Acupuncture, Ecology and Social Justice

Acupuncture started out as, and remains, an individualised form of treatment.  The needles are inserted into one individual at a time by one individual at a time.  This means that the acupuncturist and their client can develop a genuinely human relationship.

Acupuncture also has wider implications – for ecology and social justice too.

 These are not as often commented on as its healing benefits, so I’d like to spend a little while in this article drawing attention to them.

Acupuncture is a very ‘light’ technology.

Most of the skill in acupuncture resides in people and the technology it uses (the acupuncture needle) is very simple, and costs little (money or energy) to make.  Acupuncture needles are recyclable.  Acupuncture doesn’t require the very sophisticated machinery of modern western medicine, each machine containing extraordinary amounts of embedded energy to make and then more to run.  Acupuncture is a very ecological form of medicine.

Acupuncture can also be practised in a way that promotes social justice.

One factor that disguises this is the subsidies which governments give to western medicine.  If people had to pay for machines and medicines they use directly there would be very few people using western medicine.  The cost of even routine medicines for blood pressure is quite hight.  The costs of a single dose of more specialised drugs can run into hundreds of dollars (for each dose!).  The cost of just one machine can be hundreds of thousands of dollars.  Compared to this the acupuncture needle is incredibly cheap.  This means that acupuncture can be provided cheaply and so can be readily accessible to poor people as well as rich people.

The other cost associated with medicine (and other carers) is training.  I’m convinced that this can be done quickly and easily.  Unfortunately neither private colleges nor professional associations have an incentive to make acupuncture as easy and speedy as possible.  I first learned acupuncture two nights a week for a year from a course run by a friend.  I then went to a government approved college – and learned less in three years four days a week than from the first course.  This has convinced me that acupuncture can be taught simply and easily.  Especially with the kind of media that can now be accessed on line it should be possible to spread training in acupuncture far and wide.  There will of course have to be some person to person as well, but this can be fairly brief and concentrate on the people to people part: how to relate well to clients when doing diagnosis and treatment.  All the theory can be delivered and demonstrated on line.  This means that huge numbers of acupuncturists can be trained rapidly, easily and cheaply.  Who is doing this?  Well, me for one (you can see how I’m going at

Acupuncture is a form of medicine that is both ecologically sound and has the ability to fit well with social justice.

12 Responses to “Acupuncture, Ecology and Social Justice”

  1. Eric Grey says:

    Nice post, Evan. I agree with you on many points, yet disagree with you on others. Particularly from the perspective of equipment costs – acupuncture is an easily affordable modality that should be spread far and wide for the sake of everyone. The ridiculousness of hidden costs in Western medicine should be exposed again and again.

    Where I must diverge from your well stated opinion is in the ease of training. Memorizing acupuncture points and learning a few tried and true point prescriptions may be, as you say, easy. It may be able to be learned in a series of weekends, sure. Acupuncturists trained in this way may be functional from the perspective of alleviating symptoms in some cases. But I think that someone would have to be naturally talented to become a great physician using this model.

    For most of the history of Chinese medicine, people apprenticed for years and years to become competent and this is only after having been immersed in the culture that spawned it for their entire lives. For most Westerners, who aren’t immediately familiar with the basic philosophical concepts behind the medicine, it will take considerably longer than a few years to gain any kind of mastery.

    Let me emphasize – I think that people can become competent acupuncturists in a 3-4 year program if they study DILIGENTLY and have some natural resonance with the medicine. I think learning herbs and formulas will add considerably more time to the course of study and I think to gain any level of mastery will take many years of practice beyond that.

    I worry about shortening programs too much and/or making the information too simplified for ease of consumption – efforts to do this have degraded the medicine in a number of ways, in my opinion.

    I’m glad to have found your blog – keep writing!


  2. Evan says:

    Hi Eric,

    Thanks very much for your considered reply.

    Let me be very clear. I think it is possible for us to quickly and easily train practitioners who are better than those who now graduate.

    This is because the existing educational practice is simply lousy. This is what I am challenging. I think we can train students to be far better practitioers on graduation, and in a way that they find more enjoyable.

