Practice type: Community
Specialties: Addiction, emotional health, general wellness, musculoskeletal pain, stress
Styles: Dr. Tan’s Balance Method, auricular (ear) acupuncture, scalp acupuncture, herbal therapy
Why did you become an acupuncturist?
I was only able to afford acupuncture because I found Alberta Street Acupuncture in Portland, OR, which offered sliding scale services. They helped me with a number of chronic health conditions in a way that pharmaceutical drugs couldn’t. I also worked as a counselor at a detox program where NADA ear acupuncture was used on a daily basis for recovering alcoholics and heroin addicts—many with severe psychiatric conditions, some who lived on the streets. I saw how it helped them calm down, get through detox and stay engaged with recovery. These experiences radically transformed how I understood community health. I wanted to learn how to make acupuncture more accessible to everyday people, and how to facilitate the growth of community-based clinics.
What distinguishes you from other acupuncturists?
For me acupuncture is a community-building tool. Understood as such, this puts less emphasis on myself or my charisma. I’m not a guru, not going to pose as the be all and end all of your medical care. My outreach and my ability to facilitate changes in people is highly limited if I’m the only one providing acupuncture within a given community. Anything that is dependent solely on me will not be sustainable. My role therefore is not only to provide treatments, but also to get local health workers trained, and to help others establish clinics that are community-based.
What do you enjoy most about your work?
In a community clinic, it’s exciting to see diverse people of different backgrounds share a space. Several of my colleagues have started up clinics within Catholic churches, open to the public regardless of creed, for people who’ve never had access to acupuncture nor would have ever sought out or been able to afford an acupuncturist. I recently visited one of these churches, where a group of Mormons in the neighborhood started coming, and subsequently invited them to come offer a clinic in the nearby Mormon temple. Stories like this remind me that acupuncture isn’t just for well off liberals and new age folks. Acupuncture is, as has been traditionally in China, for the poor and the rich, the worker and the unemployed, the conservative and the liberal, the atheist as well as the born-again Christian. Acupuncture is for everyone. I love seeing this happen.
What is the biggest misconception you hear about acupuncture?
That acupuncture is only for people who have disposable income or who are liberal. There’s a growing number of community acupuncture and public health clinics that offer affordable services. Some addictions and mental health programs offer ear acupuncture as an adjunct to standard treatment, many of which operate in very conservative and rural areas of the U.S. These types of clinics will continue to make acupuncture accessible to people who would probably never seek out an acupuncturist. If you can’t afford any of the acupuncturists in your town, ask them to offer affordable sliding scale or community acupuncture treatments. They need to hear from you.
How do you stay healthy in your own life?
Being involved in my community while always finding time and space for solitude and nature. Have to pray. Every day.
Greenworks Community Enterprise Center: 125 N. Main St., Las Cruces, NM 88001