Interview with Leah Tinkham Morgan LAc, by Shaylynn Hayes
What is acupuncture?
The simplest answer to this question would be that acupuncture is the insertion of very thin, sterile acupuncture needles in the body. Acupuncture is a holistic system of medicine that developed in China over 5,000 years ago. Practitioners spend years learning how to evaluate and diagnose patients so they know where needles need to be placed. The goal of acupuncture is to promote health by restoring homeostasis in the body. Acupuncturist work along meridians that connect all parts of the body to one another. Meridians can be compared to rivers. When one part of a river is dammed up, the land further down the river cannot receive nourishment. This happens in our bodies as well. Acupuncture helps unblock the “dam” and balance the body. Science has found that meridians tend to follow various nerve, fascia, and lymphatic pathways.
What are the licensing and certification requirements for acupuncturists?
Licensing and certification can vary from state to state. Most states require practitioners to receive a Masters or Doctorate in East Asian Medicine and to pass a national and/or state board exam. I attended the Pacific College of Oriental Medicine (PCOM) in San Diego. My Masters’ program required four years of accelerated, year-round studies to complete. My education at PCOM consisted of 191 units and 3,500 credit hours of clinical practice and theory. The curriculum included more than 700 hours of Western bio-medical sciences, over 1,300 hours in oriental medical theory, herbology and treatment techniques, and more than 1,000 hours of clinical training and internships. To compare, MD’s and chiropractors complete 4,000 – 4,500 hours of study in their respective doctoral programs
How do I know if my acupuncturist is qualified?
You can do a search on your state acupuncture boards website. If your state doesn’t have one, check the National Acupuncture Boards’ (NCCAOM) website for qualified practitioners. The Acupuncturist should also have their license visible somewhere in the office. If providing acupuncture outside of their office the practitioner should have a card to show you with their license number on it.
What is a Medical Acupuncturist?
Although I haven’t heard this term before, anyone practicing acupuncture is practicing medicine. I guess you could compare acupuncture to “dry needling” done by some other medical practitioners for the sole purpose of releasing a muscle.
Are acupuncture patients exposed to risks? Say the treatment does not work, is that the worst-case scenario or are there other potentially harmful side effects?
Just like any medicine or therapy, some people will respond better to acupuncture then others. The main negative side effects might be an occasional bruise or feeling tired after a treatment. It is very important to make sure you go to a licensed Acupuncturist with whom you feel confident and comfortable. We have spent many, many hours learning how to keep our patients safe.
What does science say about acupuncture? Has it been proven?
The Chinese developed and refined this system of medicine over thousands of years through the best science they had at the time, which was observation. Although acupuncture is thousands of years old, it was introduced to the United States just 70 years ago. Therefore, science as in the Western Scientific Method has only been able to experiment with acupuncture for a relatively short time now. The World Health Organization and the National Institutes of Health have met multiple times to discuss acupuncture. They have endorsed over 25 “diseases, symptoms or conditions for which acupuncture has been proved – through controlled trials—to be an effective treatment” and another 60 “diseases, symptoms or conditions for which the therapeutic effect of acupuncture has been shown but for which further proof is needed”. This information can be found on the World Health Organizations website.
What are the potential benefits for neurologically based disorders, and acupuncture?
Acupuncture has been shown to positively affect many neurologically based disorders ranging from anxiety and addiction to Parkinson’s and Bell’s Palsy. It is theorized that acupuncture regulates the nervous system by sedating the sympathetic nervous system and stimulating the parasympathetic. Along with promoting relaxation of the muscles and regulating blood flow, it also encourages feelings of wellbeing by promoting the release of endorphins.
Could you tell us about your experience using acupuncture on clients?
I actually got into this medicine after working as a veterinary technician and seeing it work phenomenally on dogs and cats. My (now human) patients are often out of options with Western medicine, sick of the side effects of their current medications or trying to avoid surgery. Most clients find acupuncture to be quite effective and relaxing. For some it has been a cure-all saving them from surgery or medication, for others it is a great supplement to their Western care and for a few it has little effect. Acupuncture is not a “silver bullet fix”, however it is one tool of East Asian Medicine, which considers health on a physical, emotional and spiritual level. I work as a team with my patients to promote their total well-being, often this includes diet and/or lifestyle changes.
Do you think acupuncture may have the ability to help patients with conditions such as Misophonia?
Acupuncture is often good at working with conditions that Western medicine hasn’t had a lot of success with. We treat each person as a whole not just as a symptom (as opposed to a more reductionist approach, considering the symptom only). I suspect this would be important in treating Misophonia because although there tends to be common co-morbid disorders, the condition has the potential to manifest so differently in each patient.
Since Misophonia has been proposed as a fear-response, with researchers investigating the amygdala, have you heard of acupuncture helping anxieties or physiological conditions?
Absolutely! Acupuncture is actually court mandated for some addictions and is hugely beneficial for many with anxiety disorders. Because we treat the person as a whole, addressing the emotions is a very important consideration for an Acupuncturist. The ancient Chinese actually placed a lot of value on the health of the psyche and developed an intricate psychological system that even recognized the mind-body connection.
Why do you think “modern science” has an aversion to acupuncture? Do you believe this is an unfair assessment?
I come from a pretty scientific background so I understand the aversion. If I hadn’t seen the medicine work so well on dogs and cats I would have been more leery myself. The problem with evaluating acupuncture from a Western Scientific perspective is that there are so many variables to control; the diagnosis, who places the needles, where the needles are placed, how a placebo tested, and does the patient have any other interfering considerations such as western medication or other medical conditions.
Preforming a placebo is probably one of the most difficult things to accomplish in acupuncture studies because even “sham acupuncture” is going to have some sort of physiologic response on the body.
The acupuncture research field is growing. There have been some interesting studies measuring objective changes in blood and spinal component on rats before and after acupuncture and FMRI studies demonstrating the ability of acupuncture to affect brain activity, modulate connectivity of brain, and access disease-related brain regions.
Is there anything else you might like to add?
Acupuncture is difficult to explain… it is really something one must experience first hand to truly understand. I feel so blessed to have discovered this medicine and share with others what I have learned. Take your time finding an Acupuncturist you are comfortable with and feel free to meet with a few before scheduling an appointment. With any part of your medical team, it is important to find the right “fit”, some one who “gets you” and you can be comfortable around. Thanks for interviewing me, I enjoyed your questions and hope you find my responses helpful!
Leah Tinkham Morgan LAc is a board certified Acupuncturist with a Master’s degree in Traditional East Asian Medicine. She has a diverse and extensive background with multiple medical modalities. Leah studied Acupuncture and Traditional East Asian Medicine at the Pacific College of Oriental Medicine (PCOM) in San Diego California. In addition to private practice, Leah has completed clinic rotations at multiple integrative medical centers including: Radys Children’s Hospital, University of California San Diego (UCSD) Oncology Health Services and The Women’s Shelter of downtown San Diego. While completing her masters Leah also helped pioneer a successful mentorship program at UCSD Center for Integrative Medicine.
Beyond Traditional East Asian Medicine, she loves hiking, yoga, travel and spending time with her family and their 7 year old boxer dog, Trip.