Reflections on the Map, On Thanksgiving 2010


My how we’ve grown!

The above picture is of Working Class Acupuncture’s map of Community Acupuncture (CA) clinics in the US and Canada. What is arranged on the outside are business cards from almost all of the CA clinics. WCA’s patients can take and send the cards to people they know and love that live in cities across the two countries so they can experience effective Acupuncture, so they can experience relief.

This map actually predates CAN; it’s one of the reasons why CAN exists.  Back in the day (pre-2007) our patients would tell us how great our clinic was and ask if we knew of any similar clinics in (insert name a city in the US or Canada here) where they could send their mom or friend who couldn’t afford Boutique prices as they had serious chronic conditions that needed frequent visits. We (Lisa Rohleder, Moses Cooper, and myself at the time) would say no, we didn’t know of any other clinic like ours. After a couple years of saying no and being sad about it, we started to get mad. We wondered why Acupuncturists routinely charged prices that were way too high for most people to come often enough to get well. We wondered why it seemed that the profession didn’t seem to care that 99%+ of the population of the US wasn’t getting treated via Acupuncture.  I mean it’s not like the Yellow Emperor or Qi Po in the Nei Jing said that Acupuncturists needed to only treat the upper middle and ruling classes in this country. Or that the Sun Simao says that an Acupuncturists’ self worth is tied to how high they set their prices. (that self-worth rationalization for setting a high price for treatment has got to be the dumbest idea in the acu-world. Hmm… Maybe we should make a top 10 list of Really Stupid Things Taught At Acupuncture Schools. Oh that could be fun. But I digress.)

So WCA started reaching out to other Acupuncturists and lo! we found a bunch of them who had similar ideas as our own! Imagine that! The second Community Acupuncture clinic was founded by Mary Saunders in Boulder in what eventually became Boulder Community Acupuncture.  We were off and running.


(Each push pin in the map is a Community Acupuncture (CA) clinic.)

But we needed to get organized. WCA was starting to get all sorts of Acupuncturists visiting us for a couple of days, wanting to see what we were doing and while we loved talking with them it was tiring us out. So we offered our first workshop on how to make a CA clinic in October 2006 and from that workshop CAN was formed. 


As with all Movements, CAN started small and each year it grows that much more. Like Justine says in her blog post just below mine, in 2007 I made a post in the forums* here listing all the CA clinics that had been founded. You could name them all back then, all 20 of them. We were happy and proud. 

* The forums on CAN are available only to people who paid a membership fee. In the forums are all sorts of threads on how to start and run a Community Acupuncture clinic.  The blogs on the front page are fun, but the forums are where it’s at.


 Today there are 166 CA clinics in the US listed on our Locate A Clinic (LOC) page here. There are 7 in Canada. 2 in Israel. In the UK there’s a sister organization, the Association of Community and Multibed Acupuncture Clinics (ACMAC)-49 more CA clinics. I am told there are a couple in Australia…


The picture above includes Community Acupuncture of St. Louis, which I think is the third oldest CA clinic. Saying, “I think” in that sentence is important because we don’t know how many CA clinics are out there. In addition to some clinics listed on our LOC page who I haven’t been able to get business cards from (and so our patients can’t get business cards for their friends and relations hint hint) there are an unknown number of CA clinics out there who either a) are members of CAN but haven’t thought to list their clinic on the LOC page, or b) have a CA clinic but aren’t part of CAN at all. How many of these CA clinics are there? My guestimate is from 20-80. It’s really hard to find of them as a bunch aren’t on the web either. I’ve found clinics via word of mouth, via rumor. To me it’s now a detective game: try to find a CA clinic in Arkansas say (there is at least one, but I don’t have cards yet). Bottom line for me is that my estimates of the number of CA clinics tends to run low. 


So a plea to all CA clinics: if you don’t see your clinic in these pictures please email me (Skip) so we can arrange to get your cards! I do not assemble this map of CA clinics as a lark: everyday a handful of cards are taken by WCA patients and every week I have to write to clinics that are on the map asking for more cards because all the ones they sent me are gone. Real patients will darken your door and pay you cash on the barrelhead if you send your business cards to me!


And it’s not only an odd project by yours truly that’s making a map. A bunch of other CA clinics are doing this too, also for the benefit for their patients. I think WCA averages one new patient a week that found us from other clinics giving out our business card. Yes, we have gotten patients referred to us from CA clinics in England and Israel. This is the heart of CAN: a real Network of clinics working together dedicated to improving the lives of as many people as we can reach. In our opinions the worst thing an Acupuncture clinic can do is remain isolated and competitive with its neighbors. Yeah, that’s the insane norm in the Boutique world, but it’s not in ours.


Here’s something that we have found about Community Acupuncture: the more CA clinics there are in a given city, the more likely those clinics will be successful. Yes, this is contrary to the line that is taught in Acupuncture schools, that many cities are saturated with Acupuncturists. The reason why we have found that that saturation idea is hooey is because we don’t charge prices that only the rich and upper middle class can afford so we have a vastly larger market than Boutiquers. For instance there are between 400-800 Acupuncturists in the Portland Oregon metro area.  Saturated? Hell no. There’s no way it’s saturated if WCA can come along in 2002 and now sees 600-700 patients a week in two clinics. The market is only saturated if an Acupuncturist is bent on following the bad business advice that so many schools spew. Remember: those who don’t know, teach.


