Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Talking about acupuncture

The work of Portland's Working Class Acupuncture (WCA) and the community acupuncture movement that they have spawned raises many important issues and questions about acupuncture.

Five years ago, when I was fresh out of acupuncture school, the issue I saw WCA addressing was that of how to have an acupuncture practice that thrived - very important stuff when you're sitting on 100K in student loans and entering into a profession where largely there are no "jobs" per se. Apparently most acupuncturists make very little money, and many are out of practice within a few years.

Working Class Acupuncture's solution (a new model of doing the business of acupuncture) was and is brilliant. The fundamental premise: charge less/see more people.

By charging less, many more people can first of all actually afford to get acupuncture where before they perhaps could not. But even more importantly, charging less allows people to use acupuncture more realistically and in ways that get better results - i.e., a short course of  frequent treatments for acute scenarios, or long term treatment over the course of potentially months in the case of chronic problems. It also, of course, makes just dropping in when you feel the need more doable.

By seeing more people, from the perspective of the acupuncturist, you get your hands on more bodies and you gain experience rapidly, which makes you a more confident and skilled practitioner. Also, seeing more people means more people spreading the word about your work - which makes growing and sustaining your business happen more easily.

And lastly, there is the paradigm shift that happens when you make using acupuncture realistically something more widely affordable. Namely, acupuncture in this context becomes less about the technical or healing prowess of your acupuncturist, and more simply and directly about the act of getting acupuncture. This is huge.

Chinese medicine is still very alien to many, including many of those who practice the medicine. The culture of the medicine is steeped in antiquity and it's history abounds with lore about miraculous cures. Out of this arises notions about acupuncture and Chinese medicine and how it works that verge on magical thinking, and often the expectation that acupuncture will work in short order where Western medicine has failed. Sometimes it does, and hence the lore of miraculous recoveries. Mostly it takes a lot of doing.

So this brings us to a couple of other topics: How acupuncture works, and what an acupuncturist does...
Next time.