All the Things That Didn’t Happen (and Some of the Things That Did)

As I was editing Cris and Skip's video about deprogramming, I got to thinking about a conversation we had here a couple of years ago. A POCA comrade who now runs a very successful clinic said on the forums that the most essential thing the CA movement gave him was permission: permission to do acupuncture the way he always wanted to do it anyway — simply, inexpensively, unpretentiously, efficiently.  And a bunch of other folks chimed in and said, yes, that's true for me too, this is exactly what I wanted, but my acupuncture school and/or other acupuncturists had convinced me that I couldn't/shouldn't/better not, because BAD THINGS WOULD HAPPEN IF I DID.

This didn't just happen individually, it happened collectively. Before POCA, CAN would regularly get scolded for our recklessness. I thought it might be instructive to make a list of all the bad things that didn't happen that we were warned about, things that we might have reasonably expect to have happened, now that 750,000+ treatments per year are going on, and you know, the odds increase. I'll just speak from WCA's  11+ years of experience, and our 200,000+ plus treatments.

1) We were told that we couldn't just treat back pain if people said they had back pain, because despite back pain being one of the most common complaints around, it MIGHT actually be bone cancer. And if it WAS bone cancer ,and we failed to detect it by requesting all their past X-rays and medical records, they would sue us. We've now treated tens of thousands of people for back pain, and nobody has sued us.

2) We were told that if we didn't spend an hour talking to every patient, asking them the 10 questions and giving them a TCM differential diagnosis, we would regularly miss terrible underlying illnesses and/or “drive their energetic imbalances deeper” and, you guessed it, the patients would all sue us. See above: nobody has sued us. Also, nobody seems to have suffered from a missing differential diagnosis.

3) We were told that if we didn't wear white coats and hang our diplomas on the walls and speak only in medical terminology, no Western medical professionals would ever respect us or give us referrals. We wear t-shirts to work, our diplomas are nowhere to be seen, we talk like normal human beings and yet we are up to our ears in referrals from MDs and NPs and PAs we have never even met. Some of those Western medical professionals refer a LOT of their patients to us, so they must think we're OK.

4) We were told that people would be appalled and disgusted by our shabby recliners and our militant logo and nobody would want to get acupuncture from us. We're pretty consistently providing between 850 — 900 treatments per week, so apparently not everybody's disgusted.

5) We were told that the long arm of the law would get us, and we'd be paying thousands of dollars in HIPAA violations. We haven't had a single complaint, but more importantly, unless HIPAA changes their definition of what a “covered transaction” is, we're not even covered entities under the law. Upon closer inspection, that particular arm isn't nearly as long as they claimed it was.

Those are all things that didn't happen. What did happen was that a lot of people of ordinary incomes got acupuncture. Most of them felt better; most of them were very grateful, appreciative, and enthusiastic; also, a bunch of punks were able to make a living doing acupuncture.

This makes me wonder about will happen as we continue to deprogram ourselves and, inevitably, large swaths of the public. It's hard to escape the conclusion that the people who tried to scare us away from doing community acupuncture really had no idea at all about how acupuncture works — never mind that they were acupuncturists. What happens when it becomes clear to a lot of people that the most valuable effects of acupuncture are general, rather than specific, and so do not require time-consuming diagnostic methods, either Western or Asian? What happens when it becomes clear that simple meridian therapies and point protocols are perfectly adequate for what ails hundreds of thousands of people?

We were told that the keys to success are reverent study of the masters (pick your master; the list keeps changing, I can't keep up) and/or careful cultivation of our professional image, the more MD-like the better. One thing that happened was that we found out that a lot of us who don't do those things are much busier and more successful than a lot of acupuncturists who do. Another thing that happened was that we learned that the real keys to success are prosaic virtues and practices like hard work, good systems and good communication. (Shameless plug for this month's POCA Tv programming! If you watch this first video in the series on situational punking, you'll see what I mean by good systems and good communication. Now why didn't we learn these things in school?) Maybe one of the best things that happened was that we learned that when you make acupuncture affordable to as many people as possible, you attract delightful, devoted, generous, savvy and talented patients; a kind of success that nobody ever told us we could have. Probably because they didn't know that kind of success existed. But now we know. We know a lot of things that we can't un-know. What's going to happen when lots of other people know them too?

Author: lisafer

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Conference Keynote: Breaking the Ceiling

The theme for this conference is “Breaking Barriers”. You know, there are so many barriers to break in acupuncture that it was really hard to choose which ones to talk about for this speech. But since I’ve spent so much time talking about classism as a barrier, I thought it might be fun to shift gears a little and talk about numbers.


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  1. “It’s hard to escape the conclusion that the people who tried to scare us away from doing community acupuncture really had no idea at all about how acupuncture works — never mind that they were acupuncturists. What happens when it becomes clear to a lot of people that the most valuable effects of acupuncture are general, rather than specific, and so do not require time-consuming diagnostic methods, either Western or Asian? What happens when it becomes clear that simple meridian therapies and point protocols are perfectly adequate for what ails hundreds of thousands of people?”

