Care Manager Insight: Interview with Vanessa Comola, Licensed Acupuncturist

vanessa2As care managers, we are always looking for the best therapies and professionals to help our clients.   We have been interested in what used to be called “alternative medicine” for a very long time.  It is now more often called “integrative medicine.”  From massage and chiropractic to acupuncture and more, these “non-medical” interventions always seemed to address important aspects of our health that typically are overlooked or minimized in Western medicine. It is a wonderful shift that many health systems and health insurances are now recognizing the value of integrative medicine and complimentary alternative medicine, better known as “CAM.”

In her recent Grace Care Management interview, Licensed Acupuncturist Vanessa Comola takes a closer look at Acupuncture and answers some questions for us about the practice.   We hope you’ll find this beneficial and enlightening for your journey to greater health.

Can you tell us about your background and how you got into practicing Acupuncture?

As a daughter of a military family, I was afforded a well traveled childhood.  Though I was born in the United States, I spent my formative years in Turkey, Hawaii and Italy.  My family arrived in Poway, California in 1975 when I was 17 years old.  Adjusting to stateside life was exceedingly difficult, but like most I relied on books and study to fill in for trying to adapt to such a different pace of lifestyle and social interactions.

After graduating from high school and spending some time at San Diego State University, I discovered that the fashionable MBA degree was definitely not for me. So, instead I enrolled in Miramar College to steady myself.  I took a tennis class with some friends and loved it.  In 1979, I arrived at United States International University to begin classes for a degree in Sociology/Anthropology on a tennis scholarship the year USIU was granted Division I sports status.  I graduated in 1981.

In 1985, I moved to Beverly Hills to teach tennis at an exclusive hotel chain.  I very much enjoyed playing tennis and the atmosphere of Los Angeles with all the wonderful restaurants and fascinating lecturers who visited.  The Santa Monica Hills were a great place to run and UCLA was down the street, so I was able to take advantage of their stellar track facility.

I began to read more on eastern philosophy, political science and history. These remain my favorite topics to date. It was at the age of 39 that I decided to blend my reading material into a new profession.  In 1999, I enrolled in the Pacific College of Oriental Medicine and became a licensed Acupuncturist in 2003, where I have been in practice ever since in Poway.  Fortunately, my vision of the kind of practice I wanted came to fruition. I see a wide variety of cases and am able to meet wonderful people.  It is intellectually stimulating and gratifying to assist so many to good health.  I ALWAYS look forward to the next patient and the challenge that his or her case presents. This tone of competitiveness doesn’t concern me… After all, I was a tennis player!

What is the basic philosophy of Acupuncture?

There are multiple philosophical avenues to interpret and frame Chinese Medicine and the practice of Acupuncture.   My school of medical thought is grounded and flourished through the study of one of the foundational texts, The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine, with particular emphasis on the second part of the text titled Ling Shu, or “Spiritual Pivot” (translations by E. Rochat and C. Larre). The text calls upon the practitioner to delve into the source and essence of life itself in order to comprehend the nature and function of ill health, and the pathway to a return to health.

The Spiritual Pivot, as a work, is in rapport with the universal philosophy; that thread which is common in all religions and spiritual traditions. It resonates the timeless recurring theme of this world’s two aspects: Yin, Yang; invisible, visible; unified, manifold; unmanifested, manifested. It speaks of the human being as mediator between Heaven and Earth, while imploring that the Virtue of Heaven must be expressed by the hidden undernourished virtue of the individual.  It is a schematic for how to conduct oneself to maximize health.  It is finding the balance between paradoxical forces that are integral to the unfolding and development of the individual.

The text demands the Practitioner to cultivate and refine oneself as well as the patient.  Neither is permitted to be non-involved.  It is an ever-unfolding venture.  A diseased body CAN return to health, health to ill health and back again.  Returning is always possible.  For returning is simply “revolution.”  A literal, as well as figurative, “turn of the wheel” with all its physical, psychological, and metaphysical implications.  When one engages in such ontological queries (what am I or where do I come from?), leading to the existential (why am I here?), then and only then will the individual become the vessel to receive his or her mandate from Heaven.  This is the beautiful imagery that forms the landscape of the Ling Shu, as it speaks to the application of this grand harmony through physician, patient and the modality of acupuncture.

