Healing.  It takes a village.

If you’ve worked with me before, then I’m sure you’ve heard me say the words, "healing takes a village".  It’s a light-hearted phrase I use to remind folks of the simultaneous strengths and limitations of acupuncture.  Personally, I believe that acupuncture is a powerful medicine--a belief that has been reaffirmed daily in my work with many of you!  It has been effective for such a variety of conditions, such as stress, infertility, allergies, digestive disorders, autoimmune disease, organ dysfunction, anxiety, and the common cold.  But, like any other medicine, it would be a folly to assume that acupuncture is all-encompassing.

Despite acupuncture’s wide-ranging benefits, certain conditions and injuries may require a little extra help from another modality.  Researchers have found, for example, that yoga and acupuncture can effectively treat back pain. In other cases, for those experiencing depression or anxiety, a combination of acupuncture, talk therapy, yoga, and/or emotional freedom technique might offer greater benefits. 

Sometimes, however, it’s necessary to consult a physician.  Eastern and Western medicine are so often placed at odds with each other, but they can create a beautiful synergy when used together.  I often encourage patients to return to their medical doctor for further review when it’s appropriate to do so.  This has, in some cases, led to a significant diagnosis and medicine that has helped the patient avoid major illness.  

In one case, I was working with a patient who complained of GERD.  Acupuncture successfully treats GERD using needles and herbs most of the time.  However, after working with this patient for over a month, their condition remained unchanged.  They took my advice and a local GI doctor diagnosed them with advanced esophageal damage after performing an endoscopy.  With that knowledge, the patient agreed to take the prescribed medication and returned for biweekly acupuncture. In a few months their esophageal damage had fully healed.

As we continue our work together let’s discuss what options may best suit you.  If you need a referral please ask us the next time you come in.  We have a great list of practitioners from a variety of modalities.  In the end, as your health care provider, it is our goal to ensure that you're receiving the best set of options to heal.

How Did you Hear About Us?

This post is dedicated to the remarkable life and legacy of community member, S.B..

On our intake forms, we ask new patients how they were referred to us simply to see where people are finding out about Long Beach Community Acupuncture (LBCA). It’s always fun to read a familiar name that answers the question. Sometimes people simply write “a friend” and often the name of some social media platform. Recently, a new person had written in the name of one of our patients who died earlier this year. When I read her name in the referral, it made me smile because that patient had a wonderful smile, an infectious laugh, and a life perspective that was unique and uplifting.

It made me glad that I had had the opportunity to treat her during a terminal illness and while I cannot pretend to have known her very well, I know I will never forget her. She brought light to many and when I remembered the network of referrals, a gallery of faces hung in my thoughts. At least three other LBCA patients had all been touched by her life.

When community acupuncturists get together, we often talk about how heart-opening our work is. This is not just an emotional response; it’s visceral, in the solar plexus. I felt that feeling when I first heard about community acupuncture in my last semester of school. I read an article in CJOM (California Journal of Oriental Medicine) by a woman who had opened her community clinic in San Francisco. From the description of her practice, I knew deep down that I just HAD to practice this way--it was a feeling beyond words.

Every business wants word-of-mouth advertising--it’s free and it’s the best. When patients come in, I remember how they got here and remember the ones who have sent in others over and over again. It is a map of connection among friends, family, and community.

I know referrals happen in private practice for people too, but there is really something unique and special about the way community clinics work that facilitate relationships. Often couples come in to nap together and certainly friends do too. Just the other day, a patient came in only to find her boss and boss’s husband sleeping in the chairs next to the one she picked! It was a happy realization.

It is easy to feel isolated in our culture and that’s one of the best things about the community treatment room. You don’t have to nap next to your spouse, lover, co-worker, or friend. It is salutary to know that you are not alone in this world. And it is a beautiful way of remembering others, if they’ve passed on or moved away.

Over and over again, I am filled up by working in this clinic; it keeps my heart wide open to human beings, how complicated we all our, how deep our needs and wounds.