    Huge kudos to the formidable Ms. Rohleder. With the above, she has managed, as is one of her great talents, to brain an entire herd of sacred cows in one swell foop. A whole lot of us owe a whole lot to her and Skip and the other pioneers that slapped us out of the dazes we’d been programmed into and helped us get our feet back in contact with the ground. We’re a scruffy, occasionally bellicose lot, but to anyone who objects, I have one thing to say. 750,000!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  2. Didn’t happen:
    “No one is going to want to be treated in a room with other people!”

  3. Aww, thanks Brent. And thanks Kevin and Nora — and what DID happen in both those cases is that our patients have given generously to the movement as a whole, because they think it’s great being treated in a room with other people. Hmmm.

  4. Didn’t happen:
    “You won’t be able to make a living!”

    Didn’t happen:
    “You’ll never have enough energy to treat 100+ patients a week!”

    Didn’t happen:
    “People won’t value acupuncture if they’re only paying $15!”

  5. Didn’t Happen:
    “As soon as someone finds one needle on the floor you’ll lose your license! Go to jail! Get sued!”

    Did happen:
    “In five years at least half of you won’t be practicing.”

  6. We had the 5E version of the above…

    Didn’t happen:
    “If you don’t do the clearing treatments first, no other treatments will work. (Well ok they might SEEM to work at first but they won’t KEEP working).”

    Didn’t happen:
    “If you don’t clear AE, you will drive it inwards and your patients will die.”

    Didn’t happen:
    “If you only treat the symptom, the *real* reason they are sick will just get worse. How do you know that someone’s knee pain isn’t keeping them from exerting themselves and having a heart attack?!”

    Didn’t happen:
    “People won’t get better if you don’t “coach” them to [give up caffeine/change their ‘lifestyle’/quit their job/divorce their spouse] because acupuncture doesn’t really do anything.”

    Most of these were just said in the due course of acu skool, how terrifying.

  7. Didn’t happen-

    Patients will cough up $75/tx (once a week) if they really valued their health…. instead of that bullshit we often see people multiple times a week, they get better, love coming so much that they tell everyone they know.

    Really a whole lot more people who DO actually value their health (and paying rent, and having food in the house, and paying bills, etc.) Are in fact GETTING acupuncture.

    Didn’t happen:

    You won’t be able to treat “knotty” problems.

    Really? Knotty? like complex? Like the 80+ year old guy whose wife of 60 years had to be removed from their home b/c of her Alzheimers? And when he fell in the garden recently and couldn’t move he rolled himself down to the house and put himself to bed. He keeps coming back for more Community Acupuncture, so something must be helping.

  8. Didn’t happen:

    Patients won’t come in if you don’t take insurance.

    (Really? How’s that working for the rest of y’all?)

  9. ” you are going to cheapen the profession.”

    We have enriched the profession, actually, our patients have enriched it. I work at a BDC, and MANY of our patients are POCA members. They travel, get treated at other POCA clinics and come back and tell us about how they now have a second “home clinic.”

  10. Something happened tonight that I had never experienced.

    A patient from a while back returned this week due to immense neck and shoulder pain. She told me that she was in a lot of pain, but Charlotte who was running the front desk reported to me later that said patient had thought about ending her life two nights ago. Fortunately she remembered us and got her husband to drive her down here and Mary treated her. She was able to sleep last night and will be back before the end of the weekend.

    So, yeah, I didn’t see that one coming and I am feeling pretty grateful.

  11. Didn’t Happen
    I would have to do crazy impossible work to set up a lonely individual practice and be dragged down by the red tape.

    Did Happen
    All the COOL POCA PEOPLE who have supported us. Getting off the ground doesn’t feel so heavy. (high 5’s all around!)

    Did Happen
    A business partner who compliments me and we are conquering the world together!

  12. DIDN’T happen: If patients don’t get immediate relief for their primary complaint they won’t come back and will tell people acu doesn’t work.
    DID happen: They got so comfortable and excited about the clinic that they kept coming because acu helped them in so many unexpected ways like the patient today who said “is it possible I just have more energy already? my sleep is getting on a normal pattern and I can get up and out and be part of the world again. I can’t believe how much this is helping.” the trigeminal pain has remained mostly the same…

  13. DIDN’T happen: Patients will only respect you if you have a fancy, “professional” office space, preferably in a medical center. They will be turned off by your strip mall or industrial space.

    DID happen: lots of people who never tried acupuncture and don’t like going to DRs or describe those places as “uptight” love the homey setting, kick off their work boots or come straight from the farm and have been regulars for years.

    DIDN’T happen: you will never be able to build rapport in only 5 minute chunks.
    DID happen: thousands of heartbreakingly loving stories later, safe to say this is just plain wrong. see above for regulars for years. 🙂