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New Practitioners Getting the Point of Acupuncture : Number of Schools Is Growing in U.S. Despite Controversial Technique's Limitations

September 24, 1986|GARRY ABRAMS | Times Staff Writer

A few children of the raucous and turbulent '60s and early '70s have found careers at last.

As acupuncturists.

After nearly two decades of wandering the more conventional side of the American job market--armed with that former ticket to success, a college degree--a handful of dreamers and yearners celebrated a new beginning last week when they received diplomas in an ancient and controversial Chinese art--inserting fine needles in the body to treat disease and relieve pain.

To Regain Idealism

As part of the first graduating class of the Emperor's College of Traditional Oriental Medicine in Santa Monica, these students said they had turned to an Asian import to regain both the idealism and activism of their younger days.

And as freshly minted acupuncturists who had finished 2 1/2 years of study, they joined a small but growing band of practitioners of an exotic branch of medicine. In fact, the country seems to be in the middle of another surge of interest in acupuncture, similar to--but quieter than--the one following the rapprochement of the United States and China in the early '70s when Richard Nixon was President.

Schools have sprung up around the country. State legislatures have been lobbied to set standards and regulate acupuncture to give the profession the same aura of respectability enjoyed by other health-care professions. And in California at least, acupuncturists have organized a trade association to represent them and lobby for common interests.

But those who graduated a few days ago weren't interested in being part of a wave. They were celebrating the fact that they had finally meshed their inner visions with the practical business of earning a living.

(Acupuncture is a blend of Oriental philosophy and needle craft. Its origins are thought to date back 4,000 to 5,000 years. The theory--shared by Chinese, Korean and Japanese practitioners but disputed by many Western doctors--is that very fine needles--often thinner than a human hair--inserted into the body can regulate the flow of energy along the body's "meridians" or pathways, thereby easing or eliminating pain and, possibly, disease.)

One of those receiving a diploma from Emperor's was Gregory Boyle, 37, who said he graduated from Georgia Tech in 1970 with a degree in industrial management.

"I have been one of those knock-around guys ever since I went to college 20 years ago," the North Hollywood resident said, listing truck driving, working in a food cooperative, waiting tables and "minor acting" as ways he has kept bread on his table.

Standing in a patch of afternoon sunlight and wearing a sky blue cap and gown, Boyle looked around at his classmates and said, "Most of us in the class are in our mid to late 30s and we were all wandering around looking for something. We're the ones from a great, idealistic generation who didn't find a slot."

Loisanne Keller, who chairs the 2-year-old, 250-member California Acupuncture Alliance, based in Los Angeles, said the graduates of Emperor's College are not the only ones heeding this particular call of the Orient.

Many Non-Asian Converts

"More and more people in this country who are not Asian are becoming acupuncturists, either because they've been helped by it or because they don't like Western medicine," said Keller, a former intensive care nurse who said she regained the use of a hand through acupuncture. When she first became interested in acupuncture about seven years ago, Keller said there were only three schools in the country. Now there are about 25.

Indeed, well over half of the 39 graduates appeared to fit Keller's description, as did their surnames--Chappell, Kerr, King, Morris, Osborn, MacGregor, Penner, Todd and Warfield. The impression was confirmed by the college's dean, Mohammad Mosleh, a native of Iran with a doctorate in business administration, who said that 90% of the school's more than 400 students are "Americans." The school was founded in late 1984 by Bong Dai Kim, a Korean. Kim has lived in this country for 14 years. Kim said he founded the school partly to teach Americans such as his students an Oriental perspective on health and life style.

Thirty-four-year-old Bryan Featherstone of Venice, who earned bachelor's and master's degrees in anthropology from the University of Cincinnati, said he was first attracted to acupuncture as a treatment for "post-concussion headaches and neck and back disorders." His exposure to acupuncture as a patient led him to become a student "because I felt that I wanted to do something to help other people as well as myself. I felt that I could do that in ways besides the traditional Western ways and in ways suited to my character."

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