An open letter to my Acu-Teacher

Dear __________,

I caught word about Community Acupuncture in 2008. I talked to you about it and for a short time we together offered a Friday afternoon community clinic out of your office. It was a good place for me to start. I was newly licensed. Getting my license and working with a disorganized state board was big ordeal. Time had lapsed since I had been treating patients as a student intern and I needed to build my confidence.

With you, I got started. Thank you for that, and thank you for being such a passionate teacher. Of all of my teachers, you were the best at presenting the material and putting time and structure in our lesson plans. You made the material interesting and you challenged us to think more independently in the student intern clinic.

When I went on to start a full time Community Acupuncture clinic, I respectfully listened to your candid critique of a low cost, high volume practice. That it is potentially “bad for the medicine”, that acupuncturists will somehow lose out if we think of ourselves as mere technicians. I appreciate that you listened to why I disagree with you and that we could have a respectful discussion.

Eventually I moved away to take a job at a Big Damn Clinic.
After 5 years and at least 20,000 treatments I can now think of myself as not just your student, but also your colleague.

When I reached out to you over a year ago, I was reporting back my findings from the trenches. You were my only link to acupuncture education and I wanted to share with you what is lacking from acupuncture education. I believe this:

Acupuncture schools teach how to diagnose ad nauseum, but we don’t spend enough time on communicating with patients what they should expect from their treatments or how often they should come in for treatments. We treat patients in student clinic once a week and pray that they come back again. In Community Acupuncture my coworkers and I see patients 2-3 times a week for reducing high pain levels or other severe internal disorders.

After losing touch over the years, I was happy to have read an interview of you talking about your new high volume acupuncture practice. You emphasize using distal points, and that treatment offered in a group can be “healing by itself” and “payment can be arranged on a sliding schedule.” What bothers me, is that you credit your group treatment model to your time in high volume settings in Chinese hospitals.

A lot of practitioners go to Asia and see acupuncture offered in high volume settings in groups and attempt to recreate it, a-hem Peter Deadman. But I think that we both know that your time in China is not the only thing that has influenced your new practice. In 2008, when you and I started our Friday afternoon community clinic, one full time Community Clinic had already been established elsewhere in town. The idea of Community Acupuncture was gaining momentum. And, I also notice that you’ve named your clinic something remarkably similar to the first Community clinic that I co-founded.

Nothing really came of a group treatment model for Peter Deadman, so according to him, it’s not worth pursuing. Except for the fact that he is wrong. POCA clinics have offered 750,000 treatments in 2012. The reason why we know this is because, we are the only organization that tracks real data from real work doing nothing but acupuncture.

So, if you are going to do Community Acupuncture, then please, join POCA. Many practitioners twist the CA model and make it sound like this is their unique thing. Sure, it may benefit you or other practitioners who practice this way but the public at large suffers. Acupuncture has the potential to become a widely used and common therapy if practitioners can cooperate with their peers and let go of the dysfunctional ways that “the medicine” has been translated in the West. The most successful clinics are being run by punk owners and punk employees who are NOT looking to set themselves apart for their unique and exotic experiences, talents, and specializations. Every POCA member is unique in their experiences, talents, and interests and they are showing up at the collective table to solve real problems and create a real profession. Join POCA

I hope to see you at the POCAfest in Tucson, March 2014.

your student and colleague, Elizabeth Ropp

Author: Roppy

MAS super-punk since 2010

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  1. Thank you to Demetra for help with links and formating. Thank you to POCA members Lisa, Mary Margaret, and Eric for editing help. It’s great to be part of a co-op!

  2. My teacher responded to my letter. I can’t post her letter here, but I can share my end of our conversation:

    Dear ___________,

    I am sorry that you feel that my letter to you is an angry letter. It was written with a lot of love, some concern, and maybe some annoyance. But not anger, I assure you. I chose to write an open public letter, because this is more than just about you and me and our different approaches to the practice of acupuncture. It’s about a common trend of individual practitioners who are gentrifying community acupuncture.

    There are lots of “hybrid” clinics now which take parts of the CA model, ignore it’s foundation in social justice and add some extravagant frills. The usual reasons for practitioners doing this are that “CA is not complete enough,” “it wouldn’t work for me and my patients,” “but this is only good for relaxation and stress management” or “you can’t get to the root of the problem this way.” No one can stop you and others from gleaning what you like about CA, but like so many other practitioners, it doesn’t sound like you done much research. By asking you to join POCA, it wasn’t an order to join some cult, as Peter Deadman would like to make us out to be. I am inviting you to join because members have access to a wealth of information like how punks organize their clinics. Many people have spent many hours sharing information on how we work with patients who have all kinds of chronic pain, cancer, emotional issues, etc….

    A while back, a fellow community acupuncturist discovered another acupuncturist hiding behind the plants in the clinic and watching her treat people. You said that you visited a CA to see how it was organized, but similar to my friend’s story, it seems as if you were sneaking a peek from the waiting room. Did you try a treatment in the clinic for yourself? Did you talk to anyone who works there and maybe invite them to tea and discussion? They found a stack of your business cards left sitting in the waiting room. I hear they got recycled. I can’t say why they did that, but probably because the punks who work there have no idea who you are and how your cards made it into their clinic. They may even be checking behind their plants.

    You don’t have to peek from the waiting room when you can attend eye opening workshops and conferences, or watch relevant videos on POCA TV. The issues and concerns that you brought up in your response get addressed by both practitioners and the patients who have joined POCA in a variety of venues. There are currently more patient members of POCA than their are practitioners and I bet many of them would beg to differ with you in your opinion that CA is not the best option for people suffering with chronic pain, or cancer, for that matter. In fact, one of the first CA patients to get treated in the first CA clinic got treated because he had metastatic lung cancer. He got CA treatments twice a week. His wife credits the treatments for adding 5 more years, and added vitality, to his life before he passed away. (Fractal: About Community Acupuncture, pages 49 and 50)

    You can do 2 hour intakes if you want to and charge extra for that time. But, it’s more time that you are charging a patient to not get treated. Sure, there are patients who want that extra time. I am not surprised that you have met a few patients who didn’t find that CA is for them. Those patients can afford other options (talk therapy, personal training, bodywork, and nutritional consultations). I hope you are able to find enough people who can afford those options and support your practice. More people new to acupuncture are satisfied with it than the few who might find it lacking. We also commonly hear new patients say “yeah, I tried acupuncture before and I liked it, but I just couldn’t afford to go back.”

    I apologize if you felt that my letter to you was a pressure to join POCA. I certainly wouldn’t want you to join under circumstances like that. It truly is an invitation. I read your interview about your group treatment sliding scale clinic. I figured, if you are headed in this direction, the least I could do was share the map.

    Sincerely, Elisabeth

  3. After further correspondence with my teach, I realize that I made an assumption. She did not merely peek into the waiting room of a clinic. She did in fact get a treatment and talk to the punks and staff. I was wrong to make that assumption and have since sincerely apologized.