How to Learn Acupuncture

If you are going to learn acupuncture, make sure you do it in a way that enables you to really savour the excitement, revelation and pure pleasure that a study of Traditional Chinese Medicine brings. It is not a difficult subject, but one that will surprise, amaze and delight you as it reveals its mysteries.

Karren Grad
Karen Clancy receiving her Liscentiate from His Excelency Mr. Sha Hai Lin. Karen is continuing her education in nutrition and Naturopathy and now practices in The Clinic of Wholistic Medicine, 34 Upper Abbeygate Street, Galway.

Whether you choose to learn acupuncture in Ireland or elsewhere, there are some simple and valuable keys that will certainly be of real assistance to you as you pursue the knowledge that will become fundamental to your fascinating new career.

Over the years both as students ourselves and as course directors, we have inevitably found that certain people do much better in their attempts to learn acupuncture than others. Interestingly enough, their successes seem to have little to do with native ability or previous learning experience. There are just a few simple principles, which if understood and applied, can utterly transform your own experience when you set out to learn acupuncture.

We began to make our own observations as students, while attempting to learn acupuncture ourselves. Subsequently, we have studied in various locations, Ireland, England, Sri Lanka and of course, in China. We have been able to observe the successes and failures of other students, and also of other acupuncture schools.

The teaching methods used on the courses we have developed here at CMATCM, subsequently differ somewhat from others you may have undertaken in the past, or may be considering. So, regardless of the Acupuncture school you eventually attend, an understanding of the purpose behind those methods will highly likely make your experience as you set out to learn acupuncture a much more enjoyable one.

Conventional Teaching Methods

Traditional methods of teaching often start by presenting a large body of theory in lecture format. Stage two is to routinely examine students, then finally at the end of the day, throw the survivors into the arena of the workplace.

The problem with this approach to teaching is that many fall by the wayside, and may never manage to connect the theory they have struggled to memorise, with the real world of actual practice. They may cram, memorise by rote for exams and so on, but despite all the wonderful audio visual aids, and specialised educational materials, they may not receive what is really necessary to learn acupuncture and bring it to the point of effective practise.

Here are some of the relevant problems often faced by students, and some of the approaches that we at CMATCM use to address them. You can use them too!

How does Theory Relate to Practice?

When you learn acupuncture you will soon realise that the point at which the rubber hits the road is in the clinic, when the patient walks through the door.

This can be a moment of real interest and empowerment, the beginning of a new, mutually fulfilling relationship with another human being. A point from which you can systematically take a complicated story of suffering, unravel it, translate it into a surprisingly clear and simple picture or syndrome, then confidently treat it.

What is more, you will be using a method that actually works, producing measurable results in reasonable time. It has been working on humans and animals for over 5,000 years, and in recent times, has stood the test of scientific method. It defies the sceptics who claim it to be a placebo, by working on babies, animals and unconscious people. It works in the hands of sophisticated and highly erudite doctors with white coats and university degrees. It works in the paddy field, the bush hospital and the jungle in the hands of a barefoot doctor.

This is the point at which you discover what you really did during your studies. Did you really learn acupuncture, or did you just memorise a mass of theory? It is preferable not to wait that long to find out.

At CMATCM, we present the points of theory with practical examples and illustrations, which apply directly to what is encountered daily in the clinic. To facilitate this, we re-focus every aspect of the training back to a clinical reference point.

We only use teachers who are skilled in the practice of acupuncture. Every subject, from the fundamental interaction of yin and yang, through to modern medical sciences, is taught by people who have a thorough practical knowledge of how that information applies in the clinic. So even potentially daunting subjects like anatomy and physiology, take on a whole new fascination when framed in the context of what we actually do on a day-to-day basis.

So when you set out to learn acupuncture, no matter where in the world you may be, use this first principle always. Ask yourself the question: “How does this apply when I am looking at a real live person?” And if you can’t work it out yourself, discuss it with your fellow students. Try hard to grasp it. And if it still eludes you, ask, ask and keep on asking until you get it.

