At 18 I decided to become an acupuncturist. I was a freshman in college
and started getting treatment for depression and pain. I guess it was more grief than depression. A housemate of
mine died of a drug over dose and a few months later another one died
in a alcohol related car accident. This brought back all the despair of
my freshman year in high school when a close friend hung himself in his
parents garage. Life has never been easy for me. When 9/11 happened I
wasnt surprised. I knew the world was a shitty place and everything
was falling apart. I drank, did drugs and got in trouble. I was
suicidal then but had made a promise to myself never to put my friends
and family through that. So I dragged myself along.
Thats when I started getting acupuncture. It changed my life. The
world didnt seem so dark. I didnt feel so worthless. It eased my
pain. I decided that I wanted to learn acupuncture and maybe I could
help some others. I started looking into some programs and learned that
I needed a masters degree to practice. This was a big deal because my
mom was the first one on either side of my family to get a bachelors
degree. She went back to school in her late 30’s and became a nurse.
My parents were determined that me and my sisters would go to
college even though they could not help us pay for it. They encouraged
me to get a nursing degree before going to acupuncture school. This was
a practical thing. I could make money as a nurse and always find a
job. It would also get me in the door with patient care. I worked my
whole way through school. Paying my own bills and taking loans out for
school. I worked a night shift as an aid and went to school during the
day. My pay check was about 200$ every two weeks. I thought I was
doing pretty good.
I made it through nursing school and got a job paying $21/hr. I was
rich! I was also exhausted from school and decided to put off acu
school. I worked for a year and that was long enough for me to decide I
really needed to get back on track with acupuncture.
For the past 3 years I had been reading anything I could find
related to Chinese medicine. The Web that Has No Weaver, the Nei Jing,
and so on. One book I read was On the Footsteps of the Yellow Emperor.
It detailed a possible history of Worsley style 5 element acupuncture. It also talked about how TCM is mostly herbal theory applied
to acupuncture, that it was a synthesis of different aspects of Chinese
medicine the communists found palatable. I had no interest in herbs. I
resolved to learn the “real acupuncture”. I visited some 5 element
schools and settled on one of them.
5E promised to treat the spirit and to get to the very root of a
person. It also promised ancient Taoist knowledge. It was very
mystical, mysterious and powerful. I was also told that I would make
three figures if I applied myself and did a lot of self work. This was
good because I was seriously freaking out about the amount of debt I had
to take on.
3 years later here I am with a thriving acupuncture practice.
There is a disconnect though.
barely use any of the information I got from school. I use a different
practice model and treatment method.
It is my opinion that the content that I learned in three years of
acu school could have been learned in a year. The most important thing I
learned was point location, pulse taking, and needling. Those are
probably not even that important though. 5E point location is often
different than the TCM standard. 5E pulses and needling techniques are very simple (a good thing IMO). There was also the taboo against treating symptoms. This meant
that I graduated with little knowledge of treating even basic aches and
pains, colds etc.
I realized that while 5E promised it was the “true acupuncture”
and could be quite effective it actually had alot more to do with
patient interaction, talking, and coaching. It could also degenerate
into pseudo-psychology. I started to think that the CF was not real and
joked that treating one element over and over again actually just
reinforces personality flaws.
A good thing about my schools clinic is they ran like a true BA practice and
not a discount student BA practice. I had to get my own patients and I
owed the school 70$ for a “TD” aka 90 minutes of talking and palpating
with no needles. And 55$ for follow up treatments. Thanks to this
model I quickly understood that people who would come see me for
acupuncture could not afford this and certainly could not afford the 80$
I was supposed to charge once I graduated. So I started
“supplementing” their treatments with some of my own money so I could
get out of school quicker and start making money. I was paying the
school 1k+ a month in clinic fees (reduced patient fee plus my
I took a CAN workshop over a weekend and it was a breath of fresh
air! These people thought and acted like me! I didnt have to be some
guru/ life coach/ pseudo-psychologist! I could do ACUPUNCTURE! and I
could treat my “class” of people! After graduation I took a Balance
Method workshop and found out that acupuncture actually works very well
for symptoms! Acupuncture could be simple, logical, safe, and
I had a BA practice for a couple of months when I was getting ready
to move. It was so sad. One day a week with a day job. I think I
could have made it work. With enough time and determination I am pretty
sure I can do anything (thanks dad). What I could not do though was
see people as often as I wanted or see the patient population that I
wanted to serve. It was too strange casting myself as the masterful
practitioner that was “worth” 80$ cash once a week.
Because I was super broke from school (120K in loans!!!!!!!) and
because I was tired of being away from my friends and family. I moved
back home and started a CAP. My life is simple. I live with my
parents, have a minimal social life, no day job, and I do acupuncture 6
days a week and 28 treatment hours (I want to work just as hard as a busy RN but as a acupuncturist). Been open almost 2 weeks and my little clinic has been very busy. I put all of my time
and energy into it. This past week alone I did 73 treatments! (only did 130
in the student clinic! + 120 or so that I sat in on and some from a
NADA clinic) I have treated over 160 patients! (only treated 10 while
It is hard for me to be angry about this for my own sake. I am really
happy with my life even though it could have been a lot easier. What
makes me angry is that it is happening to a lot of other acu-noobs right
Now that I am a practicing acupuncturist I see no reason why this
took so long and cost so much money to get where I am. We are talking 8
years and 120K!!!!!! Thats the time from when I decided to be an acupuncturist to graduation. WHY?! WTF?! I easily could have learned to do
this in a year! It is not that hard! I am the first one in my family
to ever get a graduate degree! I had to work hard and get into a lot of
debt to earn it. The only good it did me was to teach me some basics and allow me to practice
(and socialize me with the upper middle class). Well I think that’s bull
I am done with trying to “move up”. I dont care about making a
killing at acupuncture. All I want for myself is a decent wage and a
good life style (stability not upward mobility). I want to live in my
community and help my friends and neighbors. I will never be able to
pay off my debt (prob couldnt with a BA practice either). Hopefully I can make my minimum payments for 25 years via IRB and get the rest forgiven. Hopefully my old car will last for
another 100k miles. And hopefully one day I can buy a little house and
have a family.
Its time to put an end to the Acu-School-Dream-Lifestyle. ASDL is
total BS for the vast majority of us. We need to stop selling that to the
acu-noobs! The Real-World-Acu-Lifestyle is pretty awesome if you get
rid of the massive debt. We need an educational product that is honest
and reflects the realities of acupuncture “on the ground”. Its time to open the door to
training new punks in a shorter program for less money. Take away the
other modalities, the coaching, and the theory-I don’t care. Let them
have practical acupuncture! Acupuncture is the peoples medicine! It is
cheap and safe (unless it is hijacked by some assholes trying to “move
up” the social ladder). Well I say lets cheapen the medicine! Maybe
then we can afford it!
Ad Astra Acupuncture