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Acupuncturist tries different take on healing

Robert Surabian performed holistic treatments for Geoff Ames, 52, of Salem, who suffers from migraines and aches and pains. Robert Surabian performed holistic treatments for Geoff Ames, 52, of Salem, who suffers from migraines and aches and pains. (Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe)
By Cindy Atoji Keene
Globe Correspondent / July 24, 2011

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Acupuncture isn’t just about needles for Robert Surabian, a practitioner of the ancient Chinese treatment at Boston Harbor Acupuncturists in Boston. Like many acupuncturists, he takes a holistic approach to healing, working with patients on issues such as diet and stress, as well as particular medical problems.

“With Western medicine, you attack one problem head on, with guns blazing,’’ said Surabian, who also practices herbal medicine. “Chinese medicine looks at the whole person and not just one disease in isolation.’’

Surabian, who opened his own practice earlier last month, said he became interested in the Eastern healing art because it cured a chronic elbow injury that “Western medicine could not resolve.’’

Acupuncturists must complete a master’s degree program, pass national board exams, and become licensed by the state Board of Medicine.

Acupuncture is based on the idea that channels of energy flow through the body, and inserting ultra-fine needles into specific access points, or meridians, helps restore balance and stimulate vitality. A growing body of research confirms the benefits of acupuncture for everything from chronic pain to drug dependence to infertility, he said.

Do the needles hurt?

The sensation is unfamiliar, the feeling of a dull ache or zap of energy. People come to love the sensation.

Are your patients ever skeptical, or do you mostly see true believers?

Many are skeptical. Acupuncture is a very foreign concept that is hard to get your head around. It comes from a different culture and philosophy, so I am always teaching people about what I do.

What’s an example of a patient case study?

Lots of people are now taking over-the-counter drugs for acid reflux, but this may only be masking the problem and doesn’t necessarily look at the root cause. With acupuncture, I might not only work on pressure points, but also look at whether a patient is eating hot or spicy foods; how they are sleeping at night; if they’re fearful or not.

What’s the most common ailment you’re asked to cure?

Everyone wants to know if acupuncture can help lose weight. I can support a weight loss program, but sticking needles in you and nothing else will not help you lose weight. In China, food is the “first medicine,’’ so we do dietary testing as well.

As part of your health evaluation, patients need to stick their tongue out. Why?

The tongue’s shape, color, and coat is considered to be one of the key indicators of health. Sometimes I can’t help but look at the tongues of American Idol contestants while they are singing and diagnosing them based on what I see. It’s really hard to turn off the diagnostic skills that you’ve worked so hard to acquire.