More reflections on Dr. Michael Smith’s lecture

Lisa’s recent post of the Michael Smith videos reminded me of a few things he said that have made a difference in my thinking since that talk. Overall, it’s the notion that acupuncture isn’t some specialized, elevated pursuit, but just another useful part of life, that really resonates with me.

“Acupuncture is part of a continuum of people touching each other therapeutically.”

I recently took a call to Acupuncture for the People from a woman inquiring about acupressure for her young son. He was experiencing episodes of bedwetting and loss of bladder control related to P.T.S.D. (she said he had litterally “had the piss scared out of him” by some traumatic event). She knew he wouldn’t tolerate needles, but wanted to do something for him beyond what his MD was able to provide. I explained our clinic setup and regretfully told her that we just didn’t have enough time to provide the amount of hands-on stimulation that acupressure would require.

As an acupunk, I’ve always sort of looked down on acupressure. I know the difference between what needles feel like, and what pressing a point feels like. Acupressure always struck me as the sort of thing you’d do to get needle-phobic Americans to let you talk about qi with them (which is also generally a waste of time in itself), but not anything worth doing when you really wanted to help someone.

And now this phone call. Acupuncture wasn’t an option. Since I couldn’t help her, she asked if I could refer her to someone who could. That’s when Dr. Smith’s voice popped into my head. If acupuncture is just part of people touching each other, it certainly wouldn’t take a professional to help her son. I suggested that she would be the ideal person to do acupressure with him; after all, what could be more healing to a scared child than his mother’s loving touch? All she would really need to know is where to press, and I speculated that our local public library probably has a book or two on the subject. I guess there’s still a big barrier around professionalization, because this hadn’t occurred to her either. Well, there’s another mental barrier broken for each of us.

“We didn’t know what we were doing, but acupuncture knew what it was doing.”

I recently got into a discussion of sorts with some of my old classmates via email. It started with me bragging about the 1648 treatments I’d given in my first year ‘punkting at AFTP. (Lesson one: BA acupuncturists are very touchy around issues of success.) One of my classmates asked if I’d share any treatment protocols (alluding that I must know something special to have been so busy). Well, we all know that the main reason any of us acupunks are busy is that we make our practices accessible to folks. My reply that it hardly matters what points you use sparked some, uh, heated discussion. The gist was that of course it matters what points you select! You have to spend lots of time talking to each patient and come up with the perfect prescription or you might actually hurt somebody! Not to mention that if you’re just using standard protocols, you’re devaluing the medicine and possibly stunting the spiritual evolution of humanity. Or something. Y’all know how it is with acupuncturists. Precious snowflakes, everyone. There was also mention of band-aids.

On the other hand: Miriam Lee; Acupuncture 1,2,3; the NADA protocol; sometimes back pain is just back pain; over 70% of the population has the same Jing Gei pulse ratio; so many living organisms experiencing stress as a side effect of attempting to conform to a mechanized culture. Why on earth wouldn’t you be able to make people feel better with standardized protocols?

Besides which, how else can you make sense of all the different acupuncture theories? Sham acupuncture works. So does Japanese channel theory. So do Tung’s points. So does TCM. So does Five Elements. I recall someone on CAN pointing out the work of some fellow who suggests that there’s no such thing as an acupuncture point or channel! Yet, it all seems to work.

As far as I can tell, there is some kind of grace built into life. Everyone inherently knows what they need, if they can get still enough to listen to themselves. Our bodies have an inherent intelligence that moves us towards whatever it is that we need, when we can get out of our own way enough to let movement happen. Acupuncture somehow taps into that. While it does seem to matter how you do it (i.e. “give a fuck”), what you do doesn’t seem to make as much difference. Which is good news for anyone starting out in community acupuncture. If you can create a structure that allows people to get acupuncture, the medicine itself knows what it’s doing.

Author: Whitsitt

I stick pins in folks (and keep the dream of the '90s alive) at Working Class Acupuncture in Portland, OR. Other than that, I like growing food at home, taking crayons out of my daughter's mouth, mixing records for disco dancers, and making music with an old computer.

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  1. Great story!

    I could so relate to what you said about acupressure vs. acupuncture, and I commend you for the way you communicated on the phone to the inquiring patient.  Also I think you nailed it when you described discussions with old classmates.  People always seem to think they have to have the PERFECT treatment… not so.  Frequency always trumps perfection.  I doubt there even is such a thing as perfection.
    And I especially loved this line:

    “Everyone inherently knows what they need, if they can get still enough
    to listen to themselves.”


  2. “it matters what points you

    select! You have to spend lots of time talking to each patient and come up with the perfect prescription or you might actually hurt somebody!”

     I address this issue quite often in the clinic. I tell people it’s actually very difficult to “hurt somebody” with acupuncture if one is sincerely trying to help them. Acup. is self-balancing. One would have to go out of one’s way to hurt someone with needles.

    As you ended, “the medicine itself knows what it’s doing.”