About Liberation Acupuncture

Are you all a bunch of communists?

No, not all of us are communists. We're a diverse group but what we have in common is:

  • a belief that acupuncture can make valuable contributions to modern society;

  • moral qualms about making a profit off of other people’s pain and suffering; and

  • a recognition that none of the previously existing schools of thought for acupuncture fully acknowledge or account for the social dimension of health and illness, and so a new school of thought is needed.

Why is there a red fist on your website, then?

The raised fist is a long-standing symbol of solidarity with oppressed peoples – first used in 1917 by the Industrial Workers of the World, an international labor union. Many different groups have used it. Liberation Acupuncture uses it to acknowledge that we would not exist without the Black Panthers' and Young Lords' example of incorporating acupuncture into social action and community health. The fist logo shows points on the Heart meridian to indicate Liberation Acupuncture’s relationship to acupuncture theory. In acupuncture theory, the color associated with the Heart is red.

What are liberation studies?

Liberation studies is a broad term that encompasses liberation psychology, liberation theology, liberation ecology and to some degree critical pedagogy which all share the goal of liberation from oppression. We believe that liberation acupuncture needs to exist for the same basic reasons that liberation psychology, liberation theology, and liberation ecology do: most importantly, social relevance.

What is the relationship of trauma informed acupuncture to liberation acupuncture?

Trauma informed acupuncture is a specific subset of liberation acupuncture. We believe that traumatic stress is so prevalent in our society that it functions as a reinforcement of structural violence: it dehumanizes people and undermines their ability to resist oppression, to imagine more just social arrangements, and to perceive their own dignity and value. Just as traumatic stress reinforces structural violence, trauma informed acupuncture seeks to reinforce in practice the ideals of liberation acupuncture.

What is the relationship of community acupuncture to liberation acupuncture?

What we call the “community acupuncture model” is a self-sustaining economic and clinical model to make acupuncture accessible to working class communities. Liberation Acupuncture is a broader conceptual framework for acupuncture itself and it arose out of praxis that has included the use of the community acupuncture model, but also out of praxis that predates it, such as the work of the Black Panthers and the Young Lords. The use of the community acupuncture model may be, but is not necessarily, a subset of Liberation Acupuncture, depending on how it is implemented.

How is POCA Tech's Liberation Acupuncture program different than a TCM program or a 5 Element program?

The Liberation Acupuncture program is focused on training people who will serve marginalized people by making acupuncture available to them on their own terms. The focus is on praxis, on the preferential option for the poor, and on making acupuncture practical. The Liberation Acupuncture program teaches students to be familiar with a variety of theoretical approaches to acupuncture, but all of the theories are submitted to the question: what good is this in the lives of ordinary people? What use is it, particularly, to marginalized people?

For more about how we got where we are, we strongly recommend reading Rachel Pagones' book Acupuncture as Revolution: Suffering, Liberation and Love.

What do you mean by praxis?

Praxis means practice as distinguished from theory; action, application or use.

Community acupuncture is the praxis that led to the development of Liberation Acupuncture. Community acupuncture depends on acupuncture being useful to, and used by, a large number of ordinary people. Otherwise, there’s no community.

Ignacio Martin-Baro wrote about Liberation Theology: "True practice has primacy over true theory, orthopraxis over orthodoxy. Actions are more important than affirmations in liberation theology, and what one does is more expressive of faith than what one says." For Liberation Acupuncture, what one does is also more important than what one says. For example, if we claim that a theory of acupuncture is important, we have to be able to prove its importance by making it consistently and reliably useful to ordinary people in real life.

Liberation Acupuncture maintains that acupuncture must be practical, by being based on experience and by having a positive impact on society. Therefore the Liberation Acupuncture program is focused on how acupuncture works in the lives of ordinary people rather than on how it works in textbooks.

What do you mean by the preferential option for the poor?

In Liberation Theology, the preferential option for the poor means that while God loves everyone, God REALLY loves poor people. (Or, according to Leonardo and Clodovis Boff, “The living God sides with the oppressed against all the pharaohs of this world.”) In public health, as Paul Farmer writes, “Any serious examination of epidemic disease has always shown that microbes also make a preferential option for the poor” -- and so practitioners must make an option for poor people and also work on their behalf.

In Liberation Acupuncture, the preferential option for the poor means that we work to approach acupuncture from the perspective of the poor and also that we involve ourselves in action that benefits them. While a variety of theoretical perspectives might encourage an acupuncturist to take into account the social status of a patient and/or to be aware of the social dimensions of health, Liberation Acupuncture is after something more radical: acupuncture and its practices must be submitted to the judgement of the poor, rather than the poor being submitted to the judgement of acupuncturists. Why is acupuncture so expensive and so inaccessible? And what are we going to do about it, not in some future utopia, but right now?

Who are the poor?

For the purposes of Liberation Acupuncture, “the poor” encompasses everyone who is marginalized by capitalism and oppressed by our society.

Similarly, Johanna Hedva writes in “Sick Woman Theory”, “The Sick Woman is an identity and body that can belong to anyone denied the privileged existence – or the cruelly optimistic promise of such an existence – of the white, straight, healthy, neurotypical, upper and middle-class, cis- and able-bodied man who makes his home in a wealthy country, has never not had health insurance, and whose importance to society is everywhere recognized and made explicit by that society; whose importance and care dominates that society, at the expense of everyone else...The Sick Woman is anyone who does not have this guarantee of care.

The Sick Woman is told that, to this society, her care, even her survival, does not matter.

The Sick Woman is all of the “dysfunctional,” “dangerous” and “in danger,” “badly behaved,” “crazy,” “incurable,” “traumatized,” “disordered,” “diseased,” “chronic,” “uninsurable,” “wretched,” “undesirable” and altogether “dysfunctional” bodies belonging to women, people of color, poor, ill, neuro-atypical, differently abled, queer, trans, and genderfluid people, who have been historically pathologized, hospitalized, institutionalized, brutalized, rendered “unmanageable,” and therefore made culturally illegitimate and politically invisible.”

How does the clinical component of POCA Tech's Liberation Acupuncture Program reflect a preferential option for the poor?

The POCA Tech Student Clinic exists within Working Class Acupuncture’s clinic and patient base. Since 2012, Working Class Acupuncture has been collaborating with CareOregon’s Health Resilience Program. CareOregon is the state’s largest Medicaid managed care plan, and the HRP was established to provide trauma-informed care management for Medicaid beneficiaries with complex health and psychosocial needs. "The program is designed to address the bio-psychosocial needs of this population using a strengths-based, trauma-informed approach to advance client-identified health goals.” We encourage everyone to read about the HRP and Trauma Informed Care. Working Class Acupuncture and POCA Tech provide acupuncture treatments to the clients and caseworkers of the Health Resilience Program.

The preferential option for the poor is reflected in the way that POCA Tech clinical interns learn to practice – focusing on HRP clients. There are a variety of public health programs which seek to adapt acupuncture to public health settings. Liberation Acupuncture goes much farther, insisting that every aspect of acupuncture practice and theory be considered from the perspective of oppressed people, giving their needs priority over other considerations.  POCA Tech clinical interns don’t treat HRP clients any differently than anybody else who comes into the clinic; instead, they learn to provide acupuncture so that it works for HRP clients. Marginalized people set the standards.

WCA’s collaboration with CareOregon is expanding beyond the Health Resilience Program, POCA Tech clinical interns can expect to treat more people who are CareOregon members and to continue to prioritize their needs.