Community Acupuncture: Fundamentally Different

First, I want to second what Lisa says below about our great NYC weekend.  Its always great to get out of your comfort zone to get some perspective and this happened for us.  

So what perspective did we gain?  A couple of things really.  The first was realizing to a deeper extent than before how different Community Acupuncture is than a) Boutique acupuncture (i.e. the conventional way acupuncture is practiced), b) other types of medicine in this country as they are almost always practiced.  I see more clearly that putting the word “Community” is not just a cute idea.  No, the word “Community” describes how healing takes place.  We are so accustomed to the idea that healing happens because the healer makes in happen that even when we say that the healer is just a facilitator it doesn't fully sink in.  The funny thing is though is that a successful Community Acupuncturist is more like a conductor of an orchestra than a shaman and that the group setting allows the patients to lose their isolation from other humans that is hurting them so. Sharing experience is huge in the healing process.

The upshot for American Acupuncturists is that its hard to start a CA practice because it requires fundamental shifts of thinking about why we are in the healing business in the first place.  Since most of us (including me) originally came into the profession thinking that we were learning to heal others (and ourselves) it is taking some time to turn that thought upside down, to realize how true it is that we (Acupunks and patients equally) are in this together and that our (Acupunk) #1 job is to make the space available for healing to take place. Another way to put it is that there is no real separation between needle-er and needle-e.  Its all one Community.  The old way of separating patients and providers is not only isolating but positively harmful to our bodies and souls.

I quoted Aristotle's phrase, “Man is a political animal” before in an old forum post somewhere but I'm remembering it now because I'm seeing it more deeply than I did then.  (PIcture me slapping my forehead while saying, “Duh!”.) Its just that the conventional way of practicing Acupuncture is isolating, creating a me-and-you dynamic which is not reflective of reality and therefore damaging to us.  Unfortunately the old way is how every Acu-school in this country teaches.  There are a few individual teachers who know better, but in general the emphasis on technique, particularly the takes-a-long-time to do an intake an/or do a treatment is isolating because it sets us Acupunks up on a pedestal when in reality there is no pedestal.  So it makes (more) sense to me now that changing that type of thinking is the hard part of starting up a CA practice and that each of us (again including me) has a slightly different part that is effected by the isolating urge (i.e. the ego).

Oi. I hope this isn't totally incoherent.  Eventually I'll be able to articulate this better.  That you everyone for patiently letting me slowly understand more.  Especially everyone in New York.

Skip Van Meter
Author: Skip Van Meter

Skip is Lead Acupuncturist and Co-Founder of <a href="" target="_blank">Working Class Acupuncture</a> in Portland, Oregon. With the earlier part of his life spent acquiring knowledge about geology, urban planning and teaching high school, he has now been an acupuncturist for 19 years, using about a 1,750,000 needles poking his patients. He likes all things soccer, has three fabulous sons, the best wife in the world, and a great dog and two cool cats.

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  1. we need each other

    I had a new patient today say she loved the group treatment setting

    “because really, we need eachother” she said


    I evaporated momentarily 


    Thanks Skip 

  2. …and furthermore…

    Skip wrote: “that our (Acupunk) #1 job is to make the space available for healing to take place.”

    I heard these words repeating over again in my mind during clinic all day today. How true it is. And really, what a relief.

    This point reminds me of a blog post Korben wrote back a few weeks, when writing about the process of simplifying treatments, and keeping the listening/talking aspect of a patient encounter to a reasonable length. (‘Update from the firehouse, 6 months in’) Moreover, he seems to acknowledge that what we do as CA-punks, in terms of creating a safe space for work to be done within and among one’s community (clinic and city) while offering a thoughtful treatment is our entire duty.

    I couldn’t agree more – and Skip’s post brought this into brighter light for me today.


    Andy @

  3. A New Experience


    I’m getting my feet wet lately in community acupuncture.  I did a short opening and at one point had 5 people in the process of treatment.  When everyone left and I was cleaning up the space, I had this electric sort of feeling.  It surprised me.  I’ve always loved the kind of bonding experience of being treated with other people at the PCA community, but being in that environment as an acupuncturist was kind of different, and reading your blog and peoples’ responses made me realize that by giving the treatments i felt more like an observer.. just taking it in.  It’s interesting, but when I’m treated, I leave feeling very aware of a stillness and groundedness and awareness of myself.  When I was cleaning after everyone left, I felt this conglomeration of all of them, not an awareness of myself.  It was infinitely better than the way I have felt even after a seemingly powerful treatment one on one with someone I have spent more time with giving a lot of my personal attention and energy!  Totally awesome!  Jen