Community Acupuncture, Distal Treatment, & Trauma-Informed Care (TIC)

Trauma Informed Care (TIC) recognizes that traumatic experiences terrify, overwhelm, and violate the individual. Trauma Informed Care is a commitment not to repeat these experiences and, in whatever way possible, to restore a sense of safety, power, and self-worth.”                Trauma-Informed Oregon

As I followed the trial and sentencing of Larry Nassar, the doctor who molested young female athletes for decades, I was reminded of how often private medical settings can be places for traumatic events. Whether allopathic or holistic, small private offices can be triggering for people who have experienced sexual assault during what was supposed to be a routine visit. Even if the trauma wasn’t physical, it may have been verbal or emotional, as when a practitioner berates a patient for being overweight or not being able to stop smoking.

What does this have to do with community acupuncture, you might ask? Well, POCA clinics have been discussing ways to address trauma in our communities and all of us are working to provide trauma-informed care. In this blog, I’d like to focus on two aspects of community clinics that help us learn to support people with trauma histories: the group setting and distal needling.

The main defining factor, other than cost, of community acupuncture from current private models is the group treatment room. Not only does it enable us to keep our fees as low as possible but it can allow patients to feel safe because they are not alone with a practitioner in a small private room. Depending on the traumatic experience, a group setting might not work, but often in a community space, patients experience a sense of safety; they can easily see others, and if a patient is new and nervous about how needling might feel, watching people get treated, seeing them relax--even sleep--can be calming.

Best of all, patients do not have to disrobe. This is good for practitioners and patients alike. Even in holistic offices, disrobing and lying on a table while the practitioner remains dressed, standing over the patient, can be re-traumatizing. Most often at LBCA, we ask that patients expose forearms and lower legs, so that we can treat their issues “distally”--meaning away from the site of pain or organ system. This approach initiates one of the main questions we get. When we treat back pain, for example, someone always asks: How you can treat my back, if you aren’t going to put needles right where it hurts?

As a practice, acupuncture acknowledges that body parts and organ systems are interconnected and that the pathways of the acupuncture channels (or meridians) are inter-related. Some of our best points for back pain are on the hands and feet! As a POCA volunteer writes, “While there is an emerging body of research on the efficacy of acupuncture in general, there is no research or data that compares the efficacy of different styles or systems of acupuncture. Anecdotal reports suggest that all systems and styles seem to work equally well.”

Distal needling offers us many advantages. In general, it is safer than “local” needling, especially around the chest and shoulders; there is little possibility of puncturing organs, like the lungs. And in terms of trauma as a “wound”--whether it’s physical or emotional--I prefer not to stick a needle right into a wound. After providing over 15,000 treatments myself, I know that distal treatment works more often than not and I learn more and more every day. Sometimes I treat locally, depending on the problem and how it has responded, but my favorite treatment styles are those of Master Tung and of Richard Tan--distal treatments that can address almost any issue from musculoskeletal problems to organ dysfunction.

Distal treatment allows us to be transparent with what we are doing: patients can watch, if they want, when we insert and remove needles. As a mutual experience, we encourage them to let us know if there is discomfort or pain and honor requests to remove or adjust needles if they are uncomfortable

Any practice is a learning process and as we work to implement TIC into all of our systems, from the front desk to the treatment room, LBCA consciously adheres to the principles of TIC: safety, trustworthiness and transparency, peer support, collaboration and mutuality, empowerment.

Whenever anyone seeks help from a doctor, acupuncturist, chiropractor, massage therapist, reiki master, or psychic, they are admitting that they need help, which is not always easy for people to do. It is a vulnerable position to inhabit and people, generally, do not feel empowered. Our goal is to empower patients and establish trust. Treating in a quiet, common space, and using effective distal treatment are two of the ways we try.

This is the first in a series of installments on TIC and community acupuncture. Stay tuned!

The Radical Act of Community Healing

As I reflect on this year working with you, I’m not sure I expected to see a space for healing as an integral part of community.  But that’s what Long Beach Community Acupuncture has become for me.  This space on its own is a combination of chairs and concrete.  But everyday, we come to this building and we talk about our pain, joy, sadness, fears, and the desire for balance or release.  These rich conversations breathe life into this old building.  And for these reasons we all have a stake in this community. 

