Once my secret mission, my secret agenda, was to show patients that they could use acupuncture to stay healthy. That it was to everyone’s benefit if they had a tune-up several times a year when the seasons changed, or as needed if they started to feel out of balance. The underlying assumption was that we are healthy and functioning well in life, and we just need to support that wellness, maybe tweak it a little.
I wanted people to recognize that this fabulous medicine could prevent dis-ease… and maybe take your farther in your life than you thought possible. You know, when life feels really good, and yet you know there’s more to it. Then you can use the alchemy of acupuncture to push your spirit boundaries.
Pretty good mission, and one that I still cherish.
After I started Greenfield Community Acupuncture, I found myself working almost exclusively with people who had, for whatever reasons, developed imbalances that were interfering with their lives. People began to hear that acupuncture just might be able to help their physical and mental dis-eases heal, when western medicine couldn’t help them as much as they’d hoped. And I saw it work, again and again. Back pain got better, stress was reduced, allergies were lessened.
And yet, and yet, I kept bumping up against the disappointments of some, the ones who didn’t get the relief they wanted, or when they wanted it. I saw the self-imposed limitations of my patients, limitations that kept acupuncture from being fully effective – or from working at all. Maybe people didn’t really trust that this would work, and a lot of that mistrust was theirs. Not that I blame them. At all. We’ve all grown up surrounded by the hype that if we buy this one thing, our lives will be beautiful. It’s hard to not see hype everywhere.
But some of the mistrust was on me. I didn’t have enough experience to know that things would get better, for sure, with the help of acupuncture, so I wasn’t able to guarantee an outcome. Okay, nothing is guaranteed, especially when I see a patient who has Heart Qi and Blood stagnation, but is unwilling to give up the food that got him there. There are limits, and many of them are not under my control.
But. At this point, having done over 7,000 treatments in the last five years, I can say, confidently, to a patient: if you are willing to put the time in, things are going to change beyond what you currently think is possible.
And there you have the three things that limit acupuncture’s effectiveness: your habits, your money and your time.
We’ll have to save habits for another blog (or three, because why we choose what we choose, and why we hang on to those choices for dear life – literally – are questions for the ages). What I can speak to now are the barriers of time and money.
In China, when you bring a problem to an acupuncturist, they will routinely set up a course of treatment every day for 10 days, followed by a couple of days off for re-evaluation, and then subsequent courses if needed. And people get fully better. Some of the best research on the efficacy of acupuncture is coming from China, where they see people frequently and consistently.
Do you have any idea how hard it is to get my patients to agree to this? I will tell them that if we see them 2 – 3 times a week for 3 – 4 weeks, they will see a dramatic difference. I tell them about our first GCA patient, who sprained his back at work, came for treatment for 4 days in a row, the first day on his hands and knees, and on the fifth day went back to work – at the railroad yard. I can see them go off in their minds, trying to decide how they can finagle the time, come up with the money, try to believe that it will be worth it. And they don’t do it.
I get it, from another angle. I wasn’t trained to work this way. I was trained to see people one at a time, for $80/hour. There was no way I was going to say to those patients ‘come every day for 10 days’ at that price. I was constrained by that money thing, as well. So I didn’t say it, and it took longer, and some people got better and some didn’t.
Now, though, I have the means to try to changes this. A community clinic treats people together – like China only with benefits, because they don’t use recliners, and because it does that, we can charge less. If we charge less, we’ve at least partially removed the barrier of money. If it still gets in the way, I can work with that, and I’ve found ways to make the treatments unbelievably inexpensive – and even then, most people won’t take me up on it.
So maybe it’s the barrier of time. Yes, our lives are busy. Yes, trying to fit in another appointment requires thought and adjustment. I try to explain that you won’t have to come 3 – 4 times a week forever. The goal of treatment always is to help you not need it any more.
Now my secret mission, my new and improved mission is to help you learn that acupuncture works differently than you’ve come to expect medicine to work. It takes time, and it’s time spent taking care of yourselves. And it’s not forever. And you and I can figure out a way for you to pay so that you get what you need, and those of us working in the clinic can make a living. To help you trust that if I offer a break, it’s because I know I can, and because I want you to get better. I want to bring high quality, affordable acupuncture to you, and to move heaven and earth to make it possible for it to work for you.