Expectations and experience: A primarily qualitative study of patients undergoing their first course of acupuncture

By Wendy Reynolds


This primarily qualitative study was a small-scale research project (n=6) using case studies to explore the experience of patients undergoing their first course of treatment. Two quantitative measures were employed alongside semi-structured/open interviews; detailed case notes; patient diaries (for those participants who were willing); and a practitioner field diary.

Primary Research Question: 'How do patients' experiences of acupuncture differ from their expectations prior to treatment?'

The objective was to ascertain patients' expectations prior to treatment and determine whether their experience of acupuncture differed from their original expectations. The findings showed that patients' experiences of acupuncture far outweigh their expectations of treatment. Not only do patients experience a greater relief of symptoms than expected, but acupuncture also produces effects that patients had not even considered, encompassing a range of physical, emotional, spiritual and lifestyle changes.

Secondary Research Question: 'What is patients' understanding of 'acupuncture', both before and after treatment?'

The objective was to ascertain what acupuncture, as a concept, meant to patients both before treatment and once they had experienced it for themselves. Results showed that initially, whilst patients were aware of the use of needles and specific acupuncture points, there was a lack of knowledge about acupuncture channels and the flow of energy. After experiencing the sensations of 'Qi' flow during treatment, patients' understanding of this aspect of acupuncture increased. The experience of treatment also expanded patients' knowledge of the range of efficacy of acupuncture, Traditional Chinese Medicine concepts and techniques used.