A Brief History of Community Acupuncture in America

FEMA Camp where Acupuncturists without Borders lived in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina
FEMA Camp where Acupuncturists without Borders lived in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina

Community Acupuncture began in China. Although the practice of acupuncture itself may be anywhere between three to five thousand years old, it’s unclear exactly when CA began.  CA in America probably existed in some form in immigrant communities over the past 100 years or so. But it was not until 1970 and the establishment of an acupuncture program for addicts at Lincoln Hospital in the Bronx that CA began to powerfully influence the culture of acupuncture and health care in America. The National Acupuncture Detox Association (NADA) that arose from the work of Dr. Michael Smith at Lincoln Hospital has provided guidance and inspiration for thousands of similar chemical dependency clinics around the country.

Sometime around the year 2000, Lisa Rohleder and her partner, Skip Van Meter started a CA clinic in Portland, that evolved into what is now “Working Class Acupuncture”, the mothership of CA in America, and the seed force which launched the Community Acupuncture Network which later evolved into the People’s Organization of Community Acupuncture (POCA), a network of CA clinics worldwide, and a school – POCA Tech  – now in the planning stage.

CommuniChi’s beginnings are traced to 2005 when the group, Acupuncturists Without Borders (AWB) formed in response to the health care crisis in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. I was on the second team which held clinics six weeks after the Hurricane.  We treated first responders as well as residents. The emotional impact of being in the disaster zone was very powerful. On several occasions, people receiving treatment could be observed with tears streaming down their cheeks. The air temperature and humidity were both in the 90s and sometimes little flies and bugs would land on your sweat.  Treatment sites were set in gutted buildings, on street corners, in public parks, and even next to a freeway offramp. None of this seemed to affect the powerful energy that arose as people sat with a dozen or so tiny needles inserted into their skin for thirty to sixty minutes.

Acupuncture is coming around full circle – from a medicine with humble beginnings in ancient China, to a vehicle for community health empowerment in contemporary America. In gratitude to all of my teachers and community leaders, all who stepped outside their comfort zones in order to bring quality acupuncture care beyond the realm of spas and boutiques, into the streets and community centers of America, at an affordable price.

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