• Photo: Three adults in reclining chairs with acupuncture needles inserted.

Community Acupuncture: Where Getting Needled (in Front of Other People, No Less) Is a Good Thing!

Community Acupuncture: Where Getting Needled (in Front of Other People, No Less) Is a Good Thing!

Want to get unstuck from a health issue without geting stuck with a huge bill? Try Community Acupuncture!

Most of us have heard of acupuncture: a time-tested method of healing ailments and injuries by inserting slender needles into points along meridians to move energy (also known as "chi"). Some of us have tried acupuncture in a private, one-on-one setting, and found some relief from the ailment, only to find cumulative pain in the wallet to the tune of $80-$120 per treatment. If your ailment requires a period of time - weeks or months - to really heal or stabilize, the cost can be prohibitive. So prohibitive, in fact, that you might stop long before you get the healing you expect, need, and could have had, had you received treatment more frequently and/or for longer.

Community Acupuncture eases that hardship substantially. Community Acupuncture is a nation-wide movement promoting acupuncture access-for-all, and is manifested in the form of nation-wide clinics. Treatment in a communal setting with multiple patients in a treatment room lowers the overhead, so acupuncturists can charge substantially - amazingly - less per treatment. And Cambridge is fortunate to have two well-established, positively-regarded Community Acupuncture clinics: Harvard Square Community Acupuncture (in the heart of Harvard Square) and Acupuncture Together (in North Cambridge). Both venues are run and clinically staffed by experienced, licensed acupuncturists. Both clinics treat a variety of ailments and illnesses, and both have generous sliding-scale fees, ranging from $20 to $53 for services including intake, follow-ups, and Chinese herbal consultations. (Visit their websites to see clinic-specific fees and package deals offered.) You need no documentation to set your rate: you decide based on what you can afford to pay.

[IMAGE BELOW: Harvard Square Community Acupuncture door sign.]
Dalit Waller, Lic. Ac. owns and practices in her Harvard Square Community Acupuncture (HSCA) clinic. This homey, gently-lit setting is up one flight of stairs in a building on Massachusetts Avenue. There are two cozy rooms, furnished with zero-gravity chairs, recliners, and traditional treatment tables. Waller is committed to financial access for all seekers of acupuncture. “Access is very important to me.” She emphasizes that frequency and consistency are important for healing with acupuncture. Indeed, lack of access to longer-term, frequent-enough acupuncture treatments takes a toll: folks who try it just a few times might well (and too often do) conclude that acupuncture cannot help them. They can (and too often do) give up on this excellent, proven mode of healing. Waller successfully counters that risk with her generous sliding-fee scale and kindly communal setting.

[IMAGE BELOW: Acupuncture Together door sign.]

Justine Myers, Lic. Ac. owns and practices in her Acupuncture Together clinic in North Cambridge. Her sun-bathed, bright, and open-feeling setting has one large community room with ten chairs (both recliners and zero-gravity), and one side room with several recliners. Her space is wheelchair accessible via elevator. (There is no push-plate mechanism to open the door with, so, if needed, when you get to the building's rear door, call their office number and someone will come down to open the door.) And Myers, like all pratitioners involved in the Community Acupuncture movement, is equally committed to access for all. "If people can't afford to come, they stop coming before they see real results." She emphasizes that treatments are cumulative, frequency is key, so financial affordability is essential.

Both clinics are completely transparent about fees. There are no surprises, and all fees (including package deals) are cited clearly on their websites and in writing at the clinics themselves. Transparency is a keen part of financial accessibility/affordability within the Community Acupuncture movement.

[IMAGE BELOW: Acupuncture mannequin below-elbow arm showing meridians and points.]
In addition to affordability, there are other characteristics unique to the concept of Community Acupuncture, as compared to one-on-one settings. One characteristic revolves around the the insertion locations of needles: on the head, below the elbows, and below the knees, while in one-on-one settings, needles might be inserted on the back, the belly, shoulders, etc, in addition to the other locations. In Community Acupuncture clinics, patients remain fully clothed, but give access to these more limited spots by pulling up their sleeves to their elbows and their pants to their knees. (So, do wear loose-fitting clothing.) Some folks seeking acupuncture care wonder if successful treatment can happen for, say, a sore lower back, if needles are not placed in the back. Dalit Waller assures that treatment on extremities is just as effective. "The antique points are elbows- and knees-down. They are some of the most powerful points within the [acupuncture] canon. We talk about different channels, but it's really all one energy pathway, so we can affect change from anywhere within the system, by needling a different part of the system." In fact, Waller notes, "You can treat the whole person with just the ear."

There is also a sense of communal energy (chi) moving around the room in community acupuncture settings. As folks settle into their treatments, relaxed, often dozing, there is a sense of shared calm, repair, healing. But not to worry about privacy. In both Cambridge clinic settings, practitioners' voices gently communicate with clients in "how are you feeling this week?" conversations. And, as needles are placed and adjusted, such talking is hushed by white noise machines and quiet music. So you have a sense of communal calm and ease, but no sense of your own or others' privacy being violated.

Another facet of community acupuncture is the control the client has over when needles are removed from their insertion points. In one-on-one settings, the practitioner generally inserts needles, leaves the room, and comes back at a set time. But in Community Acupuncture settings, Justine Myers notes, "They can decide when to have the needles removed. Maybe they take a nap for an hour, wake up, and press the call button to say say they're ready. Its in their hands, not mine." In both Cambridge-based Community Acupuncture settings, there are easy methods for letting a practitioner know you are ready to be deneedled: quietly catching the attention of the practitioner (who is often moving around the treatment rooms treating or deneedling other folks); and (at Acupuncture Together), pressing an electronic call button you are given when you have been needled. You can also get practitioners' attention if your needles feel in any in need of resetting, which is a rare situation, but can happen.

[IMAGE BELOW: Acupuncture needles, thinner than a cat's whisker.]
Approppos of needle discomfort, it's worth noting that acupuncture needles are very slender, and rarely cause discomfort - if at all - for more than a moment. That discomfort, acupuncturists note, is often a sign that the meridian (channel) insertion point needs to be opened, and, when that happens with insertion, it can be briefly a bit pinchy. But once that moment passes, most people find acupuncture to be relaxing (most people doze). And, honestly, sometimes healing necessitates discomfort - sometimes a lot, sometimes the merest bit. With acupuncture, it's definitely in "the merest bit" land, if at all. Happily, acupuncture is known to treat myriad illnesses and injuries: everything from addictions, fertility challenges, back pain, insomnia, depression, PTSD, and anxiety, to cancer treatment side effects and acute injuries. Really limitless opportunities for healing, if you consider that acupuncture opens up the body's own, deep healing processes, and the chi goes where it is needed as it is needed.

If you are seeking affordable, communal acupuncture and you don't live in Cambridge, you can visit the find-a-clinic page on the website of an organization called POCA (People's Organization of Community Acunpuncture). Founded in 2002 (and then called "Working Class Acupuncture"), POCA's mission: "to work cooperatively to increase accessibility to and availability of affordable group acupuncture treatments." (Quoted from POCA's "Mission and Vision" web page.) For folks who seek healing, and have concerns or questions about Community Acupuncture clinic settings, POCA is a reassuring, active, vibrant resource that offers benefits to its members (practitioners, clients, etc.), and supports the Community Acupuncture process and all involved.

It is all about access to healing, after all. Equal access to healing, to competent care, to freedom from suffering, to education about self-care, to hope. Hope for feeling better, which Community Acupuncture offers and comes through on. So go get needled (in front of others, no less!), take a nap, feel the chi move, and go back again and again. Your body will thank you for it.