Breaking Out of Old Habits and Schools of Thought…

Building a bit on what Skip mentioned in his last post, since of course it resonated with me very much… I thought I’d share my thoughts in my own experience of transition to community acupuncture.

Many things that most of us acupuncturists learned by way of school, by assisting other acupuncturists or by being treated in private practices are completely different than the ways in which we operate our community acupuncture clinics, and yet the same results occur in community acupuncture practices (CAPs) as in the conventional/boutique/professional (CBP) clinics: patients get better, feel more relaxed, enjoy their experience at the clinic and are basically positive about what acupuncture is doing for them. At least this has been my experience so far working with people in community clinics.

Unlike most acupuncturists, I have actually never worked in a CBP clinic aside from as a student intern, yet my limited experience as a student intern in that role of one-on-one in a private room and in assisting other acupuncturists in their CBP clinics had me feeling a little down that this was what I had to face as a practitioner for the rest of my life – the truth was that I didn’t particularly like practicing acupuncture that way. Doing double-sided treatments, fussing around with moxa and gwa sha, and having lengthy discussions about people’s problems left me feeling tired and somewhat bored at times as a student, which was unfortunate. What I did like was needling and coming up with interesting point combinations, particularly involving points on the limbs and not so much the backs, and I also really enjoyed making herbal formulas. I also liked when I could be relatively straight forward with patients about they were coming for and get down to business – not to be someone’s pseudo-therapist.

Before ever doing community acupuncture and before even considering it I had a very closed mind. The first little bit I had heard about community acupuncture came from a classmate of mine who said people sat around in a room with used recliner chairs and fleece blankets receiving acupuncture and my initial reaction was that it wasn’t appealing to me – it sounded schlock. But then I happened to go to a talk by an acupuncturist with a community acupuncture clinic who was so enthusiastic and positive about it that I was entirely intrigued. Before ever hearing of community acupuncture I thought that acupuncture was supposed to be expensive and therefore it would need to be a spa-type plus therapy-type experience where the person came in and had plenty of time to talk about all their problems at length, and then would lie down on a cushy table in a private room with lovely adornments. And I would have to put needles in on two sides of them and do moxa and gwa sha and all these other things that take a lot of time and energy and I don’t particularly care for. At least, it seemed, that was the message I had from school.

I remember one teacher of mine for a Japanese five-phase theory class who I was least impressed with of all. He practiced a style where mainly he’d do just 3-4 points on the front and then 4points on the back, yet he had a fancy little high-priced CBP clinic. One student in the class asked if patients ever balked at the fact that he was only doing a few needles (and charging his typical high rates), and he said that along with his few points he’d sometimes pretend to do something fussy over their back during the back treatment so that they thought they’d be getting their money’s worth. I thought that was completely absurd.

I reflected on all these things I was learning as I neared the end of my education, and considered the community acupuncture thing a bit more. I knew that my best clinical experience as a student happened to be in the one clinic that was most similar to a community acupuncture practice – it was a community health center (Dimock) where a couple of the rooms were shared, intakes and follow-up discussions were occasionally done in the hallway or quietly among other people in the waiting area and people were treated in a lackluster environment (damp, basement-type space) – yet there was this fantastic energy to the clinic and a sense of community. People loved coming for acupuncture and would look forward greatly to that time slot each week when they’d be able to have a treatment. Most treatments were relatively simple there. It was always fully booked and people got better.

One lesson I learned from this was that your clinic really didn’t have to be fancy and super professional. People will still come and love it and get better. This isn’t to say that a community acupuncture clinic CAN’T be beautiful andprofessional – it sure can, and each one that I have been to has been this way, in its own unique and charming way. It can have a comfy old feel or a new fresh feel. It can have a city vibe or a country vibe. It can be whatever you want it to be. Each community acupuncture clinic I have been to is a reflection of the person owning and operating it and has a charm that fits its place in the community – what works in one region may not fit in the same way in another region. What is great is that each community acupuncture clinic is its own little business with its own personality and yet we all do the same thing for people, ultimately. People get to be treated among others in a relaxing environment for a price they can afford and feel better. It is simply brilliant.

Something I had to consider and accept when I began this work is that no matter what setting you are in, there are going to be people who don’t like it and that’s fine – it may be the acupuncture, it may be the setting, it may be me as the practitioner and it may be their own mindset – you can’t be everything for everyone. Not everyone will like me or what I do and that is okay. I hoped that this idea of community acupuncture wouldn’t be a turn-off for people and make it difficult to get a practice going. I had a little hard time with this at first because I wanted everyone coming to see me to like acupuncture, me, my clinic and what I do- but then I realized that was completely unrealistic and didn’t matter. Everyone has different energy and different expectations.

These days I move relatively quickly with the patients and they’re all sitting happily around a room in recliner chairs dozing off. The biggest challenge is no longer MY thinking that a patient needs more time to talk with me or that I need to make a big fuss over them – it is the occasional patient who has had acupuncture before in a CBP and EXPECTS the lengthy conversationand fuss, but I don’t give them it. Or, sometimes I do find myself getting dragged into it when it’s not a busy day and I don’t have a good excuse not to do it- and this I do not like. Also, on days when it isn’t busy and someone is alone in the treatment room I feel a little bad for them and I’m not sure why – I think it would be better for them to be among others I suppose –but the truth is that still it doesn’t matter and I don’t need to change the way I treat them when they are alone versus when they are sitting there with 5 others around.

Ultimately, though, I realize that what we do as community acupuncturists is a great service – this I have heard time and again from my patients. The structure of the setting and the pricing is brilliant, and working quickly, simply and efficiently really works. Probably most importantly, however, is that the person practicing in this way feels strongly about what they are doing and completely positive about it in order to convey this to their patients. With this attitude one is much more likely to succeed.

Author: Justine_Myers

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  1. I gotta say

    that since I learned Dr. Tan’s methods and converted to CA I can’t agree with this little portion of what you said at all

    “get the same
    results occur in community acupuncture practices (CAPs) as in the
    conventional/boutique/professional (CBP) clinics.”

    I went to a school that I consider was at the height of it’s strength.   The basic curriculum was TCM but we were exposed to 5 element, KHT, meridian therapy and our zang fu/Tx princples teacher taught us to couple the symptoms of ying, yang, qi and blood deficiency or excess if it applied, with the organ symptoms and taught tx principes from the classics. All of which I considered a plus, especially compared to how they teach these things in that school now.   Nevertheless, what i have learned as a result of having to treat people in chairs, in addition to much more experience due to the CA model, is that my pts are getting WAY BETTER tx from me now and getting done with tx WAY FASTER than when I practiced CBP acupuncture.  Period. 

    You can’t be effective treating people once a week for 5-6 weeks until they run out of money and treating 10-20 people a week.  You don’t learn enough and acupucnture must be done more frequently to be effective.  I know I’m preaching to the choir of the CA practitioners, but these comments are for those who aren’t practicing CA or who are considering it.