How it works: Anywhere from one to three dozen people relax on massage tables or in reclining chairs in designated spaces ranging in style from light-filled yoga studios to community rec rooms. Licensed acupuncturists schedule patients at 10-minute intervals, then check on them periodically throughout their treatments.
How it started: Lisa Rohleder, now 47, had been in private practice for eight years when she founded the first community acupuncture studio in Portland, Oregon, in 2002. Other like-minded practitioners quickly followed suit, and six years later, the People’s Organization of Community Acupuncture (POCA) was born. Now it’s a cooperative boasting 200-plus clinics in North America, a microloan program, peer mentors and, as of last year, an acupuncture school of its own. POCA offered an estimated one million treatments in 2014.
The pros: Research shows that acupuncture is an effective treatment for chronic headaches and backaches, and some studies suggest it can help improve fertility and counter depression. However, for best results, experts recommend weekly treatments for the first few months for long-term issues such as anxiety or fatigue (an acute condition such as a sprained ankle might require a shorter series of every-other-day treatments). With private sessions averaging $100 (and seldom covered by insurance), costs can quickly skyrocket. “When it comes to acupuncture, the most important part of the treatment is when the patient shows up,” says Rohleder. “You have to be able to try it to see if you like it, and you have to be able to afford enough treatments for it to make a difference.” By seeing multiple patients in a single large room, community clinics are able to reduce fees to between $15 and $50 a session.
The cons: There’s the issue of vulnerability, of course—especially for newbies who worry they might flinch at their first sight of an acupuncture needle. And once you get comfortable, there’s always a chance that a restless neighbor may momentarily interrupt your Zen. But privacy isn’t really an issue: Some practitioners will invite you into a separate office to chat about your issues, but even if they don’t, you can simply confer sotto voce at the beginning of each session. A more common criticism of community acupuncture—at least from those who are used to one-on-one sessions—is that because patients wear loose, comfortable clothing during their sessions rather than disrobing, practitioners are limited to working exclusively on easily accessible parts of the body (think: feet, hands, lower arms and legs, head). Rohleder’s response? “There are so many good acupuncture points all over the body,” she says, “that an acupuncturist has a lot of flexibility.”