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How victims of Grenfell are benefiting from acupuncture

rachelpeckham grenfell

Rachel Peckham and other acupuncturists set up the clinic

Rachel Peckham is one of several acupuncturists who have been involved in giving acupuncture to victims of the Grenfell Tower fire.

She and her colleagues use the NADA (National Acupuncture Detoxification Association) acupuncture technique, which was founded by former director of the Lincoln Recovery Centre in the South Bronx, New York Dr Michael Smith.

It is known to benefit victims of trauma and was widely used following the terrorist attack on the Twin Towers in New York and other catastrophes around the world.

NADA involves the placement of one to five points in the ear and helps patients with sleep, anxiety and grief. It is a non-dominant process which brings a sense of calm and relaxation and helps the body to heal itself.

Here, Rachel talks about her experience of treating Grenfell victims at a special clinic she and her fellow acupuncturists set up at Al Manaar mosque and how it continues to benefit people in the area today:

grenfell tower

Grenfell Tower two days after the fire

The unimaginable event that was the Grenfell Tower block fire happened last year on June 14th. Nearly 80 people are known to have lost their lives. It was and is horrific. Nearly a year later, the block stands as a crime scene only partially covered by scaffolding and white sheeting. Mental health experts say the haunting image of Grenfell against the skyline is affecting both survivors and the community. Latest reports say that 11,000 people in the surrounding areas as well as survivors will experience mental health problems as a result of this terrible tragedy.

The huge volume of help that arrived literally from the next day onwards was extraordinary and wonderful. I live and work five miles from the area and have patients and NADA contacts who were involved with that very early support. They would report how the distress was unbearable and that the chaos was very difficult to deal with. Understandably there was and is a lot of anger.

I began to have telephone conversations with Alison Gould chairperson of World Medicine, and we spoke about the possibility of a collaboration between NADA GB and World Medicine to set up a volunteer service delivering NADA treatments.

A remarkable job in terrible conditions

I also spoke to acupuncturists, Gisela Norman and Sheira Chan, who were among the first responders following the fire, and who had done such a remarkable job in such terrible conditions. They went on to head up Emergency Acupuncture, a large body of volunteers which preceded the NADA clinics we began delivering four months after the fire.

Emergency Acupuncture had been given a room at the Al Manaar Mosque in North Kensington to deliver acupuncture treatments. The mosque wanted to continue the service as they had seen the benefits that the treatment was bringing to the survivors and to the Grenfell community.

This was clearly something NADA could offer, so early in August last year Gisela set up a meeting with myself and Mr Sayed, CEO at the Mosque. We agreed to start a weekly NADA clinic there and committed to running clinics for a year provided the service was taken up.

World Medicine held a NADA training day for members of the British Acupuncture Council (BAcC), who wished to volunteer. I ran the training, which was free of charge, and the clinics eventually started on 3rd October. They have been running weekly on Tuesday mornings since.

So what is it about NADA acupuncture which makes it so suitable for helping in this situation? The obvious reason is a practical one. One or two practitioners can give between 20 and 30 treatments in a two-hour session. It is low cost and easy to administer with minimal consultation required. Minimal consultation is needed prior to treatment with the patient being asked just a few questions before the treatment starts.  The practitioner doesn’t need to know about symptoms or medical history but this might be something the patient chooses to disclose after the treatment. There is also a counselling service at the mosque where patients can be referred if necessary.

Furthermore, people don’t have to remove any clothing to receive NADA acupuncture. This aspect is entirely relevant in this situation as a proportion of people receiving treatment at the mosque are Muslim women who can simply tuck their headscarf behind their ears ready for treatment.

The NADA treatment generally induces a state of relaxation and better energy—it has a balancing and homeostatic effect on the patient enhanced by the unique group setting.

It is such a wonderful way to bring communities together as people sit quietly in a group all having acupuncture treatment for a common cause.

The most common feedback from people receiving NADA acupuncture is that, if they have a disrupted sleep pattern, they find that this improves; they feel less anxious; they experience improvement in mood (feel happier); and their tension, which often manifests in aches and pains in the body, decreases. The NADA treatment generally induces a state of relaxation and better energy—it has a balancing and homeostatic effect on the patient enhanced by the unique group setting.

