can then work independently without the oversight of a medical doctor or licensed acupuncturist.

How Much Does an Acupuncture Technician Make?

According to PayScale, acupuncturists earn an average annual salary of $48,782. However, as discussed above, acupuncturists have more training and can offer more services than can acupuncture technicians. Although there is no salary data specific to acupuncture technicians, one can assume that their average annual wage is less than an acupuncturist, given the reduced number of services they provide.

It should also be noted that workers in this field generally do not see a significant increase in income as more experience is gained. Acupuncturists with 10 years of experience average $60,000 in earnings per year while after 20 years the average increases minimally to $62,000 per year. So, unlike many other professions in which workers see an increase in income with further education and experience, that does not seem to be the case for workers in the field of acupuncture.

What are the Disadvantages of Being an Acupuncture Technician?

While becoming an acupuncture technician has its benefits, there are also many disadvantages to consider. These include:

Lack of Respect – While acupuncture and other alternative medicines have gained wide acceptance in other parts of the world, in the United States, there is still a significant level of scrutiny, especially among those in the medical field. As a result, some people have little respect for this field of work and view acupuncture technicians as “quacks” who don’t actually provide much in the way of tangible benefits to their clients.

Misconceptions about Acupuncture – Some people write off acupuncture as pseudo-science and dismiss any of the positive benefits that it provides to people in need. These misconceptions are widely held among the public and are further promoted by scientists and researchers that are unfamiliar with Eastern medicine. As a result, many people employed in this field have to constantly defend their work as being valuable.

Little Room for Advancement – As discussed above, there is relatively little room for career advancement for individuals trained as an acupuncture technician. This is mostly a consequence of being able to only work on the pressure points in the ears and not the rest of the body. To expand one’s career opportunities, additional education and training to become a licensed acupuncturist would be necessary.

Little Income Growth – Related to the lack of career advancement opportunities is the fact that acupuncture technicians experience little income growth as more experience is gained. However, this relative lack of income potential is experienced across the field of acupuncture, and is not just experienced by acupuncture technicians.

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