June, 2003, 12:30 p.m: clients sit with eyes closed, quietly, in The Corner, the acupuncture space at Gay Men's Health Crisis. It is here that I learn the continued importance of long-term healing; of maintaining a space that holds and integrates healing.
The longer the AIDS plague continues, the more important it becomes to integrate and multiply the opportunities for access to complementary therapies in the lives of our communities. Whether through traditional healing practices received from ancestors, or through desperation and the need for alternative options, more and more individuals are using complementary therapies to support and enhance the quality of their lives. The increasing complexity of HIV medical management and its side effects, the increasing limits on access to care, and the growing toll of untreated mental health conditions compel us to recognize and institutionalize effective complementary therapies into all of our helping organizations.
Holistic and complementary therapies are increasingly being brought into public health settings in the U.S. Urban and rural substance abuse clinics, criminal justice and prison settings, emergency and crisis-intervention settings have all benefited from the immediate rewards and drug-free approach offered by holistic interventions. From nutrition to acupuncture to herbal treatments, more and more practitioners are motivated to practice in public health settings, reaching the neediest and most complex clients. Schools are bringing internships and off-site trainings to community-based organizations that facilitate access to the practitioners, interventions, and staff of holistic centers.
Complementary therapies use mostly non-verbal, non-intimidating methods and work well alongside other interventions. They tend to operate from a building, or re-building approach, as a teacher would, strengthening the capacities that are present and opening up a receptivity for change. They enhance, rather than decrease; they release, rather than control; and they can create experiences that are critical for the healing of individuals and of communities that are the most depleted and vulnerable. They build towards, rather than fight against, and in doing so generate the actual experience of hope and possibility that is so critical for continuing the fight in this plague.
Complementary therapies are also, relatively speaking, much less expensive than allopathic medicine. Because they attempt to integrate the spirit, the body and the mind, they tend to be less fit for simple marketplace solutions. The importance of the personal exchange and the relationship between the practitioner and the client creates an invaluable opportunity for energetic exchange and becomes a unique aspect of the healing encounter. Vulnerable communities and individuals often describe their access to complementary therapies as a strengthening experience and a necessary one for the improvement of their health. Some complementary approaches can be taught and can involve members of the family network, thereby enhancing the sense of competence and independence that is so critical for sustained healing.
Most importantly, complementary therapies work from a paradigm of abundance, where the more an individual gives, the more he or she gains -- a critical and essential lesson for life and a practical and spiritual approach for the resolution of the AIDS plague, and, ultimately, for advancing the cause of human justice.
Ana Oliveira is the executive director of Gay Men's Health Crisis (GMHC) and a licensed acupuncturist.
Back to the GMHC Treatment Issues June 2003 contents page.