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Community Acupuncture 101: A Guide for aspiring students & practitioners

Community Acupuncture 101: A Guide for aspiring students & practitioners

This article was originally published in the TCMABC Summer 2013 Currents Newsletter, which is no longer in circulation. Information-filled, this is a wonderful and brief introduction to our bread and butter, Community Acupuncture, which can be many things, but primarily a practice and business model, but also a vehicle for positive social change by providing accessible, inclusive health care to EVERYONE in our communities!

What is Community Acupuncture?

In a nutshell, it is high volume acupuncture provided in a supportive group setting at sliding scale rates (typically $15-40/session). Community Acupuncture is both a practice/business model as well as a social movement first founded by Lisa Rohleder and Skip Van Meter, both Licensed Acupuncturists in Portland OR. It makes acupuncture an accessible option to a wider range of individuals who otherwise could not afford the going rate for acupuncture. It is also a modern take on how acupuncture is traditionally provided in Asia; in a large open space, treating many people at once, quickly, efficiently and effectively.

Who is a Community Acupuncturist?

A practitioner who thrives on the ability to multi-task, work in a dynamic, fast-paced clinical setting and who is dedicated to making acupuncture more accessible. Community practitioners understand the many barriers potential clients face when seeking acupuncture and that services need not be expensive to be effective. They are also flexible as working in a community setting can often be described as a peaceful chaos.

My first exposure to community or group-setting acupuncture was through providing NADA (acupuncture detox) in a variety of settings both clinical and community. In every setting, I was amazed by the profound and positive effect group acupuncture had on amplifying the collective therapeutic experience. The collective energy of each individual helped to fill the space with a palpable calmness, something that many of us don’t engage in often enough. It was these experiences that motivated me to utilize acupuncture as a tool for social change and it brings us back to a sense of connectedness both to mind-body and something larger than ourselves. Many of us are starving for connection, which is reflected by our disconnect from community and our own health.

Community Acupuncture is slowly gaining critical mass. My practice is part of a growing network of 200+ clinics internationally dedicated to providing acupuncture using this unique and inclusive treatment model.

How does treatment work?

Treatment rooms are often large open spaces hosting multiple recliner chairs (lazy boys) and sometimes massage tables. Multiple clients are booked per hour, often staggered every 10-20 minutes, depending on the speed and efficiency of the practitioner. A stream-lined treatment is provided – many practitioners adopt a distal style treatment (Master Tung, Dr. Richard Tan, Meridian-based acupuncture, etc.) to limit points to the extremities. Soothing music plays in the background as whispered conversation is kept to a minimum. Clients are welcome to choose the length of their treatment (on average 20-60 minutes) and will quietly notify the practitioner when they feel finished. Overall, a community room is a peaceful, nap-inducing yet flowing hub of clients coming and going with the practitioner quietly facilitating that flow.

Why a sliding scale?

A sliding scale serves two main purposes:

  1. Affordability, for individual sessions, but also for budgeting over time. Clients are able to stretch their medical benefits further and that $15-40 is a manageable amount to pay out of pocket. We encourage clients to pay what they can afford, an individual judgment based on their financial situation.

  2. Sustainability. We wear two hats, first, as a practitioner and second, as a business owner. The affordability of the sliding scale markets itself and ensures affordability to a wider client-base, many of whom have limited budgets. Greater affordability gives way to higher volume, allowing a practitioner to earn a reasonable income per hour.

Ultimately, the sliding scale is the core of a Community Acupuncture practice and it markets itself. It makes the cost per session (and over time) more attainable to more people, more people come to your clinic for treatment, you see more volume. It’s all about strength in numbers.

Why does it work?

Acupuncture is a dose dependent therapy and that the benefits are achieved by frequency, and less so by individual doses. Therefore, the appropriate treatment plan is key in assisting the gradual process in resolving issues and promoting recovery. Due to a variety of factors, many people in North America aren’t getting enough acupuncture to truly experience the benefits. And, as practitioners and business owners, don’t we all want everyone to get more acupuncture?

By making cost less of a barrier, it becomes easier to “sell” clients on complying with a treatment plan, producing favorable results. By implementing the Community Acupuncture practice model, it becomes more accessible for clients to access as much treatment as often as they need.

Is it fun?

YES! And empowering and community-building on many levels for both the clients AND the practitioners.

For clients, the open group-oriented nature of the clinic room allows for flexibility. At my practice we often encourage clients to bring friends/family/co-workers/classmates to their sessions. Clients are able to drop-in for sessions during our office hours. Being able to choose how much to pay for sessions not only builds a relationship of trust and accountability, it also is a strong motivator for word of mouth and responsibility of one’s well-being. The Community Acupuncture model is infectious as it is in the spirit of generosity, gratitude and social entrepreneurial-ism.

For practitioners, it eliminates barriers to treating individuals from all walks of life. It becomes fun to market something that is affordable and effective. You engage in lots of practice (spending more time poking, less time talking), on lots of different people and see great results. You can get creative with your marketing (ie. Free Acupuncture days, Mom & baby acupuncture, etc.) and not have to hesitate about the financial barriers of your clients. You help to bring acupuncture to the forefront as an excellent way to not only treat disease, but also to maintain wellness. All this, while you earn a respectable and honest living.

Although Community Acupuncture is not a practice model that suits everyone, as a community organizer it was the perfect fit for me. I respect that the acupuncture profession is diverse, and I acknowledge that average treatment rates in most cities are not accessible to everyone. I am passionate about reaching as many people as I can and this practice model made it possible. As far as I can see it’s simple: the more people get acupuncture, the more people get acupuncture.

Christina Chan, M.Sc., R.Ac. is a Community Acupuncturist, educator and proprietor of the grassroots project, Heart & Hands Health Collective. Active in the community, she is passionate about using acupuncture as a tool for social change through providing outreach, increasing accessibility and bringing the practice back to its traditional roots. She reflects on her own personal experiences as a Community Acupuncturist, as a community organizer and as a business owner of her unorthodox social enterprise in Victoria BC.

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