Liberation Acupuncture Q & A

Wait, what?!?

Please read this press release.


Please read “Why Liberation Acupuncture?”  Keyword: social.

No, really, why? Wasn’t community acupuncture enough?

Good question.  Most people found the community acupuncture model after Skip and I wrote the first Little Red Book back in 2005 and I wrote the Acupuncture Today articles and The Remedy in 2006. What we were trying to write then is what is on the site now; we just didn’t know enough at the time, or have enough people to help.

Community acupuncture was always a response to social factors: namely, the realization that the structures of conventional acupuncture (both economic and social) meant that huge numbers of people were excluded from it. For a lot of us, those people included our families (both born-to and chosen), our friends, our communities, and if we were really honest, ourselves. (I wish I had a dollar for every acupuncturist who confessed to me that they couldn’t afford their own prices; that would be a POCA Tech fundraiser all by itself.) The community acupuncture model allowed us to create relationships with people; it acted like a bridge where the conventional model acted like a barrier. It led to a lot of unlikely people becoming successful clinic owners and — to quote Melissa building something well-crafted and lasting and, not just btw, heart-shatteringly, soul-restoringly rebel fucking beautiful.

The community acupuncture model is an economic model designed to function inside capitalism — because that’s the only option we’ve got right now if we want to exist. However, it has become very clear over the years that the word “community” means different things to different people, and also, capitalism is a socially corrosive environment. I don’t mean to be snarky, but I think there’s a need for some concrete (egregious) examples of the term “community acupuncture” being  used in ways that have nothing whatsoever to do with the social concerns that sparked it. I am totally not making these up:

DELUXE “Community” Acupuncture

Community Acupuncture: a Boutique Acupuncture Spa (also a lifestyle center and popular retreat destination!)

Conventional Acupuncture Clinics Calling Themselves “Community Acupuncture” (sometimes for No Apparent Reason)

OK, that was depressing, so we might as well deal with another depressing topic: the ongoing accusations from other acupuncturists that we are “dumbing down” the profession. I used to laugh that one off because it’s genuinely funny, especially when you know the people in POCA. However, it’s one thing to laugh it off while you’re minding your own business (literally) and running a busy clinic; it’s another thing altogether when you’re running a school.

We looked at what ACAOM requires POCA Tech to teach and we really thought about our responsibility to our students. How do we teach “community acupuncture” when we know those words don’t necessarily mean anything, out in the world? What exactly are we teaching? We had to dig deep (h/t, Ellen) and as we dug, we came to the uncomfortable conclusion that when people accuse us of dumbing down the profession, what they’re really accusing us of is refusing to treat the Nei Jing like a sacred text, a fountain of endless infallible wisdom for everyone, in every era, regardless of their social context. And this conflict is not one that we can sidestep. If we’re in the role of educators, we have a responsibility to meet it head on.

“Because the Nei Jing says so” is just not a good enough answer. Fortunately, struggling with this problem led us to critical pedagogy and Paolo Freire and right back to the issue of social context and social engagement. In some ways everything on the Liberation Acupuncture website feels like stating the obvious; but there is a real need for us to state it at this point, in this way, to translate what we already know and do into academic and theoretical language. Conveniently for us, that’s how Liberation Theology works too — it starts with what ordinary people know and do, and the academic language catches up with it later — and so we don’t have to reinvent this particular wheel of connecting praxis to theory.

What’s the purpose of having a separate website for Liberation Acupuncture?

To have an interdisciplinary dialogue with various academic folks who are already studying us (sociologists, anthropologists, public health researchers) as well as with other liberation studies people, in order to further develop the ideas. Check out this fun example. Like Liberation Theology, Liberation Acupuncture should be dynamic and evolving. This conversation is somewhat different from what POCA does as a cooperative.

Yeah, what does this Liberation Acupuncture thing mean for POCA?

POCA is about making things that its members need, especially things that nobody else is going to make for us (Occupy, Resist, PRODUCE).  To quote the Lib Acu website, “We have found that the theories of the schools of thought that we were trained in often do not reflect how acupuncture works in the lives of real people, especially people who do not have socioeconomic privilege.” For some people in POCA, that does not present a day to day problem in running their clinics. Acupuncture is adaptable and they adapt it as needed; individual acupuncturists work around this issue of theory not matching reality in a variety of individual ways. However, the whole point of what we’re trying to do here is look beyond individuals.

There are so many different ways to do acupuncture, and yet a whole bunch of us had to struggle to get over the idea that if we did it “wrong” we could “drive the imbalance deeper” and give our patients cancer by putting a needle in the wrong point. There are quite a few ideas in acupuncture theory that are manifestly absurd when you try to apply them to real life in the present day, but a lot of us wasted a lot of time trying to apply them anyway.  We think that POCA has some responsibility, when it identifies an area where multiple members are running into the same dead ends over and over, to come up with a collective answer. Collectively we needed acupuncture theory that functions like a bridge, not a barrier. So we produced it.

And at least some of us needed a better response to the accusations of dumbing down/devaluing/degrading/ choose the d word of your choice the profession. And that answer is: we’re not trying to do what you do and failing at it, we’re doing something else. So before you tell us we’re doing it wrong, please do us the courtesy of looking at the theories behind what we’re doing. We’re not doing TCM or CCM or even Meridian Therapy according to the rules of any other school of thought. Which is entirely appropriate, given that we occupy a completely different school of thought.

When other acupuncturists say what we do isn’t good enough, our answer now should be, PROVE IT. Please, show us the research; we love research, we’re surrounded by  researchers and we think they’re awesome. If you like evidence based medicine, please show us the research that compares the clinical outcomes of TCM, CCM,  or any type of biomedical acupuncture with Liberation Acupuncture (or, for that matter, with each other). And if anyone wants to have the conversation about how different schools of thought in acupuncture derive their authority, we will gladly have that conversation too.  Liberation Acupuncture came from the same place that Liberation Theology and Liberation Psychology did: social engagement. Our origin story is considerably less unusual than, say, the Worsley School’s.

So Liberation Acupuncture should make POCA’s life as a co-op easier. If you don’t think it will make your life in your own clinic easier, then don’t worry about it. If the acupuncture theory you’ve got is working for you and your patients, that’s great, we’re not asking you to change anything. The only caveat is — please do check out the section on trauma-informed acupuncture; trauma-informed care is bigger than acupuncture and we think it has some valuable insights for POCA clinics, and plus it’s a great explanation for a lot of things you were already doing anyway.

For me personally, Liberation Acupuncture is a tremendous relief. It's an amazing feeling to find language that you've needed for more than a decade — and to find it with the help of your friends. I'm profoundly grateful to my co-op.

Author: lisafer

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  1. I knew the tide had turned and that we were helping to redefine the standard of acupuncture in (at least) the U.S. when POCA Tech was founded. Liberation Acupuncture brings forth a sound reasoning for our pragmatic style and allows us to go off the defensive stance we were forced into in the early days of CA.

    After reading all the available (new) literature, I’m just awed by the smart people I hang out with in POCA. I wish my mind worked that way, but since it doesn’t I’m glad you guys are here, doing this work.

  2. 100%.

    I’m sure I’m not saying anything a lot of other people haven’t already thought of, but jeez, I almost wouldn’t have minded the student-loans so much if “Liberation Acupuncture” was what I was being taught.

    Go POCA, go POCATech, go Liberation Acupuncture!!!