How do I know what is really important to learn?

The Chinese have an ancient system for learning, which is useful if you want to learn acupuncture and any other subject, called The Tree System. The important parts of a tree have a hierarchy, trunk, branches, sub-branches, twigs and leaves. In just the same way, every subject we may choose to examine, can be simplified by sorting its related information into a hierarchy of value and structure.

The best thing about organising your study around such a visual structure is that it is very much easier to recall that when you use lists and tables. This is because this is exactly the way the brain actually processes information. By drawing pictures and labelling them accordingly, most people cannot just memorise, but actually understand material in a very short period of time. The modern process of mind mapping as developed by Tony Buzzane works on the same principle.

At CMATCM, we use this approach in presenting the materials. Interestingly enough, we have also found that most of the students who achieve distinctions in their graduating examinations have used these principles consistently in their studies.

How can I fit in all the Study to learn Acupuncture?

We have found at CMATCM, that most people who achieve distinctions in their finals, actually succeed through using effective study methods, rather than gruelling hours of sweat and fear. There are a few very simple procedures that work wonders when applied.

Enhanced Recal Techniques

Use of The Tree System or Mind Mapping methods of organising material accelerates the learning process.

Study Groups

Forming study groups with others, and working over the material by sharing perspectives, clarifies obscurities rapidly. Discussions expose individual misunderstandings and offer the opportunity to deepen appreciation for the material. Especially when students look into the key question of “How does this apply to a real person?” together, many realisations occur and can be shared.

Bite Sized Chunks

Setting aside small blocks of time for simple review, especially of mind maps, allows you to stay well ahead of the game. You can learn acupuncture or any other subject no matter how busy you are, if you take it in small, well prepared, bite sized chunks. It’s like eating an elephant. You can do it, one bite at a time.

But I am Terrified of Examinations!

Many of us who have been away from education for a period, fear that we may not be able to cope with what we perceive will be a laborious course of study with a ruthless examination system. At CMATCM, we try to minimise this through a number of strategies and viewpoint shifts. These ideas apply equally to teaching as to reviewing the work oneself.


Present the material in a clear and down to earth manner. Express new terms and concepts in simple day-to- day language.

Continuous Assesment

Use continuous assessment methods. These can be as simple as quizzes in the classroom, or mutual quizzing between students. Such practises reduce the likelihood of students losing track of the material being covered. Also, you are assessing actual understanding rather than an ability to cram.

Systematic Review

Systematic review. Keep going over the fundamentals. Keep checking out how the new stuff relates to the basics. There is an old adage which sates that “The secret of education is repetition, is repetition, is repetition!”

Think Patients!

Think patients and the exams will look after themselves. At CMATCM, the focus of the course is on helping the student become competent and confident in the clinical practice of acupuncture, rather than merely making an academic study of its theory.

As a student, if you take this viewpoint, you will embrace the subject, you will understand it, and you will know that you know! You may still have some of the fear, but if you learn acupuncture in the way we suggest, you will also have so much knowledge of and love for the subject, that fear won’t have a chance.

The Test of Time

Since we founded the College in 1995, we have been able to observe the results of the application of the above principles in many levels of success of our students. Some of the rewarding results have been:

• The learning process becomes enjoyable and fun

• Students tend to participate rather than compete

• A wonderful Esprit de corps develops between the students

• Many go on to do post graduate courses together in China

• The feedback from the Chinese University regarding grasp of the theory and technical competence of our students has been noteworthy

• A high percentage of students achieve distinctions in their final examinations. (We use an extern examiner to ensure impartiality).

• Our past students who are in practise, continue to report remarkable clinical results with patients, and maintain their enthusiasm for developing their clinical skills and knowledge. They are continuing to learn acupuncture, and enjoy the process, long after they have graduated.

Graduates of CMATCM are expected to be able to DO something new,

with a sense of CONFIDENCE and COMPETENCE.

They are expected to know what to do,

how to do it,

and why it should be done.

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