Wyoming’s Radical Openness to NADA Ear Acupuncture: Community Healing Model for Anyone with the Blues?

Wyoming’s Radical Openness to NADA Ear Acupuncture: Community Healing Model for Anyone with the Blues?

In 2015, the legislature in the state of Wyoming made a significant investment in the idea that its people and communities could benefit if the National Acupuncture Detoxification Association (NADA) 5-point ear acupuncture protocol was put in the hands of the people. They created a law that allowed any adult U.S. citizen with an interest, who took and completed the appropriate NADA training, to provide the services. And unlike other states that might limit services to a few conditions or locations, this piece of Wild West legislation allowed the practice for stress relief, for pain, for loneliness, grief and whatever else may be tearing at one’s vital force, at fire stations or churches, community centers or malls, and whereever else “ADSes” – as they call themselves – might gather one of more interested recipients. The experiment is most under way in Laramie, Wyoming, population 30,000. Can the Laramie experience be a healing tool for the nation?

The legal basis for this practice is a section in the 2017 law that legalized acupuncture practice in Wyoming. “Auricular acupuncture” is established as a subset of practice. The statute calls it “tiered licensing.” Where licensed acupuncturists must meet certification standards of the National Certification Association for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAM), the law designates NADA training or an equivalent for the ADSes. The field is defined in the law as a “practice trained by a nationally recognized auricular acupuncture program for the purpose of treating mental and emotional health, post and acute trauma, substance abuse and chemical dependency.”

This umbrella of potential conditions for the treatment reaches approximately to everyone under the sun. The Wyoming legislature would have put an exclamation point on their intent by simply adding “the blues.”

The driving force behind this opportunity is a savvy organizer and ADse, Sara Bursac. From her office, Bursac happens also to be in her 9th year with NADA, and 4th as the executive director. A mentee of the field’s founding organizer, Michael Smith, MD, Bursac passionately supports Smith’s efforts to spread the healing potential of this group-based, community-building treatment method as broadly as possible.

The Wyoming legislature took the field of auricular acupuncture that already has a lower barrier to entry than acupuncture and democratized NADA even further. She wanted it to be available, open, and where possible, free. Envisioning such volunteer services, Bursac negotiated a negligible licensing fee for these lower tier practitioners of $80. This compares to the $900 first licentiate acupuncturists pay.

The closest parallel to Wyoming’s practice development may be Reiki. Interested individuals enter Reiki training programs with certified instructors. They self-fund training and frequently offer services as volunteers in hospitals and other settings – or to friends and colleagues when moments arise. Reiki is thus, effectively, a community service from which tens of thousands have quietly benefited since the practice gained ground in the healing AIDs communities 30 years ago. Bursac shares a representative query to NADA about training that shows the alignment of mission:

I would like to learn the NADA protocol, and am looking for inexpensive or free training in the NYC area. I got the idea this was available but can’t find it on the NADA website. I volunteer in my community and with family as an herbalist and have some basic weekend training in auricular therapy. Id like to add this to what I can help people with. I am not looking to make money from this, just want to help. Can you point me in a direction? Thanks for any help!!

In this first year of the licensed practice of auricular acupuncture in Wyoming, the most significant development of the model has been in Bursac’s town of Laramie. Bursac works with a growing group of now 7 practitioners – of the first 28 now licensed in the state. They advertise a “Free Stress Relief Clinic” on a community calendar in the local paper and via a Facebook page. Word-of-mouth also helps. Sessions may include from 4-10 people 5 days a week (M, T, Th, F and Sat), usually on the lunch hour but the Thursday is a late afternoon session, and the Saturday a 10am session. They have provided services in a fire station, in the group space at several therapists’ offices, at the local public library, and at a community mental health clinic.

Bursac orients the group’s accomplishments to date: “This is Wyoming – where they haven’t even had an acupuncture law until two years ago,”  In 2014, the first year of clinics – prior to the law – the group brought 150 people cross the threshold to try these services – or 5 per thousand Laramie residents. For perspective, that would be 2500 in a Red State city of 500,000.

