Dismantling the Ego Wall

When I first graduated from school thirteen years ago, I remember joking to a friend about my ego-wall where I hung my diplomas, my state license, and my NCCAOM certification. I had no idea how to run a business and was extremely insecure around issues of money or discussing treatment plans. So I had a hobby practice out of my apartment that saw three patients a week (on good weeks). The ego wall was all pretense, a desperate shouting out of “hey, I’m barely making it here and scared shitless of facing the economic realities of running a business, but look at my credentials.”

And those diplomas look mighty fine – all the squiggly John Hancock signatures, gold embossed seals, expensive matte, polished glass, and banker’s black frames. The schools who print these impressive looking certificates are not dumb. By throwing their grappling hooks into the ego of the practitioner, they get pulled along for the ride. The practitioner is conditioned to think – it can’t be the fault of the school that my practice is failing, it must be because acupuncturists don’t have enough recognition by the medical establishment…and so we get fed the FPD, or HR646…bandaid solutions to a broken system.

On some level, we’ve all played these games. They may even be in our genes. The Buddhists would simply cut to the chase and say “samsara” – beginningless ignorance. Regardless of what social class an acupuncture graduate comes from, we are trained to imitate and appeal to the the codes of power of the wealthy, upper class – ways of dress, speech, professional appearance – hence, the ego wall which is fairly standard in most white coated medical practices. We aren’t trained in cultural competency outside of this narrow niche market, as Skip writes

Fast forward to 2007. After a successful private acupuncture practice (as defined by the wealthy niche mentality), I realized that my definition of success was helping as many people as possible, so I transitioned from private practice into community practice. I even scaled down my ego wall, but wasn’t quite ready to let go of it.

Fast forward to 2010. In another month, CommuniChi will have been in business 3 years. After an amicable partnership dissolution, a few bumps in learning to be an employer, and weathering the whims of a difficult economy, my confidence in this model continues to grow. So much so that when my brother offered me a new painting, I quickly realized right where I wanted to put it. It was time to dismantle the last vestiges of the ego wall. Down came the remaining bricks paying homage to officialdom. 

My brother was diagnosed with schizophrenia three decades ago. His brush strokes are bold, unpretentious, and his paintings are full of wild colors. His art pays homage to no one – except God – but welcomes all.  That is who he is, and sans his particular religious beliefs, who I aspire to be. It is a fitting tribute to the extraordinarily ordinary unpretentious lives of the 90% of Americans that a community acupuncture clinic aspires to serve. Thank you brother; letting go of the ego wall is a most auspicious beginning to the new Year!

artwork, dismantling the ego

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="https://www.acuwithoutborders.org/" 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="https://www.communichi.org/" 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. how beautiful

    Both your blog and your brother’s painting.Thank you so much for sharing.

    “You know how people always say there’s a reasonable explanation for things like this? Well, there isn’t.” Daniel Pinkwater, The Neddiad

  2. ego wall

    How funny is that!

    My ego actually prevented me from displaying my AOM degree. However, as per regulations, I did have my licenses viewable.

    To be frightfully honest, and perhaps to, in some ways “save the trade” it might be in the trade’s best interest in the long run to bar schools of TCM from participating in Title IV. Out of pocket might be the best way to go.

    While I freely admit it may be a very unpopular position, but given the climate and the fact that a self-sufficient (or perhaps a not so self-sufficient) career is directly tied to private practice, entering the trade debt free makes the most responsible sense and may serve to create more transparency in the institutions. This will effectively cause a vast majority of institutions to close (I’m thinking the “for-profit” nationally accredited institutions primarily), and will have a negative effect on the amount of practitioners entering the trade, however, in the long run, practice longevity and viability may be more commonplace and there would be no further risk of practitioners going into student loan default. If a licensed practitioner goes into default status, wages are garnished (really hard to garnish a self- employed practitioner), disability payments are garnished, social security is garnished, and all professional licenses are revoked.

    Taking Title IV off the table effectively rids the field of this risk.

  3. Well said – I echo your sentiments…

    Not too long ago when I was still in school for my MSAOM, I heard someone say that in our acupuncture profession, the only real winners who are still working and earning steady annual incomes year after year are the AOM school administrators.  This FPD is definitely their BABY to grow.  FPD is entirely stfling and choking to those who believe in practicing our craft persistently so we can be better each day, b/c this medicine is unlike any other we’re familiar in the Western Society, easy to learn and hard to practice.  With a Master’s degree it’s plenty materials for us to practice instead of loading more academics.        

  4. thanks everyone…

    Mayme, you are an inspiration with your humble and disciplined attitude! And thanks everyone else for your kind comments.

    I was thinking about my post in light of all the other discussions on other forums and in all fairness, I confess to enjoying my 3 years at (the now defunct) NIAOM. Perhaps it is partly because it was run by good hearted people that it’s karma was to die before the current era of acupuncture schooling dawned.

    But also in fairness, now that I know what I know – which isn’t much, but perhaps enough – it’s not difficult to imagine an even shorter program being sufficient to serve the citizens of American – all of them – utilizing this powerful tool called acupuncture.

    I know that assertion may make many people cring – traditionalists who love knowledge for its own sake. But what use is knowledge unless it has a practical application?

    His Holiness the Dalai Lama (an easterner with a bit of credibility in philosophical circles), often remarks that westerners put too much emphasis on development of the intellect, and not on the heart. As a culture, we lack the development of compassion, and it certainly shows in our foreign policy which is still pretty much along the eyes of “eye for an eye”…..which of course makes the whole world blind…not much intelligence there….but I digress.

    We can talk all we want about highfalutin standards and maintaining training programs which are true to tradition, but what value is that if it only serves to make acupuncture more exotic, commodified, and remote to the commoner? Who gets served in this scenario? First and foremost, a precious few “industry leaders” who are overly fond of the sound of verbiage flowing copiously from their lips.


  5. It is not common

    It seems to me it is quite difficult to run acupuncture business not because of bad preparation or unsufficient knowledge but because of tradition. Though acupuncture has a very long history in the west it is not common at all. If you are in this business you should take care abiut marketing. Find some books to read . I’m sure your business will benefit from the knowledge you’ll get from there.