West Philadelphia: Acupuncture Made Accessible to the Community


An acupuncture clinic is something you might not expect to see in West Philadelphia but nestled on the third floor of an old firehouse building sits Philadelphia Community Acupuncture. It may be hard to spot from the street but the clinic’s effect on the community is not. Acupuncture is offered at very reasonable rates and essentially the patient pays for what they can afford so that no one is denied the benefits of the treatment.

“The way that students are trained in acupuncture school to market is to market to upper-middle class patients and to charge a lot of money,” said Ellen Vincent, a licensed acupuncturist at the clinic. “It leaves acupuncture inaccessible to the majority of the people in the United States so it’s not workable.”

Licensed acupuncturist Ellen Vincent strongly believes in the community approach to acupuncture.

Most acupuncturists in the United States only see one patient an hour and charge around $65 to $175 a treatment, according to the clinic. A long time is spent asking questions and going over medical records. This leaves little time for the actual treatment and allows the doctor only to see one patient at a time resulting in such a high price per visit.

“It creates greater accessibility for alternative health care,” said Rebecca Parker, one of three licensed acupuncturists at the clinic along with Vincent and Korben Perry. “It allows all different kinds of people to come together and experience acupuncture and all of its benefits.”

A discounted rate for the community is not the only thing that makes the clinic unique. It also uses a community setting to treat patients. This way it is easy for families and friends to come in and receive treatment together without being separated into different rooms. It is also a more comfortable setting and a collective energetic field becomes established.

“There’s something that happens in the community room, said Vincent. “There’s no need to have walls or partitions or cubicles or anything like that. You actually get to be in a room with a group of people which is a huge contradiction to the isolation that most of us experience in our lives in America.”

The community setting requires patients to be a little more flexible as well. Some patients may snore when they fall asleep, but earplugs can solve that small problem. Some patients may stay for longer than other, but a patient will never be rushed through a treatment. Letting the receptionist know what time you need to be done is also recommended to ensure you do not oversleep.

The licensed acupuncturists not only perform the treatments but receive treatment regularly themselves. They started out as patients of acupuncture who enjoyed the benefits and were interested in spreading the word and letting others enjoy those same benefits.

“I got into acupuncture because I was a patient,” said Parker. “I used to be a bike messenger and one of my co-workers had a really bad accident and had to use acupuncture to help him get riding again. So when I had an accident, I sought out his acupuncturist and I was really amazed with the results.”

The results of acupuncture are usually not noticed immediately overnight. It is a process and it is very rare to take care of a problem with just one treatment. Most patients require a course of treatment in order to get what they want and need from acupuncture. Your first visit and a talk with one of the licensed acupuncturists will usually determine how much treatment you need. If you cannot stick with the plan laid out, then you probably will not see the results and reap the benefits of acupuncture.

Philadelphia Community Acupuncture is on the third floor of an old firehouse building in West Philadelphia.

How often a patient needs to come in to receive treatment is based on a case by case evaluation done by the acupuncturist. It can range from daily or weekly to just whenever the patient is experiencing pain or elevated stress.

“It depends on the situation and what they are getting treated for,” said Parker. “If it’s something that is an acute pain then it might be as often as daily. If it’s something like periodic stress, it might be just when the person is feeling stressed out. I usually recommend people start out a couple times a week, and then once they feel the benefits they can increase the amount of time between treatments.”

Philadelphia Community Acupuncture is a unique resource to the West Philadelphia community. The clinic does not need to advertise and chooses not to in order to keep patients costs low. It relies on word of mouth and recommendations from patients. The patients can tell much more than a newspaper ad or flier ever could. The first-hand accounts of the benefits of acupuncture from patients lure curious people looking for a different approach to medicine and treatment into the clinic located at 701 S. 50th St. every day.


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Philadelphia Community Acupuncture is trying to make its services accessible to everyone. The community organization uses a sliding pay scale to make acupuncture a service available to people of all incomes. Patients of acupuncture swear to the positive effects of the treatments.

