Two Articles by Steven Stumpf, and a Question

So, picking up where we left off, one of the problematic things about acupuncture is that it is not, technically, a profession.  It’s not listed in the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Directory. That’s something that the NCCAOM’s Job Task Analysis is supposed to address; inconveniently for us, however, the BLS likes its workforce data transparent. And consistent. Straight up, you might say; not shaken, not stirred, not spun.

This is a point that Steven Stumpf makes in one of the two articles he wrote about the state of acupuncture in the US, articles which just became available online a couple of weeks ago. Incidentally, if I were Steven, or either of his co-authors, I would be VERY CRANKY about the recent bizarre eruption in AT of suppressed NCCAOM data, since their article about the acupuncture workforce referenced the original NCCAOM JTA report from which those newly oozing numbers were conspicuously absent. Nobody in the establishment better complain anytime soon about the lack of research or scholarly articles about acupuncture; look how we treat the people who are trying to give us some research, and who would want to put up with that kind of aggravation?

But anyway. I want to talk a little about the articles themselves, in light of the BLS issue. You can read the abstracts of the articles or the full text in pdf form here.

One of the things I find interesting about the articles is that they address an issue that we here at CAN keep bringing up — that acupuncture has not found a place in mainstream American society. Despite the fact that acupuncture offers so much that so many people, so many ordinary people, need — pain relief, stress reduction, treatment of hundreds of different conditions without side effects — it remains unknown and underutilized. And, as the wretched, oozing numbers keep reminding us, most acupuncturists are spectacularly underemployed. At this point, all of the Internet probably knows my take on the root causes of our collective inability to find a meaningful place in society — we don’t really care about society, we care mostly about ourselves and our status — so I won’t go on and on about it, again. But it’s really interesting to watch somebody else tackle the same question.

Many acupuncturists are very interested in what acupuncture does within the body, its mechanisms and functions. Sometimes this gets expressed in Western terms — acupuncture and the muscles, acupuncture and sports injuries; sometimes it gets expressed in Chinese terms — acupuncture and qi, acupuncture and the jingluo. All that is indeed interesting, but it also drives me crazy because it seems like acupuncture floating in a vacuum. CAN is an enormous, ongoing relief for me because it’s a place where acupuncturists look at the relationships that arise AROUND acupuncture, at how people relate to each other within the context of acupuncture, and how acupuncturists relate to an intensely stratified society.

That’s what the BLS listing, or the lack thereof, is really about. If we were as interested collectively in what happens AROUND acupuncture — in the relationships and the power dynamics and the communities where acupuncture happens or doesn’t happen and why — as we are in what happens WITHIN acupuncture — within an individual body receiving acupuncture — we wouldn’t be so lost. We wouldn’t need to shake and stir and muddle our data. So here’s my question, and it’s a big question — what do you think about acupuncture’s place in society? Those of you who have been doing community acupuncture for a while, how has your place in society changed? (I know mine has changed, and I’ll think about how, and write it in a comment also.) Those of you who are students, what are you being taught about your place in society as an acupuncturist? Feel free to bring Steven Stumpf’s two articles into your answers as well. OK, discuss!

Author: lisafer

Related Articles

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.


  1. a place in society

    since doing community acupuncture i actually feel that i have a place and a purpose in society and in my community, whereas before community acupuncture i felt lost, small. i was worried every day about me and pissed off about how people did not value what i can do and did not want to pay me for it. i would say i was walking around expecting society to come to me and invite me to their fancy party. i had this lonely “ego pedestal” and i wasn’t even aware that there might be something wrong with my attitude. now i am just part of it, doing something useful everyday. it is simple and fulfilling. acupuncture is just my tool for relationships within my community. it is wonderfully rich and non-verbal and i get to share it with those around me without any worry at all. acupuncture’s role in society is to be something people can use to take care of themselves and my job is to be the facilitator of that relationship / interaction, to help people take better care of themselves. i never thought of myself that way before community acupuncture, i never felt like i have a vocation, like all pieces fit together with my life, my work and what i believe in.


  2. like

    Tatyana states my feelings well too.

    Thinking back to my boutique practice daze, it has also been a shift from “How much can I get from that amorphous group called patients? (never really conceived of them as community before). How much can I squeeze out of the filthy, dysfunctional third party payer system? knowing full well that it excludes tens if not hundreds of millions of people from receiving affordable health care, but drifting blithely in a fog of rationalizations from my highly esteemed professional peers…


    How much can I give to the community? – recognizing that names and titles and professional esteem is not what matters but the lowly humility of giving to the community, is what nutures me, my family, everyone in the neighborhood, and the entire world, by being in alignment with Tao…virtue, kindness, wisdom, altruism.

  3. double amen

    Thanks, Tatyana, that was awesome.

    I have been thinking a lot lately about stability. Before WCA, it never really occurred to me that acupuncture was a stabilizing force, and maybe by extension, I might be too. Well, OK, I probably did notice acupuncture’s stabilizing effects within the context of NADA treatment and the drug and alcohol program I worked in, but I don’t think I gave it quite enough credit. The other day I was having a conversation with our landlord at Cully — we’re getting ready to sign our second 5 year lease — and he mentioned that he considers us “an anchor tenant” for his big, crazy, sprawling building, and I thought, huh, WCA as an anchor. All those people who think of WCA as a Molotov cocktail (me included sometimes), and one of the people who’s closest to it thinks of it as an anchor. Then I remembered that in the last year, 5 WCA staff people bought houses, 2 of them for the first time. Then in clinic the other night I had two different patients say something to the effect of, you all have really kept me going/helped me hold it together; I don’t know where I would be without this. What if acupuncture’s role in society is to stabilize? And part of that stabilizing is to connect people by building the kind of relationships Tatyana is describing? I think of all the patients we have who have kept the same standing appointments for years at a time. Like everybody else, WCA gets plenty of tourists, plenty of one-and-dones, but we also have people who organize their lives around their acupuncture appointments — for YEARS. I realize that if WCA ever disappeared there would be a huge fucking crater in a bunch of people’s lives besides mine, Skip’s, and Lupine’s. We never intended for it to be that way, that’s just what happened, which suggests to me that it has something to do with acupuncture itself.

  4. My clinic is just a little

    My clinic is just a little baby compared to WCA, but I moved last year so now I live a 1/2 hour from my clinic, I often think I want to open a clinic closer to my new house, especially when I’m stuck in traffic, but I realize that moving would create a hole for a lot of my patients, it’s not something I can take lightly.  

    I know I will move eventually, but when that time comes I will make sure there is another CA punk set up to take over and provide affordable acupuncture in that area.  Much of my family lives near my clinic so I know and have strong feelings for the people who live there.  Most are struggling right now and need affordable acupuncture.