Community Acupuncture for Disaster and Trauma

This past weekend I was in Portland, attending Acupuncturists Without Borders “Healing Community Trauma” training. Since its founding by Diana Fried in September of 2005, following Hurricane Katrina, AWB has evolved into one of the leading acupuncture professional groups with a social conscience. 

Probably there are other groups deserving of such accolades. Certainly the Community Acupuncture Network is another. Both of these groups – for me – fully embody an ethic of responsibility: when an individual receives a gift of healing knowledge, the highest good is to give that knowledge back to the community, not hoarding it for one’s own personal gain.

Certainly, when I enrolled in NIAOM in the fall of 1994, I had nothing but wide eyed devotion towards that hallowed institution, back in the heady growth days of acupuncture school enrollments. To accept that a few of the principals of such institutions might have motivations no more enlightened than Wall Street bankers trading empty-bubble mortgage gimmicks is disappointing to say the least. I don’t know the full story behind NIAOM’s demise, but it seems clear that greed and deception played a central role.

May all our future successes never corrupt our ethical discipline, our commitment to serving the public good. Oh, it is so easy to spout the wisdom of the East, to design flowery websites and clinic waiting rooms with framed pictures of Zen gardens, flying goddesses and waterfall dioramas, but to actually redesign our mental programming is another matter indeed. But let us return our focus to what is positive and good in the world.

To me, what seems the most striking difference between CAN and AWB is not the compassionate motivation present in each, but the method for achieving social good. CAN attempts to serve the underserved through refining and implementing a sustainable business model which supports both the community, and the practitioner. AWB focuses specifically on healing communities in acute crisis – post disaster settings and Veterans returning from war, with less emphasis on specifically reforming the acupuncture profession.

The point is, there are different paths to good, but ultimately, it depends upon our motivation. As someone who is fortunate to have played a very small role in the evolution of both CAN and AWB, I encourage my fellow CAN friends to check out AWB. Consider attending an AWB training or hosting an event for Veterans. Yes, giving away treatments is charity and that’s not sustainable by itself in the long run. Or at least, so one line of thinking goes. Giving is so good for the heart though, and not merely in a spiritual (karmic) sense. My 30 days in New Orleans had a life changing impact, and when the next disaster hits a part of our country, I hope I am in a position to contribute. Nourishing the heart is essential for sustainability – both in the world, and certainly in the spiritual realm.

As Community Acupuncturists, we already know a lot about treating people in groups, but specialized trauma situations are different than your average day at the clinic. Let’s reflect on the increasing likelihood that natural (and un-natural) disasters are a near certainty in the future. The only question is where and when. An earthquake in the Northwest is certainly high on FEMA’s list. Hurricanes, tsunamis, floods, droughts, terrorist attacks, civil unrest – anything could happen in these times we live in. To the extent that we don’t prepare for such situations – internally and externally – seems foolish. Acupuncture is so incredibly powerful in such situations. But we have to be prepared.

AWB has accumulated a wealth of knowledge on how to skillfully deal with these situations – in Louisiana after the hurricanes, in California after fires, in Iowa following floods, and with Veterans coming home from war – some of whom have been “coming home” for decades.

May peace reign on Earth and in the hearts of all beings,

Jordan Van Voast

river Jordan
Author: river Jordan

After graduating from the Northwest Institute of Acupuncture & Oriental Medicine in 1997, I had a hobby practice for a few years before moving to Northern India to study Buddhism. During this time, I volunteered in a local clinic, giving acupuncture to Tibetan refugees and Indian nationals. <p> Returning to the U.S. in 2002, I started a typical insurance based acupuncture practice catering to the upper middle class. In 2005, following Hurricane Katrina, I volunteered with <a href="" target="_blank">Acupuncturists Without Borders</a>, using community style acupuncture to treat trauma victims in a natural disaster setting. </p> Inspired by the power and efficacy of acupuncture in a post-disaster setting, I began to contemplate issues of socioeconomic class. What could be done to make acupuncture accessible to everyone and still provider a livable wage for an acupuncturist? After attending WCA's first conference in October of 2006, I had found the answer to that question. In January 2007, together with my partner Serena Sundaram, we founded <a href="" target="_blank">Communichi</a>, Seattle's first dedicated community acupuncture clinic. <p> As a Buddhist, I believe that healing begins in the mind. As the positive qualities of wisdom and compassion are cultivated in the mind of a practitioner, this...

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  1. thank you

    Dear Jordan

    Thanks so much for this posting and putting your efforts into the AWB project. I too believe that having something in place to help people in times of need feeds our collective souls. 

    May the darkness lead us into the light.

  2. Just wanted to clarify one

    Just wanted to clarify one point in this blog, AWB’s stated vision is “to foster the creation of stable, peaceful global communities
    through its community-based acupuncture services and training which
    interrupt the cycles of unresolved trauma.”  So clearly, that is a progressive social reform agenda.

    All true religions seek to gain access to that level of consciousness which is not ego-bound.</

  3. Hey Korben

    I know you are busy bro, but don’t be afraid to chip in with your comments, experience, and humor even if you substantially disagree with me.

    All true religions seek to gain access to that level of consciousness which is not ego-bound.</