Traditionally, in Asia, acupuncture is an accessible, communal practice. It wasn’t until acupuncture made its way to America that it became an isolated, expensive alternative treatment to Western medicine where the patient pays $75-$100 to lie alone in a private room, riddled with healing needles. Under these conditions, it’s difficult for patients to come in and receive acupuncture as frequently as they should, especially if their health insurance doesn’t cover what some profess is their only relief.
Licensed acupuncturists Laura Schlieske and Jennifer Potthast have made a return to tradition by newly opening Downtown Community Acupuncture (DCA). Here, at 209 W. Sola Street, patients are treated in a community setting, on a sliding scale from $20-$40 depending on what the patient can afford-no health insurance required. “DCA is a free market-solution to today’s health care crisis,” the clinic pronounces. It “exists because the patients pay for their treatments.”
“Jennifer was doing research on the Community Acupuncture Network (C.A.N.) website, and sent out a notice to local acupuncturists, asking if anyone was interested in starting a CAN clinic in Santa Barbara,” explained Schlieske, who was also interested in practicing her medicine in a “sustainable community business model,” as she put it. “The rest,” Potthast smiled, “is history.” The women opened DCA’s doors just last month.
The healing room of the clinic, newly painted in soothing powdered-green-tea green and calming beige, is lined with blanketed recliners. Patients are admitted in a 15 minute stagger. They recline, listen to music, and heal together after a tongue, pulse, and verbal check with Schlieske or Potthast. They remain clothed; needles are placed outside the clothing perimeter, on arms, legs, neck, etc. Schlieske explained most patients prefer the community setting because it creates an atmosphere of healing energy. “It makes sense. We are all energy, and energy intensifies when people get together,” Schlieske said. “Think of what happens to a mob of people,” she said-except this mob gets amped on healing instead of rioting.
The patients of DAC are welcome to keep their needles in for as long as they want until they feel “done.” This can range from a couple of hours to 20 minutes. For my first acupuncture experience, administered by Potthast after our interview, I only kept the needles in for 20 minutes. Soft music played in the healing room, which achieves a calming ambiance even before DAC’s practitioners have found suitable, serene, local art to hang on the walls, and Potthast covered me in a soft blue blanket, patiently answered my barrage of inquires about where the needle was going, exactly; how she knows where to put it, what my pulse tells her, etc. I asked her about those seeds I’ve seen on people’s ears after they’ve received an acupuncture treatment. Afterwards, she placed one on each of my ears, on pressure points, giving me instructions to apply pressure to them for 10-20 minutes for a calming effect.
I found myself wishing others would file in and fill up the recliners around me and had a hard time imagining myself lying on a table alone in a closed room. Even though I thought I was over my fear of needles until I had one in my ear and eight to ten more coming, I had a pleasant experience, over all.
Potthast and Schlieske explained that acupuncture works to treat a wide, wide range of ailments, since their medicine believes ailments arise from some blockage of the “qi” ( pronounced “chee”), or “life energy” flow. “Although acupuncture cannot cure congenital defects,” Potthast clarified, “it can certainly ease one’s symptoms.” People turn to acupuncture for reasons that range from a sprained ankle to high blood pressure to stress and beyond; how often depends on the individual, their age, their pain, and their length of suffering. Especially in these high-stress times (health insurance, the economy, final exams), acupuncture can provide a healthful, helpful outlet-one that now, even college students may afford.