Community acupuncture works because wellness starts with ‘we’

By Niki Curtis

They say there’s “strength in numbers,” and in acupuncture, it’s not the number of needles used that necessarily provides strength – it’s the vast number of health issues it can treat that gives it power.

And the healing power of acupuncture increases that much more during a “community acupuncture” session–when several people gather in a room full of comfortable reclining chairs with warm blankets to receive the beneficial treatment at the same time.

In such a session, you might find an older woman with arthritis, a young man suffering from severe anxiety, a cancer patient who has intense nausea while healing from a full mastectomy and a former lawyer who just started his recovery journey from substance use disorder and dealing with withdrawal and cravings. It’s a quiet and peaceful space where each member of this community can stay relaxed, allowing the healing benefits of acupuncture to take effect.

They may have different reasons for being there, but their ultimate goal is the same: wellness.

Community acupuncture was introduced to the United States in 2002 when licensed acupuncturists Lisa Rohleder and Skip Van Meter started Working Class Acupuncture, with a business model mimicking Asia’s longtime community model. The hope was to expand access to people who have no insurance or insurance that doesn’t cover holistic medicine practices such as acupuncture.

Licensed acupuncturist Ryan Nitz opened Maine’s first full-time community-acupuncture clinic, the Maine Center for Acupuncture in South Portland, in 2010.

“I am trying to create movement,” says Nitz, who adds that he is passionate about minimizing people’s pain. “Oftentimes, when there is
physical pain or emotional pain, there is stuckness. And my goal as a practitioner is to help unblock those areas and create movement.”

Nitz’s choice to move from private practice to the community acupuncture model happened for two reasons: he explains, “There’s value in the exchange of money for the services versus using insurance because people are investing in themselves,” he says. “And the second piece is that acupuncture should be affordable. My experience in private practice showed that people were falling out of care due to the cost. People shouldn’t have to break the bank to feel better.”

Nitz explains that he helps people understand the power of community acupuncture by asking them things like whether they’ve ever sung in a choir or what their favorite movie is and where did they see it. This helps illuminate the amplified power of healing that happens in community  acupuncture, just as the energy is amplified when people watch a movie together or sing a song together.

“Community acupuncture is a place where people can focus on creating space for life to slow down,” he says. “And when life slows down, new possibilities can arise and shifts can begin to occur.”

Like Nitz, Daniel Katz believes strongly in the power of community. He says he opened Wildwood Health Center in 2005 in Portland to create a modern and integrative approach to health care. Since treating participants in a drug-court program in Portland, Ore., he has taken a “we’re all in this together” approach to treating patients in his community acupuncture clinic.

He encourages patients who are in recovery to bring a friend in recovery or a loved one interested in having acupuncture with them to their acupuncture sessions. This is because he understands how easy it is to feel isolated during early recovery, and having sessions together builds healthy support. Community acupuncture provides a safe place for people to work on their healing together, he says.

Acupuncture, in general, can be an integral part of a patient’s recovery in ways that they may not even anticipate, he says.

The National Acupuncture Detoxification Association is an organization that encourages wellness through community acupuncture for behavioral health, including addiction, mental health, and disaster and emotional trauma. NADA’s standardized acupuncture protocol is being used to help people in early recovery who are suffering the many detox symptoms.

Kristen Boze is a licensed acupuncturist and owner of The Sunshine Factory, a healing arts studio in South Portland. She’s an acupuncture detox specialist, trained in NADA protocol, and holds a free weekly NADA acupuncture clinic to help those in early recovery relieve anxiety, reduce cravings and improve their overall mood. She also offers several weekly community acupuncture and cupping therapy clinics in her Castle Building studio.

Asked why she’s so passionate about community acupuncture, Boze says, “My 10-plus years studying and practicing acupuncture, not to mention my 40-plus years of being a human, has taught me that no one is immune to addiction and trauma. And when implemented effectively, acupuncture and specifically the NADA protocol, can change people’s lives!

“Not only is it my greatest passion, but I believe it is my responsibility to do everything in my power to help and to educate people ... individually as well as our community as a whole. Knowledge is power, and healing together, as a community, creates a ripple effect where strength in numbers becomes the byproduct, effectively allowing us to change the cycle of addiction into a cycle of healing. I truly believe with all my heart, that this is possible. And for me, there is no more powerful inspiration than that.”

Community acupuncture provides a space where people can heal together, be treated for many things at the same time, find rest, and become unstuck. It’s a place where strengths are multiplied and the “we” in wellness is evident.

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