Commentary on My Interview with Michael Smith
Please Note! Due to the high volume of irritating spam and slow-down of participation here, we are no longer accepting new comments, questions, or subjects on this Forum. We are keeping all the subjects and comments for review as there is a lot of good stuff here relating to practice-building subjects. So, dig deep! Thanks to everyone who participated here but it is time to move on to bigger projects educating the public about acupuncture! Matt Bauer
11-Sep-2013 01:30 PM
I had the great honor to conduct an interview with someone who is a hero of mine, Dr. Michael Smith, best known as the founding Director of the National Acupuncture Detoxification Association (NADA). I suspect few of you reading this have a good understanding of the work Michael has done and is still doing and that is a shame. Of course, he did not do this alone – there are many unsung heroes involved in these accomplishments but Michael’s work inspired many others to want to devote their energies to helping hundreds of thousands of drug addicts and those with mental/emotional disorders. In this interview, you will hear Michael’s criticisms of both the Western medical system and the acupuncture/Chinese medicine field, especially in America. Without some understanding of just what Michael has done and the way he has been treated, he may come-off to the uninformed as hyper-critical. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Michael’s interview presented me with a bit of a moral dilemma. I very much want to stay positive in my efforts to help Acupuncturists succeed with their patients and in their practices but I also want to be honest and not avoid unpleasant subjects if those subjects involve knowledge helpful to practice success. This being the case, I want to share with you why I believe the American AOM community should be ashamed of the way it reacted to what should have been a source of pride regarding acupuncture’s use in treating chemical dependency especially among the poor. I bring this up both to help you get more out of this interview and also because what was wrong in how Michael and NADA were treated by the leadership of some U.S. AOM groups is indicative of many things that are still wrong and hindering Acupuncturists from reaching their potential today.
I had the good fortune to work with Michael in the late 1980’s at a drug treatment facility in Los Angeles’ Skid Row that was sponsored by the L.A. Sherriff’s department as part of an anti-crime measure. Many of our clients there were homeless, just out of jail, and seriously addicted to such street drugs as heroin and crack cocaine. Let me be blunt; these were the type of people most of us would go out of our way to avoid passing on the street. Not Michael. He had been working for years with marginalized and underserved elements of our society and did so with no prejudice, fear, or liberal guilt. His many years of dealing with addicts gave him the most finely honed B.S. meter I have ever seen and not just with addicts.
I was surprised and dismayed when Michael and NADA began to be criticized by leaders in AOM organizations because NADA advocated using drug counselors to perform the ear-acupuncture detox protocol developed by NADA when no Licensed Acupuncturists were available or willing to do the needling. I was involved with some of those organizations and saw first-hand that the ones doing the criticizing had no understanding of how these treatment programs worked. Michael and the NADA pioneers were so devoted to their work that they would go virtually anywhere they were invited – jails, prisons, Indian Reservations, the poorest of the poor neighborhood clinics – to help people with drug and alcohol addictions. And, while acupuncture was a vital part of the NADA protocol, it was only one part of a highly sophisticated approach to treating chemical dependency. As a Medical Doctor, Psychiatrist, and Addiction Specialist, Michael was an expert in addiction recovery before he began using acupuncture.
Too many AOM “leaders” seemed to think Michael and NADA were riding on acupuncture’s coattails while committing the unforgivable sin of not being Licensed Acupuncturists themselves. This mentality still tends to exist where AOM leaders see themselves as the keepers of the true faith – those fighting against the impure who are trying to cash-in on acupuncture while not being “fully trained” in AOM by virtue of graduating from our sanctioned schools and passing our licensing exams. I am proud of the education and licensing infrastructure we set-up for AOM in the U.S. and also believe it best to have those with more training at the forefront of delivering acupuncture services whenever feasible but, as you will hear in my interview with Michael, this general idea has been taken to extremes and ends-up limiting the number of people who can get helped with this therapy and that is not right.
