We’re more than acupuncturists.

As CA practitioners, we place emphasis on the acupuncture, and we cannot, do not, will not offer the extras found in standard acu practices, simply because there isn’t time for these things within our business model.  But we’re health providers first and foremost, so I suspect that for most of us, our caring and compassion manage to shine through our brief consultations with our patients.

 Last year someone called to make an appointment. When she arrived, she said that she had no money, and lived in low-income housing.  I looked at her fashionably cut and colored hair and rolled my eyes.  I could smell that she was trying to get me to give her free or discounted treatments.  She didn’t get them, but she signed on as a patient.  She has a horrendous list of complaints, and the list never seems to change much, especially since she only comes in once or twice a month.

Our relationship started out bumpy. I’ve had to learn from this person the boundaries that come easily to Lisa R.  I had to determine that I would have to draw a firm line with her or I’d have to ask her to go elsewhere (which doesn’t exist in this town).  I’ve learned to cut our phone conversations short.  I’ve learned to not give in to her demands. As much as I love fussing over my patients, I don’t like fussbudgets.  CA practitioners do not snoop into the wallets of our patients.  But one day this patient came in ranting over her condition, and blurted out in her frustration that she had spent almost $1000 that month on other practitioners and their supplements.  I asked her why she had done that when she had told me she couldn’t afford to come in but once or twice a month for acupuncture.  Briefly embarrassed to be caught, she continued to complain.

Yesterday she called to cancel an appointment today.  I asked her if she felt that acupuncture was actually helping her, because I said it might be a waste of her money.  She said she didn’t know, she felt so bad, so many things were wrong with her, she was driving in to the city the next day to a doctor, she’s so worried about her condition, and on and on.  I finally realized that this unhappy person was not coming to me for acupuncture. 

She’s lonely; she has no friends.  She’s so focused on her discomfort and the negatives in her life, no one is attracted to her.  She spends most of her life looking for solace in the offices of various heathcare providers.  She’s coming to me not because she wants the acupuncture.  I suspect that she’s not looking for wellness.  She’s found a place where she can have an hour of serenity and non-judgment.  She always feels better when she leaves, but I think she comes for the neutrality of this clinic and the group qi that makes her feel somehow that she’s better than she thinks she is.

So I figured that I can accept that as my role, too, and contribute to someone’s healing in this way.

Author: lumiel

I earned a B.A. in Hotel/Restaurant Admin, but soon realized that I wanted to do something more meaningful.  Became interested in nutrition and education when pregnant with my first child. Interest in health led me to becoming a foot reflexologist, which led to a massage practice and suddenly discovering the love of my life: Chinese medicine! Practicing for 18 years, Hawaiian/Californian, acu-educated PCOM San Diego/OCOM Portland. Started my CAP in <a href="https://www.communityacu.com/" target="_blank">San Rafael</a>, Marin County, July 4, 2006, even while earning my doctorate at OCOM.  This didn't seem to make sense, but it was my way of comparing the old way of practicing acupuncture to a simpler, truer expression of what I had learned in school.  I love it. And I love being a part of this grand movement to change the world by being true to our conscience. Reopened all over again when I moved to a place where no one had ever heard of me. 3 months open so far, and just beginning to meet expenses. I have no doubt this will succeed and I will be hiring by next year.

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  1. Poverty of connection

    I am reminded when I read Lumiel’ post of what Mother Theresa said when she came to the United States :that the real poverty was that of epidemic loneliness for so many people, that so many people could not thrive without the physical and mental touch that can lessen as age, illness and dislocation enter our lives with more rapidity as we get older.

     I sometimes think when I see the faces of the people who make their way to my community clinic that what a clinic like this provides is often just one of those pinpricks of light in often lonely overwhelmed lives.

     Our patients can get our undivided attention for those few minutes and then the chance to be’ touched ” by our hands in palpation and then by the needles  and then that most profound gift , a break or a nap or the promise of an improved night’ sleep. 


  2. This is something important

    This is something important that we can give people as long as we watch our boundaries and don’t let these patients drain us.  If I feel I have a patient like this, I set my limits right away, and some will be okay with that and return as regular patients.  Others need more and probably go see a boutique acupunk.  this is another reason I have no desire to practice boutique style.  I connect deeply and quickly with my patients, I touch them, laugh with them, and generally treat them as friends, but I won’t be an emotional slave to someone for money.

  3. Too true

    Recently week I had an experience that relates to Lumiel’s post.

    I’ve known “Patty” for over 5 years. She was forced to retire early as a well-loved teacher in town here with a Dx of breast CA, about 6 years ago. She came to a private room clinic I worked at in a previous life for treatment after her masectomy and subsequent rounds of chemo, and then experimental meds – that she remains on today. And though these meds have saved her life – she was ‘at stage 4 cancer’ – they left her with an immense amount of anxiety, constipation and RLS. Coupled with the chronic post-op pain, Patty’s days are very difficult. And worst of all from her perspective, is her inability to spend time with people. Her pain and anxiety leave her wanting desparately, but unable with any consistency to be able to visit or socialize. This has been a source of great loss for her.

    It took her a while – over a year in fact – but she made her way into our CAP a couple of months ago. The acupuncture she always enjoys and does well with, with respect to managing her symptoms. But it was this (passive) connection with other people, in the treatment room, that has her most excited.  And appreciative.

    That makes two of us.

  4. Lumiel,
     Thanks for sharing


     Thanks for sharing your insight. This is indeed one of the beauties of working as an Community Acupunk. What an incredible parade of human beings that we get to bear witness to.

    Everyone we meet, we see our very own humanity mirrored back to us, both the beautiful parts, and the darkness. And then to be able to embrace all that skillfully (including cutting phone conversations short with people who try to take more of our time than we have to offer).

    In my old life as a traditional acupunk seeing patients in separate rooms, I was much more judgmental. I had to be to survive. When you only see one or two people an hour, you need to keep the revenue flowing or else the rent doesn’t get paid.

    In this business model – many people paying a modest amount – as you put it – I can think first and foremost, “how can I contribute to this person’s healing”, and let the money part be a secondary concern. If someone just wants to take me and our clinic for a joy ride to taste the Chi without reciprocating…I won’t put up with that, except every other month when we host a “first free Friday” open house…and a lot of those folks do come back. 

    Well actually, on rare occasions, I might even consciously let someone “take advantage of me”…if I thought I still might be able to benefit them. The love and skill we put out into the world all comes back to us multiplied many times over in the end.


    All true religions seek to gain access to that level of consciousness which is not ego-bound.</

  5. Mother Teresa was right, wasn’t she?

    America’s greatest sickness is loneliness.  This is one of the reasons for CAN’s success, I believe.  The juxtaposition of a workable business model that pulls us together into a real community is an honest-to-God miracle.