Thomas-Costello MS, LMT, LAc
I had the opportunity to spend some time in to New Orleans with the
not-for-profit group Acupuncturists Without Borders. Teams of volunteer
acupuncturist from the organization have been part of the disaster
relief and recovery process in New Orleans since Sept. 2005, when the
region was devastated by hurricanes and a series of levy breaks that
flooded the city. Over the course of 10 days, our team of two licensed
acupuncturists and two support people treated over 275 people for
stress and trauma with an auricular (ear) acupuncture protocol. The
objective of Acupuncturists Without Borders is to provide acupuncture
as a means of trauma care for people in crisis situations. The main
venues for the organization’s work, since its inception in
include New Orleans and a new project to care for the latest generation
of war veterans as they return home. The organization is laying plans
to begin working internationally as well as domestically.
New Orleans, patients lined up to receive acupuncture treatment at a
number of venues throughout the city. Trauma, in New Orleans, is
widespread. We treated people in their workplaces, including police and
fire stations, military operational centers, hotels and social service
offices. We also set up in public spaces; at a farmers market and
several church-sponsored community events. Finally, we
out to the many volunteers who have come to the region to lend a hand.
All across the city, we met an inspiring mix of residents who rode out
the storm, newly returning evacuees and people who had come to the
region to help. Along with providing acupuncture treatment,
listened. The stories of the residents were colored hope and tenacity,
anger and despair.
New Orleans is shifting from a
disaster zone into a phase of recovery.
Parts of the city have again become operational and inhabitable. Many
of the thousands of abandoned cars and piles of debris that littered
the streets just months ago have been cleared away. In some
neighborhoods, residents and volunteers are working to gut and rebuild
dwellings and businesses. White FEMA trailers dot many streets,
indicating that the people who lived their before the disaster are
returning. One resident, who was working on revitalizing his
neighborhood association, said that nearly all of the people that he
knew are doing some form of community volunteer work, in addition to
their paying jobs The lights in the French Quarter, the
main tourist attraction, are lit and its streets crowded with visitors.
However, according to the taxi drivers, business continues to fall far
short of pre-Katrina levels.
other areas of the city, the devastation is much more obvious. The
streets are empty and life seems hesitant to return. In place of houses
sit huge, jumbled piles of building materials and personal belongings.
In these neighborhoods, normalcy is a long ways off. Many evacuated
residents have been unable to return or have chosen to stay in the
communities to which they were evacuated. Life since the
is difficult to manage. Many of the people we met are working two and
three jobs to cover the increased cost of living expenses. According to
residents, rents on inhabitable housing increased by as much as 25%
following the disaster.
Orleans currently has the highest rates of murder and suicide in the
nation. Social workers described a city in which most people are
suffering from anxiety and depression. The number of functioning
hospitals and healthcare clinics was dramatically reduced by the
hurricanes and flooding. Volunteer organizations have created mobile
clinics and some hospitals have returned to operational status.
However, there are few options for mental health services to help
people to recover from the crisis and trauma. This is largely where
acupuncture treatment fits into the picture of disaster relief and
recovery. Our treatment consisted exclusively of a five needle
auricular acupuncture protocol that was originally developed in the
context of substance abuse rehabilitation. Like traumatic situations,
the detox process is a time of great physiologic and psychological
stress. As this protocol has become a standard part of many
rehabilitation plans, it has also been found to be effective for people
under other types of stress.
protocol of ear acupoints is an example of ancient acupuncture
practices put to use in a modern context. The treatment consists of
three points to support major body system function and two points that
promote relaxation and a calm spirit. Auricular acupuncture has been
shown in lab tests to stimulate the release of endorphins in the brain.
These neurochemicals are responsible for the sensation of calm and well
being that people experience when they are in safe, secure situations.
In this way, the acupuncture treatment can help to counteract the
physical and mental effects of being in a traumatic situation. The
auricular acupuncture treatment is an effective part of recovery from
trauma. People who received the treatment in New Orleans reported
feeling a “greater sense of well being for several days
after” and “lighter.” Those who came for
treatments told us that they were better able to sleep, felt fewer
craving for food and cigarettes and that the 20 to 40 minute treatments
made them feel refreshed, as though they had slept.
Acupuncturists Without Borders in New Orleans, the next step is to
continue to work together with mental health service providers as the
networks for mental health care are reestablished in the New Orleans
area. The group is contemplating the best strategy for offering
treatment during the recovery phase.
experiences providing acupuncture care in New Orleans made it time well
spent. I was again impressed by the effectiveness of the acupuncture
treatment and the strong interest of people in receiving this kind of
care. Being in the environment of a disaster provided valuable
perspective for those of us living in relative calm. The strong spirit
of New Orleans and her people was an inspiration and a gift to those of
us who went to lend a hand. Information about Acupuncturists Without
Borders is available online at acuwithoutborders.org