While it took many years for me to see this, it has been my observation that most of those AOM leaders who fought or are currently fighting to protect our turf are not full-time practitioners. Those of us who make our living serving the public know that fighting pain and illness is a gritty battle. You often have to fight for every inch of progress and learn that no one can be successful with every patient every time. You also learn that other health care providers are fighting just as hard in their own disciplines and are just as devoted and caring as you. If these other providers can be taught how to deliver some acupuncture related care in a safe manner to help their patients, that is something those of us in the trenches would support. All of us fighting pain and illness are on the same team. Who cares if a drug counselor is taught how to insert a few ear points so they can use that weapon together with their other training as addiction recovery specialists? We should be happy to share our resources with our comrades in arms.
I understand and share the concern that AOM knowledge not be usurped by those who do not fully appreciate its depth and profundity. However, we need to look at the reality on the ground. We don’t “own” acupuncture and those who are not themselves working in the trenches delivering care should be careful about judging others who are when they seek to broaden the care they give. The “fully trained” AOM practitioner does not hold the keys to the magic kingdom. The truth is you can teach useful elementary acupuncture methods safely to other health care providers. We could make more progress integrating ourselves into the mainstream by sharing knowledge in mutual respect rather than publically accusing others of endangering the public. And by the way – many of our “colleagues” in the Far East think we U.S. Licensed Acupuncturists are ourselves woefully undertrained.
I am all in favor of high standards of AOM training for those who wants to plumb the great depths of AOM theory and worry that its profound potential may be lost if we are not diligent enough. But I am also in favor to getting practical tools into the hands of those that can use them to the greatest good of those suffering. Countless addicts are grateful Michael Smith and NADA were able to recognize and employ acupuncture’s potential in treating the plague of chemical dependency. The AOM community should be grateful also.
11-Sep-2013 05:18 PM
Nice piece and I agree with you but what about the interview? Are you going to publish it? If so where? I believe we walk in the shadows of the masters and Michael Smith is a master we can all learn from and aspire to emulate. I don’t know many acupuncturists who don’t use the NADA protocol and I find the criticism you speak about difficult to accept. Granted there are definite egos in our profession but the results from NADA are really amazing. I hope you share your interview.
Thanks for the opinion piece.
11-Sep-2013 05:20 PM
Oops, I think I just found it.
11-Sep-2013 06:03 PM
|Sorry – I should have put the link for the audio in the post – here it is http://www.makingacupuncturepay.net/announcements/audio|
12-Sep-2013 06:03 PM
The following post was submitted last night from NADA supporter Ryan but the way this system works is I am need to approve the first post from a new poster before you can post without my approving it. I did not get notice of this post because Verizon had their email system crash. I am posting it this way and apologize for the delay. Ryan – thank you so much for this post – I hope it gets more people talking and I will look to follow-up with you or anyone from NADA about how to shine a brighter light on these problems. Matt Bauer
I applaud your efforts to dive into the whole turf war battles and stand up for NADA throughout the interview. You mention quite a bit the leaders of the acupuncture world and their opposition to NADA. The California acu profession “leaders”, where you call home, has consistently opposed NADA policies, most recently a few years ago, and their stance impacts other states as well. A good place to start the conversation with the acu community about these protectionist attitudes is in your own back yard there. Such a need for education about NADA on the west coast. It’s sad that partly due to these efforts of acupuncturists, there’s more NADA going on in some small corners of the third world than in the “liberal” states of California, Hawaii and Oregon combined.
In your interview you talk about the acupuncture conferences in the US. Just wanted to point out that NADA does have its own conference annually in the US, it’s likely the most diverse gathering of acu folk worldwide. Give it a try some year and I’m sure you’ll meet some new friends to support your efforts. Great place to learn about how to help educate acupuncturists about the value of NADA specialists in the larger healthcare field. Come meet the NADA family! http://acudetox.net