Last month I went to Vikki Reynolds’
home office and sat in a supportive circle with a small group of
service providers in east Van. These are people who work within a
social justice framework and are dead serious about keeping their
hearts open, about keeping hope and spirit alive in the face of grief
and suffering. I was the only acupuncturist there, but my experience
was rich with shared understandings around accessibility (not
just about stairs and doorways and fees, although those things are
important) harm reduction, care for oneself, and the political nature
of Professional Distance.
Ever since the inception of a regulatory body for acupuncture and Chinese Medicine in British
Columbia we’ve received friendly-but-stern reminders about
Professional Boundaries, about what kinds of interactions are
Appropriate and Safe and which are not. Sometimes they mail out
booklets with stories containing teachable moments, printed on glossy
paper. None of them have ever seemed very relevant to my life or my
I had a hell of a time learning boundaries in school. I didn’t have the energetic boundaries to
protect myself from taking on my patients’ headaches, gut problems,
physical pains – I got quite physically ill. I also found myself
treating about a dozen members of the local queer community for
mental health issues, and due to a homophobic culture at school, and
my own inability to articulate a request for help, (clinical
supervision would’ve been nice!) I was woefully unsupported.
I notice a fascinating blend of boundaries in the community acupuncture setting. It does involve a
specific client-practitioner relationship, with clearly-defined
roles, and we state and restate boundaries with clients as necessary.
But we practitioners also access the same service – all three
‘punks at Poke snore, bliss out, and bawl as necessary in the
recliners, alongside our patients. This is trust-building, community
building, and no, I don’t think it blurs any boundaries. Boundaries
exist to protect and strengthen relationships. And relationships are
complex, it’s the nature of the beast. It does get pretty interesting
– especially as someone belonging to several small &
overlapping communities, say, an anarcha-queer community
acupuncturist involved in the cocounseling community with a
regularly-indulged performance poetry habit.
Yep, one of my acupuncture clients is dating someone I do peer counseling with. Everytime I go to a demo in Vancouver I see someone I treated for PTSD and/or injuries after
police brutality at the g20 protests in Toronto. One of my
acupuncture clients was in the audience at the poetry slam one night
I did a heavy poem about sexual assault. And I treat a lot of queers
I see in social spaces.
But when I’ve got support around me, when I have uncensored debriefing space to unburden, I don’t have a problem with engaging with these complexities. For me, the word
“community” in “community acupuncture” does not just refer to
treating 6 patients an hour in the same room.
I navigate that cocounseling relationship by not talking about my acupuncture clients. That night
at the slam, my acupuncture client paid me a grave compliment on my
poem and showed up for his treatment the following week without
further comment. My involvement in street-level activism, makes me a
more trustworthy practitioner for folks traumatized by state
violence. My queerness make me a more trustworthy practitioner for
other queers. This isn’t messiness, this is solidarity. This is about
doing our work within the communities we live in. This is healing.
Vikki commented “The distance between the professional and the client is not a measure of professionalism. It’s a measure of privilege.” One of the ways class functions has
to do with privacy. Folks living in poverty have their privacy
violated by the state on a constant basis. Those providing services
to poor people have much more control over how they are seen. Service
providers have the opportunity to create distance through the
presentation of objectivity.
I think that one of the wounds we carry as middle-class people is around being fearful to be fully seen, to be fully known. We must keep it buttoned-down, keep it “together”,
keep up with the Joneses. I hold a deep knowing of what this feels like.
But you know what? My middle-class programming, my fear-of-falling, my wanting-desperately-to-look-like-I’ve-got-it-all-sorted-out, those clamouring voices, they get quieter and quieter, the more I do this work.
I imagine that British Columbia’s acupuncture regulatory bodies would have sharp critiques of the
varied relationships winding through and around Poke Community
Acupuncture, of our Lax Professional Boundaries. I say, Let ’em.
They’re probably subsidizing their one-person-an-hour practices with
bureaucratic work anyways; they need something to do, right? 😉