Lifestyle and self-care advice within traditional acupuncture consultations: a qualitative observational study nested in a co-operative inquiry

J Altern Complement Med. 2011 Jun;17(6):519-29. doi: 10.1089/acm.2010.0749.


Objectives: The study objective was to develop methodology for observational research within traditional acupuncture consultations in community-based practice, and to explore how traditional acupuncturists communicate with patients about lifestyle and self-care.

Design: This was a mixed-method qualitative study, using audio-recording of consultations followed by telephone interviews of patients. The study was nested within a cooperative inquiry. As co-researchers, group members participated in framing the research questions, deciding methods to be used, and discussing the emergent findings.

Settings: Four (4) experienced traditional acupuncture practitioners, registered with the British Acupuncture Council, contributed to the co-operative enquiry and recorded consultations in three clinics in Somerset.

Subjects: Subjects comprised a convenience sample of patients attending 21 consultations. A purposive subsample of patients was selected for interview.

Results: Audio-recording was challenging to some practitioners who felt that it might result in infrequent, but nevertheless worrying, withholding of personal information by patients. Patients, however, reported that they were generally positive about the audio-recording. Each consultation was analyzed as a trajectory in which eight categories of talk interwove with each other and with periods of physical examination, needling, and silence. Trajectories showed where talk about self-care ("self-care talk") appeared in the consultations, the content of such talk, and who initiated it. The data confirmed that self-care advice arises from, and is explained in terms of, each person's individual Chinese Medicine diagnosis. The identification of different types of talk and the way that "self-care talk" is interwoven throughout the consultation emphasized the integral nature of self-care support and advice in the practice of traditional acupuncture. Some patients had difficulty putting self-care advice into practice, even when they were intellectually committed to it, suggesting that practitioners may need to follow up more carefully on the advice they have given.

Conclusions: Self-care in traditional acupuncture consultations is integral, interactive, and individualized. This study has mapped out a potential agenda for research into self-care in traditional acupuncture consultations and illustrates the exciting opportunities that open up when observational and interview data are combined.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acupuncture Therapy / methods*
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Counseling*
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Life Style*
  • Male
  • Medicine, Chinese Traditional / methods*
  • Middle Aged
  • Needles
  • Office Visits
  • Patient Satisfaction
  • Physical Examination
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians'*
  • Qualitative Research
  • Research Design
  • Self Care*