Founder & director of The Berkley Center for Reproductive Wellness, Mike Berkley is licensed & Board Certified in Acupuncture in New York State and certified in Chinese herbology by the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM). Mike graduated from The Pacific College of Oriental Medicine in New York in 1996, and he has been treating reproductive disorders since then. Mike is the first acupuncturist/herbalist in the United States to work exclusively in the field of reproductive medicine.
Welcome to the Acupuncturist of the Month Interview, Mike! We are excited to have you.
Thank you so much for having me. Im thrilled to be here.
So, how long have you been practicing acupuncture for?
I’ve been in practice for 22 years.
What inspired you to become an acupuncturist?
I had studied martial arts with a great fighter and a great healer. After ten years of training he said to me “Mike, I’ve spent ten years teaching you how to fight, now you must learn how to heal.”
About how many couples have you helped to conceive through your acupuncture treatments?
Do you have a favorite herb?
No. There is really no such thing as a favorite herb. In Chinese medicine, single herbs are not given to patients. Herbal formulas consist of two to thirty herbs all cooked and combined to make a specific and individualized formula that exactly fits the patient’s needs. Herbal formulas that are customized should not be confused with herbs that come in pill form, or granule form. These types of herbs are much more difficult to customize and customization is what makes herbal medicine so amazing (besides the fact that they are often so very effective). For example: one might have five PCOS patients of the same age and height and weight, but each patient would get a different formula – because herbs and acupuncture treat the whole patient not just the disease that is presenting. So, one PCOS patient might also have headaches. One may have chronic constipation. One might be tired all the time. So yes, we are using herbs to regulate this patient’s menstrual cycle and improve egg quality, but we are also treating other issues which may be affecting her.
How big of a role do you think diet plays into fertility?
Not much other than being too thin (lack of estrogen) or too heavy (gestational diabetes, pre-eclampsia), etc. There are many women who are living in abject poverty, who eat the worst diets and they become pregnant; conversely, there are many vegans who cannot get pregnant. Diet is very important in the present and ongoing general health of a human being, but I don’t think it immediately contributes to a difficulty in conception.
What do you find is one of the biggest obstacles to overcome when helping women to conceive naturally?
Unfortunately, many women are not aware of their impending lack of fecundity. They think that because they are in great shape and are vegans, that it should be easy to conceive at forty-years-old; its not. So, there is lack of awareness on many women’s parts (which I blame entirely on their gynecologists for not informing them).
There are many women who have various pathomechanisms which lead to infertility which they are unaware of. Do they have fibroids? Endometriosis? PCOS? Low ovarian reserve? Tubal issues, endometrial issues? Is it male factor? So many women will try for years before getting a diagnostic evaluation to determine if there is, in fact, a presenting pathology. Often, by the time of diagnosis, the woman is already past her reproductive prime. Another frequently found issue is that many men are reluctant to get a semen-analysis. Remember that 30-45% of infertility is male factor.
Are herbs an integral part to all of your infertility treatments or are they used sparingly on a case-by-case basis, and why?
Herbs, ideally, should be used in every case. Acupuncture is done (at The Berkley Center for Reproductive Wellness), twice weekly. However, when my patient is taking herbs, they are, essentially, getting treated daily. Acupuncture works from the outside-in, herbs work from the inside-out. In other words, herbs are ‘internal medicine’. Acupuncture is great at stimulating blood flow (to the ovaries or testes), for example. But herbs are nourishing and regulating. This means that herbs can often regulate poor hormonal profiles and assist in regulating ovulation and improving egg and sperm quality.
What is one thing about acupuncture, herbs, & oriental medicine, that to this day, still amazes you?
On your journey to become an acupuncturist, what obstacles did you face and how did you overcome them?
Becoming an acupuncturist requires a big commitment. I went to acupuncture school for four years, graduated and opened my practice. Then, I returned to school for a two year program in herbal medicine. So, it was about a six year journey. I thought I’d never leave school. Then I graduated and opened my practice with, of course, no patients. Having to build a practice is no easy task. But, after twenty-two years in the game, that struggle is behind me.
Looking back, what advice would you have given to the younger version of yourself, who was just getting started in this profession?
None. I made the right decision. Be true to thine self is my motto. I wanted to explore complementary medicine and I did. As a result, I have helped hundreds conceive where conception was not thought possible. Young man…you made the right decision!
Running a practice is not a simple or easy task – what do you feel was the biggest challenge in getting your practice up and running?
Getting known and building trust. These are two big challenges that all newcomers must suffer through
Getting patients and getting reproductive endocrinologists to refer patients to me was also a challenge. When I started, (22 years ago), there was no real research on acupuncture in the context of infertility. As such, it was difficult to get people on board. Today, as a result of abundant and substantive research, acupuncture is undeniably accepted as an adjunct therapy that helps patients conceive and helps to prevent miscarriage. Today, doctors and patients, are, generally speaking, accepting of the value that traditional Chinese medicine has to offer.
What has been the most rewarding moment so far in your career as an acupuncturist?
I’m rewarded constantly. Everytime one of my patients says “I’ve got to tell you something”, its another extremely rewarding moment. It never gets old. Making a positive difference in my patient’s lives is the most rewarding thing I can do. And I get to do it over and over again. Bravo!
We have all occasionally had a patient come into our practice who is upset, frustrated, and a little angry. Maybe it’s from work, being stuck in traffic, or life in general – we have all been there! What advice would you give to fellow acupuncture students and/or colleagues on how to deal with situations like these?
Listen, don’t talk. Always be loving, compassionate and supportive.
What are your favorite acupuncture points, and why?
Can’t say. Each patient requires different points depending upon their case. Acupuncture point location is similar in essence to prescribing herbal medicine. The acupuncturist must arrive at a differential diagnosis and use the optimal points. And again…one disease many treatments. As in any form of medicine or medical intervention, the patient drives the treatment protocol. It is dependent upon the acupuncturist to arrive at the correct diagnosis. This is where the real skill lies.
Sometimes, the best resource for improving our skills is by learning from the other acupuncturists we meet along our professional journey. What is one thing you learned from a fellow acupuncturist or other holistic practitioner, that has helped you in your professional growth, or in your care for patients?
The most influential person in my knowledge acquisition did not come from a fellow acupuncturist but from one of my teachers, Dr. Yan Wu. However, today there are many great fertility acupuncturists who have done tremendous research. They have and offer tremendous knowledge to those who desire it.
Do you have any daily habits or rituals that keep you at your “best-self”, both as an acupuncture practitioner and person?
I train in Judo, hit the gym regularly, eat well, drink well, live well, and take nothing for granted. Awareness, openness, and a flat ego are the keys to happiness. In order to be an effective practitioner and heal other people, we as health-care-professionals must first heal ourselves.
The kindest thing a patient said to you recently:
Thank you for making this possible (she came in pregnant -naturally!)
The funniest thing a patient said to you recently:
It’s too risqué to divulge!
If you had to choose a spirit animal, what would it be and why?
Definitely the Phoenix. The phoenix symbolizes renewal. This is the archetype for my patients: renewal. They will rise in success; they will soar; they will become pregnant; they will be renewed!
Where can licensed acupuncturists, students, and patients go to learn more about your work on fertility?
To find out more please visit: https://www.berkleycenter.com/