The excellent question: What is the response of skeptical patients to acupuncture?
In our student clinics, patients are often surprised by the effects. After the first visit, they sometimes wonder whether it was chance, or their imagination, or the Advil they ate many hours ago.
After the second treatment, these doubts clear.
We welcome skeptics--prefer them to 'true believers,' who are more prone to disappointment if things don't match their expectations. Either way, the effects are noticed.
It takes a skilled practitioner to try different techniques and modalities within the field of acupuncture. About 10-15% of my patients do better with non-needle techniques, such as acupressure or moxa. They are too sensitive for needles, and don't enjoy them as much as these allied modalities.
When I worked in public health settings, both in and out-patient, we had more than 'skeptics.' There were many patients there for the other public services: not the acupuncture. They would be openly hostile to the process. I found with time ways to reach even the most difficult patient. Often it was a matter of treating a specific pain that would open the door to clinical rapport. Sometimes it was using subtler, less conventional methods such as acupressure or external qigong.
My finding after several years was that if I had about two weeks with any patient at most, we could find a way to meet their needs using acupuncture-related methods.
Likewise, the case of the patient undergoing breast reconstruction surgery in Portland in 2004 using acupuncture as the sole means of anesthesia raises questions. This may be beyond what a placebo could reasonably be considered to do. It is also far beyond surprise for both the patient and her healthcare providers.