IMG_0294In the root of the word community is the gift of being together.  For me, community is also a path to helping people heal.  I was trained in acupuncture school to treat one person at a time and to charge an hourly rate commensurate with that effort( $70 – $200 for just one session!).    I accidentally learned, however, that in China, that acupuncture treatment is traditionally done in a group clinic with everyone together, at a price that allows people to come every day or as often as needed to truly get better.  The lower cost allows people to use this medicine for prevention as well as when they are in pain or getting sick.  We call this “community acupuncture” – it is acupuncture that is done in a common room, and it is acupuncture that is structured to serve the community.  It is the gift to this community!

There is a cool thing that happens when you get a bunch of people peacefully healing in a room together.  The life energy that could be called “QI” (“chi”) is almost tangible when you get a large group in a room, all in that trance that happens when you get acupuncture.   Healing happens in community in a different way than when you are by yourself.  It is like being in church when everyone is focused on a prayer, or being in a large group, meditating.

Once I had this idea of giving acupuncture to groups for a fraction of the price that many private sessions cost, I was possessed by the impact of this idea.  Did you know that only a small percentage of this country has ever even tried acupuncture?  It has been estimated at only one percent.  Acupuncture is often not covered by insurance, and insurance coverage might in some cases allow just a few sessions a year?  Acupuncture is like physical therapy or working out. If you really need it, being limited to three or six or so sessions in a year is not going to help that much.  For the increasing number of us who have high deductible insurance plans, covering the out-of-pocket cost of ten $70 treatments in 5-10 weeks is often out of reach.  Community acupuncture fills this gap, by allowing people to get frequent treatment on an affordable sliding scale.

In this country, the health care system is increasingly broken and does not serve even the folks who have jobs, who have insurance, and who are proactive about taking care of themselves.  To a greater degree, our current system does not serve the folks who have fallen through the cracks.  Acupuncture cannot by itself stem the healthcare tsunami, but for the people in our local communities who have chronic pain or chronic illness, having access to this one therapy can make a very big difference.

As a social entrepreneur, my mission is to increase the accessibility of this amazingly effective medicine to a much wider audience, to people who simply could not spend upwards of $70 for one treatment when you really need ten treatments (on average) to actually get better.  My goal is to impact up to several thousand people in this great metro region of over a million people.  My dream is that once I fill all six of the chairs in my currently tiny clinic, I can expand to hire two more acupuncturists (local job creation!) and add a up to a dozen chairs.  Operating on a larger scale would expand my clinic’s available hours beyond 20 hours a week, and make it much easier for the whole of Richmond to discover what possibilities lie in the ancient medicine we call acupuncture.

Pamela Howard is the Director of the clinic at Invoke, which provides Community Acupuncture to the metro region of Richmond.  She is a licensed acupuncturist, and a member of the People’s Organization of Community Acupuncture (, which is the most rapidly growing consortium of acupuncturists in the world.  She is also certified by and a member of the National Acupuncture Detox Association (NADA), which provides treatment for addiction.  You can find her at