The small program, Laramie Free Stress Relief clinics, doesn’t yet have any formal shareable outcomes. Bursac is in dialogue with academic researchers from the local University of Wyoming on how at least rudimentary data might be collected. She plans to submit something in response to a call for papers on innovation in group-delivered services.

Bursac shared a brief write up of an experience that, to her, captured something of the potency of the healing that is underway through these volunteers. She notes that while the treatment process is non-verbal, a community has developed “that is supportive and committed to this approach to stress relief and personal wellness.”

An experience at a recent Tuesday clinic, which takes place in the group room of a mental health practice, reminded me of the sacredness of the treatment space, and the amazing people who make it what it is. I was subbing for the regular provider, and was 20 minutes late – an unusual occurrence. I approached the group room and saw the lights turned low, and a group of people sitting quietly, meditatively. This is what treatment feels like, looks like – I wondered if someone had telepathically known I was running late and come to the rescue.

I approached one of our ‘regulars’ and asked who had given the treatment. She said, no one, we are waiting to get one. They had waited twenty minutes, quietly, meditatively, without apprehension or anxiety. There was a new person in the group, and even he seemed calm. I was floored. After I had needled all nine participants, I allowed the slowness of the group breath to slow and calm me down. I felt a deep gratitude for the intelligence in the room – the wisdom that sitting quietly for 30-45 minutes can have a tremendous impact in one’s day, and, week by week, in one’s life.

The story has a particular resonance for those who enjoy the multi-leveled ironies in the NADA acronym. The formal treatment – the needling –  nothing and the ritual of community engagement may be everything – basic meaning – to those who participate.

NADA (L) and Battlefield (R)

Bursac’s story suggested what a powerful tool this treatment could be, for instance, to the work in the Veteran’s Administration to create a “whole health” model system wide. At the core of the “person-driven” VA model is an organized effort, principally outside the clinical setting, to assist each veteran to locate their core meaning and motivation for health. The VA strategy, based on an 8-9 week Circle of Health training program, is person to person. In such a context, it isn’t difficult to picture the VA offering widespread NADA training – even as the Department of Defense has rapidly spread it’s own auricular battlefield acupuncture program to thousands. Picture the value to high-PTSD veterans and their families of sitting in the kind of circles Bursac describes, quiet, reflective – even with or without needles or seeds in their ears.

The Wyoming model will certainly not be appealing to many licensed acupuncturists and their political leaders who already oppose recognition of ADses in any form.  That many acupuncturists also believe their practice is being whittled away by the rise of dry-needling is likely to lead many acupuncturists to be short of jubilant toward putting this treatment in the hands of the people. An edge might be removed if those who were certified guaranteed to do the work as volunteers – as they are in the Laramie model – rather than as paid practitioners.

Call it pain or loneliness, stress, sleeplessness, an existential dilemma, the historic loss of church-union-community-connectedness, or trauma, or just to have somewhere to go – whether you credit BB King of Joe Louis Walker or Merle Haggard or James Taylor for first calling it out, it’s reasonable to say that at some points “everyone has the blues.”

Everyone’s has had it hard at some time
People trying to find a peace of mind
I’ve been trying, I ain’t lying
Trying to find a peace of mind …
I lay every night thinking about my situation
I get the blues, right off the bat
If we can just have a decent conversation
You know that things wouldn’t be so bad

Might the Wyoming model for auricular acupuncture be a pilot for dealing with the blues in many of its modern forms, for the nation? Certainly it will be good to examine the Wyoming experience more closely before opening doors everywhere. Yet imagine such volunteer-led people’s gatherings, connecting, finding community and healing. The groups could be found in any manner of facility where an individual who has decided to have a hand in community healing has achieved a certificate of training and gathered 4-10 individuals into this silent “decent conversation” to find their way to greater peace.