“My back still hurts a little, but it’s better than it was before,” said Alexandrea Seminara, an acupuncture patient. “Some days, like the day after acupuncture, I’ll wake up feeling like a million bucks. Feeling like I haven’t felt like in a long time, like on a drug almost.”

A patient sleeps while receiving acupuncture treatment in the community room.

While the precise effects of acupuncture cannot be scientifically measured, those who have tried it have become firm believers in its healing and preventative properties.

According to the clinic’s Web site, “the principle of acupuncture is treat each person as an integrated whole in body, mind and spirit and to remedy the root cause of illness and disease as well as the symptoms.” However, many people do not know what acupuncture really is, simply being scared off by the ideas of being stuck with needles.

“Some points you don’t even feel it. I think there are certain points that are pretty much universally a little bit pinchy,” said Zem Chance, an acupuncture patient. “When they go in, they can pinch a little bit, but if they do pinch, it usually goes away really quickly.”

Acupuncture is one of the oldest practiced forms of medicine in the world. However, many people are not familiar with the practice, which is used by over one third of the world’s people as a primary health care system.

Many people in the United States are unaware of acupuncture as it was originated in countries such as China, Korea, Japan, Vietnam and elsewhere in East Asia. While the exact origins of acupuncture are not known for sure, one theory says it was used to treat soldiers with illnesses that could not be treated.

Acupuncture is used as a versatile and all encompassing treatment. It can be used for a variety of ailments. Licensed acupuncturist Ellen Vincent of Philadelphia Community Acupuncture said the treatments are good for everything short of emergencies.

“People come in here for everything ranging from just general stress and anxiety to specific pain,” said Vincent. “The benefits are that acupuncture helps all of these conditions. Mainly anything with the exception of actual emergencies that need to go to the emergency room.”

Acupuncture is an invasive procedure and therefore can come with some health risks. However, the practice of acupuncture in the United States has been proven to be extremely safe when performed by licensed professionals.

While acupuncture may look like it hurts, patients say there is very little pain.

Treating an ailment is not always an exact science; the acupuncturist decides which points to treat and where to insert the needles by observing and questioning the patient in order to make a diagnosis. Some of the diagnosis methods include inspection, inquiring, auscultation, and palpation. Inspection and inquiring involve talking to and observing the patient. Auscultation refers to listening for certain bodily noises, such as wheezing or coughing. Palpation involves feeling the body for tender points in key areas.

Modern technology has also helped in making acupuncture a safer practice. Most modern acupuncturists use disposable sterilized stainless steel needles of microscopic diameter. These needles are far smaller in diameter and less painful than hypodermic injection needles since they do not have to be hollow for anything to flow through them.

Philadelphia Community Acupuncture is also trying to stay true to the treatment’s Asian origins. In the United States today, most acupuncturists treat patients on individual tables in sectioned cubicles. This practice is not typical of acupuncture’s origins. The organization brings back the community atmosphere by treating all patients in one open area. This is how acupuncture has been practiced for years in traditional Asian culture. For some patients, it helps to promote the healing feeling.

“There’s something about being in a room full of other people who are receiving acupuncture that just adds to the relaxation benefits,” said Chance. “The other day I was getting acupuncture and I was one of the later patients to come in. I was sleeping and all of the sudden I woke up and I realized I was the only one left. I was kind of like, okay I’m done now.”

In the United States today, however, there is no completely pure form of acupuncture. It has now become a mixture of parts from both Eastern and Western cultures.

Patients have varying results from acupuncture treatments. Some people feel relaxed while others feel energized after a treatment. Not everyone responds to acupuncture. If your symptoms don’t begin to improve within a few weeks, acupuncture may not be the right treatment for you.

If you are interested in trying acupuncture, Philadelphia Community Acupuncture is open seven days a week and can be reached at 215-729-2995.



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