Not listed on the map are what we call Hybrid clinics: part Community, part Boutique. In different ways, Hybrids provide both CA treatments and Boutique treatments, private room treatments at Boutique prices. Some Hybrids are doing well, some aren’t.  What we (WCA) says in our workshops is that Hybrids tend to eventually become either one or the other, either a plain Community clinic or a full-time Boutique clinic as it is hard to explain to your patients why they should do one or the other. It can be done, but from my awareness of a bunch of these clinics, it’s very hard to maintain. How many Hybrid clinics are there? Really hard to tell since, as I just said, they tend to not last too long before becoming CA or BA or going out of business. I’ll wildly guess that there are 75-100 Hybrids in the US and Canada right now. 

So why do Acupuncturists try to be a Hybrid? A few reasons: They were taught in their school to be a Boutique so while they like the CA model they feel they need to also do what they were taught. Also some Acupuncturists like the idea of CA but don’t really want to do it so they offer it as a loss leader-maybe one day a week. Note: I’ve never seen this work long-term.  Also Hybrids form because the Acupuncturist in school read a copy of Lisa’s book, Acupuncture is like Noodles, got inspired and opened a clinic without talking to any local CA Acupuncturists or attending a workshop. Note: it is not a very good idea to try to open a CA clinic without attending a workshop as they are so different that what you were taught in school that invariably I see these people do some things that hurt the chances that their clinic will be successful. That’s true if they open a Hybrid or straight CA clinic, BTW. In other words don’t do this at home! You want to be successful? Talk to successful practitioners. That’s advice for you regardless of if you are planning on a Community or Boutique practice. 


I am deadly serious about getting advice from successful practitioners.  Or attending a workshop from successful practitioners. Again, only 1% of the US will get an Acupuncture treatment in 2010; only 3% of the population have ever gotten a treatment. There’s a huge untapped market out there. It’s like the Acupuncture profession is trying NOT to see patients, what with how good this medicine is and how few people we collectively treat. I could go on a serious rant here about how in many ways the so-called leadership of our profession doesn’t care to reach out for more patients (with specific examples to back up my claim) but that’s not the point of this blog post. The point is 1) to notice how fast Community Acupuncture is growing, and 2) that Community Acupuncture clinics work together to find new patients because, 3) it’s all about treating as many patients as we can. That’s what being a healer is about.


It won’t be long before the number of CA clinics will be way more than I can fit on my wall with their Business cards. I’d say more than half of the clinics I have here are less than two years old so obviously the numbers of CA clinics are increasing at a faster rate as more Acupuncturists become aware of CA. Obviously we are doing something right. Eventually we hope to re-brand Acupuncture so that it is known for low-cost effective treatment of what ails you. I figure that will take less time than what many old-timers in the profession can imagine. Fine with me. 


Happy Thanksgiving!  

And yes, the following is on the front of WCA’s building, five feet tall. Looks good, doesn’t it?


Dig Deep! 

Skip Van Meter
Author: Skip Van Meter

Skip is Lead Acupuncturist and Co-Founder of <a href="" target="_blank">Working Class Acupuncture</a> in Portland, Oregon. With the earlier part of his life spent acquiring knowledge about geology, urban planning and teaching high school, he has now been an acupuncturist for 19 years, using about a 1,750,000 needles poking his patients. He likes all things soccer, has three fabulous sons, the best wife in the world, and a great dog and two cool cats.

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    This is Macey, on Rachel’s account… Yeah, sure, this blog is great…  BUT!  I am always saddened to look at the CAN map and see so many mostly-empty states where I know people who neeeeeeed acupuncture.  When Ad Astra in Lawrence opened, I immediately texted my family in Kansas to make an appointment, but they’re still more than an hour away from the clinic.  This blog should challenge the people who are lurking these forums THINKING about MAYBE opening a CA clinic to go damn do the thing! KS, MO, OK, etc.  All these states aren’t full of ignorant country kids; they’re the truly working class that really need your clinics.  (Testify, St. Louis) Don’t let the scarcity of knowledge about acupuncture scare you off.  If anyone will show up at your clinic wary of the newness but willing to try it anyways, it’s the folks who live hand to mouth in the oft-neglected middle states of the Union, where the word-of-mouth referrals that WCA loves so much are the only endorsement and advertising you’ll ever need.

  2. You are right, people in the

    You are right, people in the midwest know about acupuncture.  I checked the phone book once years ago for my aunt.  It’s mostly offered by chiropractors, which is great for people who have health insurance.  But there are plenty of people (like us) who don;t have health insurance.  

  3. Edited by JF.

    Hi Ben.  A member of CAN’s Board of Directors will be in touch with you shortly about your post.  Thank you for your patience. –Jessica Feltz

  4. response privately

    Hello Ben,

    I am writing to you as blogger coordinator and after consultation with the CAN Board. We are happy to respond to your comments by email but it is our understanding that according to ethics codes, we are not able to have this discussion about your particular case here in the pages of a public bog. 

    Thank you for your understanding and we will be in touch this weekend.


    Good health is not a measure of adapting to a sick society.

    When the power of love outshines the love of power, the world will know peace.

  5. Skip,

    that picture’s worth a helluvalot more than 1,000 words and I am deeply honored and gratified by our clinic’s place on the map. Many, many thanks to everyone making community acupuncture a reality. 


  6. Fantastic Idea

    Been lurking a while, but wanted to say the Map (and movement) is fantastic!

    Was this your idea Skip?

    I don’t see many pins in MI or OH, sad ‘ol Midwest.

  7. thanks for the shout out!

    Its true!  We NEED more CAPs in the area!  Most of my patients know about acupuncture as an idea but very few have ever had it before– they could not afford it or they had to wait over a month to get a treatment. 

     Ad Astra is growing wild!