Treating Trauma with NADA

Nepal Acupuncturists Without Borders

As the New Year begins, we can see light in the midst of darkness. The COVID-19 pandemic will likely fade into a less virulent disaster for communities around the world, as more people gain immunity through natural exposure and immunization. The suffering has been deep, devastating and global, combined with other major stressors like systemic injustice, natural disasters, poverty, violence, human displacement and long-neglected generational trauma. It has been a very hard year.

Chinese Medicine teaches us that Yin and Yang exist together, hold each other, transform into one another, and so it goes with positive things that can arise out of incredibly horrible situations. A positive aspect of COVID-19 has been increased public awareness about how traumatic stress wrecks individuals, families, communities and nations. We more fully understand that emotional trauma is foundational to ill-health, and that if not resolved, can extend for generations with devastating consequences. Our evolving understanding of neuroscience has revealed that traumatic patterns are not just psychological. They are physically-based, wreaking havoc with the brain, nervous system and metabolism, and require somatic interventions like acupuncture to help people recover and heal.

NADA poem

Trauma is not the event--it is the processing of the event(s). People with trauma patterns are in a state of biologically-wired dysregulation, such as flight, fight, or freeze. Regulating the body has to happen BEFORE a person can use the Brain-Heart axis to process emotionally and integrate traumatic experience. Acupuncture is a beautiful somatic tool because it is a highly regulating therapy.

Acupuncturists Without Borders (AWB) uses the microsystem of ear acupuncture to treat trauma. We rely on the NADA 5 Needle Protocol as a primary clinical tool, because it is well researched, simple, powerful, safe, low-cost and easy to administer in community acupuncture settings. The NADA Protocol was developed in the 1970’s at Lincoln Hospital in the South Bronx by community health workers and members of the Black Panthers and Young Lords. Used initially as an alternative to methadone for people addicted to heroin, the NADA Protocol has come into contemporary use as a comprehensive auricular treatment for pain, stress and trauma. AWB uses NADA when we work in disaster and conflict zones, particularly when we are treating large groups of people who have shared stressful, traumatic experiences. Treating people in a collective, communal environment is even more effective because the regulatory effect of the protocol is enhanced by the group.

At AWB, we see the NADA Protocol as a complete Five Element treatment that uniquely regulates each person. For some, regulation means relaxation, for others it means re-embodiment and activation. The NADA Protocol points include: Shen Men, Sympathetic, Kidney, Liver and Lung:

  • Shen Men is the Fire Point that fosters connection to self and others, often disrupted when a person holds trauma.
  • Kidney is the Water Point that sustains faith and hope that recovery is possible.
  • Liver is the Wood Point that cultivates structure, growth and the ability to change, all essential to trauma healing.
  • Lung is the Metal Point that helps a person “let go.”
  • There is no Earth point in the NADA Protocol. Earth is the treatment circle itself, which safely grounds each person. Safety is essential in trauma healing.
  • Sympathetic is a regulation point that helps the system move from chaos to greater balance.

The pandemic has made it harder to provide in-person acupuncture in our private practices and community settings. AWB is accustomed to doing mobile clinics in disaster zones, so it has been relatively easy to offer safe community clinics OUTSIDE with additional COVID-era safety practices in place to protect patients and practitioners. We sponsored dozens of outdoor community clinics in cities across the country (and internationally) in late spring, summer, and autumn, and are now on “winter break” until surge rates diminish, vaccines are more widespread, and the weather gets warmer so that we can work outside again.

Meanwhile, we continue to use other pandemic-safe tools to help bring regulation to our traumatized communities, particularly front-line and essential workers who carry a disproportionate amount of traumatic stress:

  • AWB distributes free ear seed kits to healthcare and essential workers, with an instructional video on how to apply seeds to oneself or another person. Seeds applied to the NADA points work very well to reduce stress and burnout, improve sleep, reduce pain and improve focus and emotional balance. See the instructional video included in this article. Kits can be ordered by contacting director@acuwithoutborders.org.
  • Once we are able to practice with greater safety again, our trauma-healing skills will be needed more than ever by our patients and communities. AWB has developed multiple on-line training courses that prepare acupuncturists and other health professionals to treat trauma safely and effectively in private and community setting clinics. Details here: https://acuwithoutborders.org/online-classes/

To conclude, we’d like to wish you a happy, healthy 2021. We've shared a poem about NADA, written by Ramon Serrano, L.Ac., activist, artist, teacher and coordinator of AWB’s trauma-healing program in Puerto Rico.

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