by Nora Madden

This article was originally published as a blog on the Community Acupuncture Network’s (CAN) forum on June 8, 2009. Reprinted with permission by the author in the  Summer 2021 Guidepoints Issue. Sign-up to receive Guidepoints in your inbox quarterly. The Guidepoints newsletter is the only publication devoted to the sharing and dissemination of our NADA work on an international scale. Become a member to opt-in for a print copy. Check-out past issues.

“Instead of failing to become the basis for yet another upper middle class profession … acupuncture could succeed wildly as a humble, ubiquitous, miraculous modality that nobody owns and everybody uses.”
– Lisa Rohleder, Acupuncture Is Like Noodles

Cris Monteiro gives an acupuncture treatment at Providence Community Acupuncture. Photo courtesy of PCA.

I just spent two days at the NADA Conference in Ann Arbor (following five days of Acu-Detox Specialist training in Detroit), and I was planning on writing a nice little linear report about my experience. Maybe I still will; maybe I’ll post it on the Forum somewhere. But everything I heard there – reports from hospitals in Europe; about community-centered projects in the Philippines, Vietnam and Cambodia; about refugees in Uganda giving 18,000 treatments in 6 months; Lisa Rohleder’s presentation on class; Michael Smith’s comments about what and who acupuncture is FOR; and just hanging out with folks aged 17 to 71, most learning to do acupuncture for the very first time, taught by the wonderful Lincoln Recovery staff – all that makes me want to ask everybody to consider this RIGHT NOW: What if we just trained EVERYBODY? What If everyone who was interested learned to do at least *some* acupuncture?

Okay, let me back up for a minute. So much of what the acupuncture establishment worries about is creating – or preserving – a market for acupuncture. In the guise of protecting the public, it strives to legally protect our turf from MDs, nurses, chiropractors, and ADS folks. It clings to the tiny pie of current demand for acupuncture, and clings to fantasies of increasing the size of the pie by increasing insurance reimbursement, and by trying to increase our caché with a few more credits (and a few more thousands in student loan debt) and a fancy title.

Consider this alternative. Last week I saw several adolescents – young people who had never had acupuncture before – become competent beginning acupuncturists in three days. Was I threatened? No; I was deeply moved, and incredibly jazzed. I woke up thinking: what if every high school sophomore learned the NADA protocol in their health class? What if they had a teen stress clinic, where they took shifts needling their peers – maybe even their teachers, the janitors, the lunchroom staff, their kid siblings, their parents – whoever wanted to come? What if some of them wanted to go on to work in healthcare, including acupuncture; wouldn’t they be the kind of people you would want to hire in your clinics?

So much of what the acupuncture establishment worries about is creating – or preserving – a market for acupuncture. In the guise of protecting the public, it strives to legally protect our turf from MDs, nurses, chiropractors, and ADS folks. It clings to the tiny pie of current demand for acupuncture, and clings to fantasies of increasing the size of the pie by increasing insurance reimbursement, and by trying to increase our caché with a few more credits (and a few more thousands in student loan debt) and a fancy title.

Consider this alternative. Last week I saw several adolescents – young people who had never had acupuncture before – become competent beginning acupuncturists in three days. Was I threatened? No; I was deeply moved, and incredibly jazzed.

Detroit teens’ high school graduation rate is currently around 25%. Yeah, you read that right. Wouldn’t ANYTHING that helped keep *them* from giving up be worth whatever pie *we* had to give up?

But here’s the thing: would we really end up with less pie? Sure, some of these NADA-trained youth would go on to become acupuncturists (i.e. “competition”), and would probably be unstoppably awesome – just the kind of folks we’d want to hire in CA clinics, or to start clinics in neighboring areas. Many would want to do other things; getting acupuncture at school might help give them the clarity to figure those things out (a recurring theme in the various reports from the NADA conference was that acupuncture seemed to give people hope, and to enable them to think more clearly and make their own plans for the future). In addition, not only would most of them be healthier, more confident and less-stressed young adults (which would obviously be a major benefit to society as a whole), they would know for the rest of their lives that acupuncture is something they can use to help them maintain their health and sanity.

Doesn’t that sound like a way to bake a bigger pie? Sure, sometimes they would treat themselves and their families at home, with ear needles or seeds, just as everyone should be able to cook themselves and their families a decent, healthy meal. But people who know how to cook still go out to eat. And the folks that have decided that they love to cook and feed people will be there, providing nourishment and communion in exchange for a modest amount of money.

This wouldn’t have to stop at high schools, of course; this thought is just one of many jostling around my brain right now, and just somewhere to start. One thing I believe is that we can’t protect acupuncture (much less our livelihoods) by hoarding it. As one of the addiction counselors in a wonderful documentary shown at the conference said, “you can’t save your ass and your face at the same time.” Please, let’s stop trying to save (or gain) professional face, and modestly and bravely and steadfastly join the work of trying to save humankind’s collective ass.

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