What to Expect at Your Acupuncture Appointment - Reflections from guest blogger Jesse Gilliam

The first time I went to White Center Wellness for acupuncture, I was suffering from anxiety.  I’d tried therapy, mindfulness, and western medication, but nothing was quite getting at the root of the problem. I’d heard from my friends and from plenty of internet searches that acupuncture could be a great treatment for anxiety. So, ready to feel better, I filled out an easy online form for an appointment at White Center Wellness and promptly received a confirmation.

But did I mention I was suffering from anxiety? It turns out that initially, the thought of having someone stick needles in me in an office I wasn’t familiar with didn’t help the anxiety. Would it hurt?  How long would it take? Would I be comfortable? Would it work? Would it be too New Age for me, a guy who lives in Eddie Bauer non-iron button-down shirts? 

Having now been through acupuncture for anxiety, muscle pain, and a respiratory infection, and having the process be comfortable and the results be extremely helpful, I thought I’d write a brief orientation so others considering acupuncture for the first time can know what to expect. Here’s what I experienced.

Before you even enter the office, you’ll receive a form to fill out asking you to describe why you’re seeking acupuncture and seeking some basic health information. For someone like me, who can be a bit shy talking in person about my problems, it was a relief to know I could explain my issues ahead of time so my practitioner had a bit of background. The form took about 15 minutes for me to fill out and was a great look into how this might be different from other medical encounters I had – the questions presented engaged with the whole person – mental and physical health – rather than just focusing on one “problem” area.

The day of the appointment, I drove up to the office and was relieved to find plenty of parking. I walked through a pleasant courtyard and through the front door to be greeted in the waiting area by Lee Mahoney, my practitioner. Lee asked me if I wanted any water and asked if I needed to use the restroom, and then took me into his treatment room.

The treatment room Lee uses has a few comfortable chairs, a massage table, and a table holding Lee’s treatment equipment. Lee asked me to sit down in a chair and had me sit down as well and asked me why I was seeking treatment. We had a 10-minute conversation about particular symptoms I was facing and what a healthy resolution might look like for me. He also did a few things that he told me were to check my overall health, including checking my tongue and my pulse.  

After his initial assessment, Lee explained he’d like to do some acupuncture on me as well as create a customized Chinese medicine for me to begin to resolve my issues. He left the room, asking me to take my shoes and socks off, roll up my pants to the knees, and lay on the table. There’s been other times where I’ve had to take my shirt off –if that’s the case he provides comfortable privacy draping.

The next part was the acupuncture. Lee knocked gently and came back into the room, explaining he would put some needles in my feet, lower legs, wrist, and head. While I was a bit nervous, once he showed me the needles he was talking about my concerns faded. They aren’t big sewing needles. They aren’t even the sort of needles you’d get a shot with. They’re extremely thin, small, and light. 

Then, Lee started to place the needles.  Most of the time, I felt nothing. Sometimes I felt a little itch or zap which then faded quickly to nothing. There was once in the sessions I’ve been too where some discomfort stayed – I just told Lee about that and he moved the needle to another area that he said was also effective. 

After putting the needles in, Lee then applied some heat to a few of the needles by burning dried mugwort, a process called moxibustion. Aside from being a generally cool Harry Potter call out, the process is designed to stimulate circulation through the acupuncture points and increase effectiveness.  And I know this, by the way, because I asked Lee, who is happy to explain what he’s doing – from moxibustion to how the heck does a needle in my wrist help with my cough (check the FAQ for that answer!)

Once Lee had the needles placed, he turned down the lights left me to rest for about 20 minutes. Every time I’ve experienced this process I’ve found it to be relaxing and calming. If you don’t think you can doze off with needles in your ears – think again! Plus, how often as adults with responsibilities do we get time alone without our phones, kids, dogs, or spouses calling for our attention? Lee came in once to check on me, and if I need him, I knew he was in the next room.

Once the time is up, Lee came back, turned on the lights, and asked me to get dressed and off the table, leaving the room to give you time to do that. He asks you to take your time to reorient yourself, and then he’s outside waiting for you with your mixed medicine. I paid my bill and made my next appointment. Treatment time has varied with different issues I’ve experienced from “as needed” to once a week for a month. He always works with me to find the right course of treatment.

I hope reading this has alleviated a bit of your anxiety about acupuncture. I know I’m glad I was able to overcome my initial anxiety and doubt to get some of the great benefits available through acupuncture. And I’m still wearing my non-iron button-down Eddie Bauer shirts through it all!

~Jesse Gilliam