Knowledge and sense of purpose are pillars to good health and a strictly linear understanding of these terms will deprive each individual of the means to move forward.  Thwarting one’s capacity to achieve health is to reduce so much veiled potential to the status of stillborn.  Such is the inspiration and dire warning of the Ling Shu in all of us.

What do you believe is most misunderstood about Acupuncture?

Without a doubt it is the idea that Acupuncture can only affect pain conditions.  Firstly, the majority of the cases I see are very serious medical conditions. Especially newly diagnosed conditions.  The goal in these cases is to gather the resources of the patient’s body to either return to a normalized state of health or to minimize the need for invasive procedures.  We achieve this through food choices as well; I am not a supplement devotee so it is all about the food.  The patients’ medical doctor determines if I have accomplished my purpose. This is shown by lab results normalizing.  In these situations the patient is already under medical care from their Primary Care Physician.  I am completely dependent on the testing and measurement results of the patient’s doctor.

Essentially, my role is to lessen the stress and strain of the very difficult situation my patients have found themselves in and to make the process as smooth as possible. Optimal results occur when their MD tells them “Everything looks good.” That is a time of celebration.  I often tell such a patient, that life has given them “a do-over” and they must be wise with their choices in life.

Secondly, I look at the lens through which the patient views their world.  Are they flexible or rigid?  Is their worldview expansive and inclusive or narrow and divisive? How do I know these answers? I know them because I am always in the room with my patients. Usually for 40 minutes.  I listen to them.  We talk.  We share.  We exchange thoughts and ideas. I have been practicing for over 12 years and have seen some pretty astounding returns to health.  Through the years, I paid particular attention to what those patients had in common to enable them to recover from a serious condition.  Without equivocating it was their will to get their life back. Desire is not enough. Desire can be fleeting and lacks concentrated force.  Desire is “I want” without any participation. It is magical thinking.

The patient may not understand what I do.  The patient may not believe what I do.  I tell these people it’s okay and it isn’t a religion, that it’s a medical modality.  The patient may not like needles or I may be the last hope.  None of this determines their success.  It is the willingness to be involved in getting healthier; to literally transform them by changing behavior, food or unproductive ways of thinking.  To participate in one’s healthcare is to declare, “I will get better!” How much better, I never know.  I do know that this mindset has been the critical key with my patients.  Through my patients I truly have learned a great deal! 

How do you separate the benefits of Acupuncture from those who claim it is not beneficial?

Of course there are many benefits of Acupuncture.  The National Institute of Health and other prestigious medical facilities have done many, but not exhaustive, studies on Acupuncture and its effects with both positive and ambiguous results.  NIH lists many conditions for which Acupuncture is very therapeutic and effective and all such information is easily accessible through the Internet. Research into more difficult medical conditions such as severe respiratory immunological or neurological (i.e. Tourette’s, migraines etc.), prove exceedingly problematic to quantify into the standardized western research clinical trial paradigm.

As with any physician, skill levels differ. “Ten different Acupuncturist’s equals ten different results,” is a phrase not unfamiliar to the acupuncture student.   It is a witticism with much truth! That being said, I understand the skepticism but would suggest, before deferring to a conclusion that lacks either intellectual curiosity or a fair analysis of the great work being accomplished by many Acupuncturists, one take a step back. I suggest listening to the many testimonials from patients whose health has been altered quite dramatically for the better.  Many Acupuncturist’s practice “evidenced based medicine” but in a much more raw form.  We diagnose the patients’ pattern, apply an acupuncture point prescription to change various systems of the body, and then inspect immediate changes in the body by the tongue and pulse.   But this is not enough.  The ultimate authority is with the patient.  Is he or she better?  One cannot find better or more empirical results, than yielding to the patient for an evaluation of their condition.

If you would like more information, please feel free to contact Vanessa directly at (858) 748-9880 or by emailing [email protected].

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