This was most apparent to me in the first month I spent with many of you.  You welcomed me so warmly over and over again.  And you all said the same thing “welcome to our community.”  And it floored me.  Looking at this moment through the lens of my previous career as an urban planner, I know that creating community is not an easy thing to do.  So it has been profoundly important to me to honor and respect that sense of community and commitment you all feel in connection to your health and this space. 

Community acupuncture is so wonderful and it has provided me the environment to extend the values I cultivated in my previous career into this work.  As acu-punks we are committed to providing affordable and accessible care that cuts across race, gender, ethnicity, language, and sexuality.  In this way, we come together to uphold the values of unity, equity, and justice—a radical act. This is what brought me to your community and to this type of practice.

On any given day, I am treating people of all walks of life, from women of color, to immigrants, to men, and limited English speakers, as well as people of differing ability, income, and class.  It is beautiful to see you all lying there in your chairs side by side unified in your healing.  And that is such a significant way for communities to heal.  

Personally it has been such a joy and honor sharing space with all of you over this past year.  I am so happy to be your community acu-punk.  Cheers to the clinic and cheers to another year working together!

Shining a Light

When my husband and I set out for our vacation, we weren't trying to see the eclipse. We were just seeking some solitude in the peaceful National Forests of Nevada before we made our way to Salt Lake City for POCAfest, a gathering of community acupuncture clinic owners and workers.

Being out in a remote area, we thought we might see something even though we were way out of the path of totality and far from crowds. The morning of the eclipse, no one else was in our campground that was shaded by well-nourished cottonwood trees. We made an old-fashioned view-finder to check and see if we could determine any progress of the moon shading the sun.

We walked in the dappled light of trees, noticing how the cottonwood leaves reflected and refracted sunlight. Glowing crescents patterned the dirt, George took pictures, and we carried our view-finder, checking periodically but it showed nothing.

We continued our road trip, checking the sun throughout the day, then decided we had simply missed the eclipse. But once we got to POCAfest, four days later, we were talking to an acupunk who works at WCA in Portland. He happened to be in clinic that day and stepped outside to see it; he explained how the eclipse had also created an interesting pattern through tree leaves: shining semi-circles rimmed leaves and created beautiful shadow and light patterns on the ground. Turns out we HAD seen the eclipse, we just didn't recognize it!

It was a happy revelation and as I think of it now, a great metaphor for how POCA has been for me: shining a light on the obvious and not so obvious, and helping me recognize certain truths.

When I first discovered the community acupuncture model, my heart opened wide; it was a visceral feeling in my chest and I knew I had to practice that way in Long Beach. I didn't need to travel to another country to help underserved people, as there were plenty of people that needed help and access to affordable healthcare right where I live.

POCA helped me see and know that acupuncture doesn't need to be expensive to be effective. It helped me understand better how acupuncture works and how necessary frequent treatments can be to solve and manage difficult health problems. POCA taught me how to develop and grow LBCA and it continues to be a beacon for me, reminding me of my own privilege to practice this medicine.

Members of POCA, like Dr. Tyler Phan and Lisa Rohleder, remind me of the hidden histories of this medicine--the elders and activists who have been elided by the formal history of the profession: Miriam Lee, Mutulu Shakur, Ing "Doc" Hay, and Master Tung Ting Chang.

POCA is a constant source of education and enlightenment, advocating and practicing trauma-informed care and creating the idea of Liberation Acupuncture that draws from the practice of Liberation Theology. All of these ideas can be explored on POCA's website from the thoughtful radicals who have developed them.

It's a good tune-up for me to attend POCAfest when I can. This group of fearless practitioners is actively working to improve acupuncture education and the profession at large and it all begins within one's community. The co-operative ethos of POCA acknowledges mutualism: we need our patients as much as they need us. Together we can begin to address the real issues of pain and suffering that occur in our communities every day.