The Perceptions and Experiences of Acupuncture users: A New Zealand Perspective
Thesis DisciplineHealth Sciences
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Health Sciences
The use of Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) is now widespread and endeavours are increasingly being made to incorporate CAM into conventional healthcare and move towards Integrative Medicine (IM). To date research has primarily focused on the prevalence of use, and safety and efficacy of CAM; less is known about patients' experiences of and reasons for using specific therapies. While therapeutically diverse, it has been suggested that many CAM modalities share mutually referential ideologies and that people who use them may be motivated to do so by specific health beliefs. This study focuses on traditional acupuncture in a New Zealand context and investigates users' experiences and perceptions of the therapy, and discusses how personal health beliefs influence usage. A systematic review of relevant international qualitative research informed the main study, which was carried out using an interpretive phenomenological methodology (Heidegger's approach). Data was gathered from interviews with 12 participants who had recently received treatment from traditionally trained (non-biomedical) acupuncturists. Thematic analysis suggested that acupuncture was often sought for health conditions (typically of a chronic and benign nature) that are difficult to treat conventionally. Whereas initial access was primarily motivated by ineffective biomedical treatment, personal health beliefs-particularly subscription to holistic and vitalistic ideologies-often inspired more extensive and ongoing use. The therapeutic encounter was interpreted to contain many elements-other than needling-integral to treatment. Outcomes were perceived to be wide ranging, personal and necessarily subjective, and included the relief of symptoms, increased well-being, and changes to understandings and health behaviours. It is concluded that the attraction of acupuncture for patients and many of its perceived benefits lie in therapeutic components that are ultimately embedded in Chinese medicine (holistic) theories of health. A more pluralistic schema for assessing evidence may be necessary to acknowledge treatment outcomes that are meaningful to patients, and to accommodate the divergent ontologies and practice models of acupuncture, other CAMs and biomedicine. Increased interdisciplinary cooperation and communication is suggested as a means to improve patient safety and satisfaction and as a scenario for moving forward with IM.