A non-verbal treatment

A very important advantage of this group treatment is that it is non-verbal. First, many of those we treat do not speak English. It is also known that following a trauma, people often choose to go for acupuncture rather than a verbal therapy which is very beneficial to patients suffering the immediate effects of shock. Counselling becomes more valuable when the shock has subsided after a period of time.  As Dr Smith, founder of the NADA technique, says: “There are times when verbal interaction is like trampling on the flowers.”


The Al Manaar Mosque where Grenfell survivors attend the acupuncture clinic

As it is customary for Muslim men and women to be in different rooms, we have the main space dedicated for female clients (women form the majority of patients so far), and a smaller space in the waiting area for men. This has worked well as at present all the volunteers giving treatment are women. Some of the female patients do wear the headscarf and are not able to remove it in the presence of men.

As with all NADA acupuncture groups it takes a while for the quiet ‘yin’ environment to evolve. Initially people chat, have their mobiles out, use the room as a throughway to the Pilates class, gym, etc. With the help of constant reminders from the practitioners, the quiet space soon becomes important to the patients and they understand that this is an integral part of the treatment. Recently one of the patients knocked loudly on the wall to make quieter a Pilates class that was going on next door! Plus patients will get annoyed if others are talking and ask them to be silent.

There is a group of people who come in very regularly and set the mood by sitting in a meditative state for 40 minutes, which is the optimum time for this treatment. This makes a strong statement for newcomers as well as showing them what to do. It also sets an inviting, welcoming energy so that people feel they can be part of the group without having to do or say anything.

Confidential records are kept for each patient noting the auricular points used at each session with a written documentation of acupuncture needles used and acupuncture needles retrieved at each session. This, along with other measures put in place for needle count, ensures that no needles go missing.

World Medicine is providing all the equipment for the clinics, and the acupuncture needles purchased are also being matched free of charge by Phoenix Medical. Two practitioners run the Tuesday morning session between 10 am and midday. Currently numbers vary from 10 to 25 people in each session. Mosque doors are open to everyone, but it is generally mosque users who come for treatment as their community has been the most affected by the fire.

Data collected up until the end of March over a 24-week period shows that the NADA clinic has seen 126 patients and given 322 treatments. Of these, 110 are female and 16 are male.

We have a pool of 17 volunteers with around seven or eight regular practitioners, the main difficulty being time constraints and availability for practitioners. All the practitioners so far report a very positive and rewarding experience delivering the NADA treatment at the mosque. It is a unique and unusual setting in which to provide acupuncture treatment, and the patients are so grateful and appreciative. For the practitioner, it offers a very different experience to the treatment room. Most practitioners report feeling energized and moved when delivering the acupuncture and being a part of a containing environment which brings people together for a common cause.

The NADA acupuncture clinics are making a real difference in the community. Patients are returning for treatment, some every week. A large proportion are reporting it is helping them. The clinics seem to have become an established provision of help for mental health and well-being at the mosque. We have only had to cancel a clinic once since October due to a volunteer not being well enough to deliver treatment, and the service was missed that day.

We are looking for some funding to set up another NADA clinic in the wider community because, even though Al Manaar Mosque welcomes anybody through their doors, we realize that the people we are treating are mostly mosque users. The mosque is unusual in that it has welcomed and hosted an acupuncture service within the premises with no cost involved. I believe this happened largely because they witnessed the benefits of the acupuncture given in the early stages immediately after the fire, as they opened their doors to host all kinds of support for the survivors of the fire and the community.

By Rachel Peckham

Rachel Peckham runs an acupuncture clinic in West London offering traditional and alternative therapy for a wide range of illnesses and conditions. She is a member of the British Acupuncture Council (BAcC), the leading professional body in the UK for acupuncturists. Requirement for membership to the BAcC is a minimum of three years training at an accredited college. During recent years, she has been working with World Medicine, an acupuncture charity that sends volunteer acupuncturists to provide acupuncture treatment for people in countries that have experienced catastrophic situations and/or poverty.

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