    Ask yourself how much attention goes to educational practice at the colleges you know and know of. How many of them are actively seeking to making learning more enjoyable and easy. How much instruction were you given in how to memorise (it seems the teachers don’t care doesn’t it. Ie. where is the heart? Where is the compassion that softens rigid adherence to bureaucratic rules? Where is the attempt to engage the students vision? Where is the instruction on the connection between serenity and learning? Where is the link with our vocation? Where is the instruction to discard what is of no use (perhaps challenge is disliked?). Believe me I could go on (I guess you don’t doubt this).

    My belief is that as people know the theory (ie. experience in their own body) they will have great understanding. And this is easy to obtain in TCM the main theory refers to experience (except in particularly wretched translations). There are few concepts (about 40) and while their combination is subtle and manifold this need not lead to impenetrability or difficulty.

    People learn matters of very great complexity at four years of age (eg English and Mandarin). Adults stop doing this because they are taught differently – boring yourself rigid is rewarded instead of getting feedback on an issue of immediate concern for instance. People love to learn and do it naturally. That it is hard it something we have learned from our experience of schooling. (If we love children and dislike child abuse, how come the schools are the way they are?)

    Many a business school has better educational practice than health colleges. I find this situation appalling, scandalous and outrageous.

    As you can see this is something I feel passionately about – and am in the process of seeing what I can do about it.

    I am happy to point you to much literature on educational practice – this isn’t just my ranting there are decades of research on this. A very great introduction is Eric Sotto’s When Teaching Becomes Learning (available on Amazon still I think).

    I am convinced that with a little more attention to educational pracitice we can graduate more students in less time who are better. I have no interest in compromising standards of practice, what I want to do is raise the standards of education vastly.

    I hope this long reply addresses your concerns. I’m very keen to discuss this more if you wish to. I think it is an issue that is most important.

  3. Madcap says:

    I’m really looking forward to reading, especially now that I have a better idea of what it is that you’re planning to set out. I’m currently taking massage therapy with the aim of getting a grounding in anatomy and physiology and palpation, but one of my longer term goals is to have a solid understanding of meridian theory. I love acupuncture – it’s saved my life in this past year.

  4. Evan Hadkins says:

    Hi Madcap,

    Thanks. I hope you’re enjoying massage. I find it great to deliver – it can help me feel better as well as the client.

    If you’d be happy to say I’d like to hear more about how acupuncture saved your life.

    Thanks for taking the time to comment. It helps keep me motivated to post.


  5. Eric Grey says:

    Hey Evan,

    Thanks for your reply. I think I understand where you’re coming from. I absolutely agree that the way that education is delivered in most colleges is terrible. My program is trying desperately to move away from that model, but still has the institutional shackles in place in some areas of the curriculum. I have a 10 year old daughter, and have done a lot of reading and studying on educational models so I absolutely agree with your assertions.

    My only concern would be to make sure rigor in studying the Classics and allowing the time to help people deepen their personal cultivation remain an integral part of any curriculum. Also, while I think that some of the basic theory in Chinese medicine is certainly easy to assimilate because it comes from basic human experience, some of the higher level theories are a little more difficult to get a grasp of. Maybe what I’m trying to get at is while the basics of our medicine are ultimately simple, true mastery of the ins and outs of the medicine take a lot of time, concentration and ultimately hard work.

    I do think that it makes some sense to let the first level of the education be basic, just making people competent – I do think that the educational institutions should be responsible for giving people the tools to be not just practiitoners, but scholars. If they want to pick up those tools, fine. If not, fine.

    Thanks, again, for your post.


  6. Madcap says:

    Sorry about the delay – life got very busy there.

    Last year at this time my body was shutting down with allergies and metabolic problems, and every month I was getting worse instead of better. I really was dying. I found a great acupuncturist, and over the course of the past year we’ve resurrected my left hand pulses. I’m still relatively weak in some ways, but things are constantly improving rather than deteriorating – I can be with other people, eat things I couldn’t for years, even take a course! It’s very exciting, and I’m wondering what the future holds for the first time in a long time.

  7. Evan says:

    Thanks Madcap.

    It’s great to hear that you are well and truly on the road back to health.

    When you find out I’d love to hear what the future holds for you. One the healing is over the adventure begins.

    Wishing you joy and love in the journey and hoping to hear more from you. Evan

  8. […] Evan from a great Chinese medicine related blog, Acupuncture is Easy, presents some interesting food for thought concerning the environmental and social aspects of acupuncture in his article, Acupuncture, Ecology and Social Justice. […]

  9. Evan says:

    Thanks for including me. I am honoured and grateful.

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