Acazia Gilmore takes part in Acupuncturists Without Borders, which runs a free clinic to provide acupuncture to veterans at the Pojoaque Pueblo Wellness Center (101 Lightning Loop, 505-455-0317) every Wednesday from 3-5 pm.
SFR: Tell me about why acupuncture in the ear is beneficial for veterans and people with traumas.
AG: Acupuncturists started doing the ear points mainly because some of the points are stimulated to reduce cravings and increase serotonin and melatonin levels in your body and your brain. So Dr. Michael Smith at Lincoln Hospital in New York City found that after using these five points over and over, it was proven that it was super helpful to reduce anxiety, stress and insomnia. Originally it was for detox programs; it would help people stay off of drugs and alcohol, and they found that it was also helpful to address a person as a whole.
When did they start to use this on veterans?
The veterans’ program, started by Acupuncturists Without Borders [AWB], started in 2006 in Albuquerque. Before that, people started taking clinics for the ear points into areas of natural disasters. Like when 9.11 happened, somebody went in and started doing ear acupuncture on people as a trauma-relief program. They found that it was effective to reduce stress. When all the Iraqi war veterans started coming back, AWB wanted to start a program that helped the veterans coming back with anxiety and insomnia.
I’m surprised they didn’t make the connection between acupuncture and veterans sooner.
AWB was only founded in 2005. I think it also took a long time for acupuncture to even be acknowledged in the US. It’s been a struggle in general but, as time goes on, it gets more respect.
On that topic, what do you say to people who say there are no studies proving that it helps?
Dr. Michael Hollifield conducted a study in Albuquerque that looked at the link between post-traumatic stress disorder [PTSD] and acupuncture, and they found that it reduced the symptoms of PTSD significantly. Also, the Walter Reed Army Medical Center just did a study that looked at, specifically, veterans and PTSD and acupuncture in 2007, but the results haven’t been released yet.
You have a lifelong background in Chinese medicine, right?
Yeah, I’ve only taken antibiotics two or three times in my life. Fortunately for me, I didn’t have a lot of physical illness and I didn’t need a lot of Western medicine growing up. If I got sick, we always used herbs. That probably sounds like witchcraft…I like the fact that Chinese medicine addresses mind, body and spirit—and that’s my passion. I think that Western medicine has a lot to offer; I think it’s super beneficial and, if I wasn’t such a strong believer in Chinese medicine, then maybe I would have gone down the Western medicine path. I think they really complement each other.
So, your veterans’ clinic is in Pojoaque.?
We’re hoping to do something in Santa Fe, but we’re still working on finding a place, since it’s volunteer-based and free. We have to find a place that’s willing to give us the space. It’s a slower process than we would like.
How has the response been from veterans?
We get four to eight people each week. Some people come regularly, some sporadically, some come once. We need to figure out how to get people to the clinic—is it transportation issues? Is it that people aren’t educated enough about acupuncture? Is it publicity issues and people don’t know about us? I’m trying to figure out why we’re not getting as many people as we want.
Do you treat participants individually or in groups?
We set it up community-style, so there are chairs in a circle. As AWB has taken it to different disaster sites, like the fires in California or Hurricane Katrina, it’s always been set up with chairs facing each other. We do the five points, and they’re left in for half an hour or 45 minutes. We try to keep it quiet so people can just relax. Some people fall asleep. Some people don’t feel anything. Not everybody benefits from it, just like not everybody benefits from other modalities.
Are there particular benefits to doing it in groups?
When you have a conflict or trauma or disaster within your community, a huge part of the healing of that comes from community-based working together. And when you’re around all these other people in your community, getting acupuncture, the idea is that you address the whole community instead of individuals. It can be more moving for people to be together.
What positive experiences have people told you?
Someone comes every week and they said it’s really helped regulate their emotions and has helped regulate their emotional outbursts. They feel a lot calmer in general and are able to cope easier. Someone else came and said they felt that it was one of the few things that really gave them relief from all of the anxiety that they’ve been having since the Vietnam War. It can be a really powerful experience for people where, for once in their life, they feel calm and OK. We also get their family members—the wives and husbands of people that have been in wars.
So you treat family members of veterans as well?
You treat the family because war doesn’t just affect the person that’s in the war; it affects the whole family.