“Prior to being under Dr. Rozenn’s care, I had only been to community acupuncture. I now liken that to getting a chair massage in the mall, and then realizing how life-changing a full-on spa massage is! The way she gets to the root of the problem and then continues to delve on each visit until symptoms clear up is so amazing to me.” Lisa Marie, G. ~ Felton
Treating patients along side my adviser in China in what is called a “community acupuncture” setting was an invaluable experience. The room was about 200 sq. ft. There were tables lined up along all sides, chairs in the middle and semi-private partitions were available to 4 people at a time. Patients were in various stages of undress. There was no privacy, no HIPPA, no informed consent. The whole room would listen to patients discuss their miscarriages, back pain and bowel movements. Most patients received electro-stimulation. I remember one patient with trigeminal neuralgia enduring deep facial needles with electricity. My adviser would laugh at the thin Japanese needles and gentle techniques I use in the United States! No dietary advice was given. Very rarely were herbal formulas prescribed or laboratory testing requisitioned. No lifestyle counseling was considered. It was eye opening to me–seeing patients treated in this manner and I realized it could never, ever be duplicated in the United States. Even in Santa Cruz, most people are not willing to be half naked and discuss their bladder pain in front of strangers (or friends for that matter!). But China has a different culture, and there this model works.
Several variations on community acupuncture exist in the United States. Some clinics provide tables, some only recliners, a few have a semi-private treatment nook carved out, some have a private area to have a few words with the practitioner alone, while in others, after your first visit, all discussion happens in the communal room. In all clinics that provide community acupuncture, treatments take place in one room and it is touted as being cheap, effective and molded from clinics in China. People often ask me, is this true?
On many fronts the answer to that question is a matter of opinion. From my experience, I can say that while American community acupuncture clinics bear resemblance to Chinese clinics, they are inherently different because our cultures are so different. Thus, while in China you may be laying face-down for a back treatment, in many American community clinics such treatments are not possible. Additionally, only a small fraction of acupuncture points are used because of privacy considerations and treatment surface restrictions (table vs. chair). Given these drawbacks, I could not provide community acupuncture in the United States AND claim it is as effective as private treatment. There are other reasons I could not make this assertion. Time spent with individual patients is very limited, and mostly public. Thus the aspects of treatment I find most helpful for patients, as well as most rewarding to give, would have to be eliminated:
- Japanese hara diagnosis
- A full and complete acupuncture, moxabustion and/or gua sha treatment
- Extensive dietary and lifestyle advice
- Personalized nutritional supplement and herbal formula prescriptions
- Discussion of laboratory and imaging tests
- Most importantly, the educational aspect necessary to facilitate change; I couldn’t talk to my patients and help them understand for themselves the dynamics of their health, diagnosis and disease, would be altered or destroyed. Gone would be the empowerment I strive to provide my patients through giving them not only alternative treatment, but an alternative perspective of on their health.
In my opinion, is there a place for community acupuncture in the West? Absolutely! For quick and cheap treatments where flexibility in appointment time is a must and for the purpose of stress reduction, community acupuncture excels. Basic acupuncture treatments are often better than none at all, so patients with limited resources could try community acupuncture. However, they should remember that this experience is different than a private acupuncture treatment. For this reason, I usually recommend treatments with my students to these patients. Also, I remember reading on one local community acupuncture website that the clinic offers an alternative to “feeling isolated” during treatment. If a patient told me that being alone for 20 minutes elicited feelings of isolation, I would be very concerned and suggest other treatment methods than community acupuncture.
Yes, but is it cheaper?
One idea behind community acupuncture is that you can get multiple treatments per week. If the acupuncture treatment is appropriate, the vast majority of patients do not need to come in several times during the week. More is not necessarily better. I think it is important to bear in mind that time is a resource as well as money.
Is community acupuncture right for you? The answer will differ with each individual and condition for which they seek treatment. I suggest you weigh the pros and cons as you ask yourself what health goals you want to achieve. Your health is, after all, you unique, personal journey.