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NADA is an Alternative to Psych Meds in Western Mass: Welcome to the Freedom Center

NADA is an Alternative to Psych Meds in Western Mass: Welcome to the Freedom Center

Guidepoints, May 2011

by Will Hall and Lee Hurter

The Freedom Center (www.freedom-center.org), a peer-led organization in Northampton, Massachusetts, run by and for people labeled with severe 'mental disorders' and people who experience extreme states, has been providing NADA treatments through their free drop-in clinic since 2006.

The center promotes compassion, human rights, self-determination, and holistic options and advocates for alternatives to the mental health system's widespread abuse, fraudulent science and dangerous treatments. It is volunteer run and receives a small number of private donations, the occasional social justice foundation grant, and a HUD community development grant from the City of Northampton.

"Welcome to the Freedom Center's free, anonymous, drop-in ear acupuncture clinic," we say every Monday afternoon. Our free weekly clinic occurs in a chapel space that has been donated to us by the Quaker Friends in downtown Northampton.

The clinic was started with donated space, donated acupuncture services, and donated publicity time. Thanks to donations collected from participants at each session, there is currently no overhead. We estimate that similar clinics could be set up for less than $50/month if acupuncturists donate their time and passing the hat covers publicity and supplies cost. Acupuncturists are often keen to help a low-income community non-profit, as this gives them an opportunity to meet new private clients who are just being introduced to the benefits of acupuncture.

One acupuncturist operates the hour-long treatment at the clinic, although people are free to arrive and leave on their own schedules. Everyone is encouraged to stay for at least 20 minutes and welcome to stay for the whole hour. However, if someone is having a hard time or has limited time, they may come for even shorter periods.

In 2006, the Daily Hampshire Gazette ran a front page article in the Health section about 28-year-old Jenafer Andren, a Northampton woman who had extreme insomnia that had been greatly eased by the free ear acupuncture treatments she received at the Freedom Center.

"Andren hadn't been able to sleep for longer than 45 minutes at a stretch in over two years...she'd tried everything: sleeping pills, psychotherapy, sleep clinics at Baystate Medical Center, holistic treatments...Andren says the night following her first [ear acupuncture] session she slept for three full hours without waking once. 'It was unheard of,' she says.

"She continued to go to the clinic regularly for three months, and then began adding a private weekly session with the acupuncturist Barbara Weinberg of Leverett. Now she says she is able to sleep for as many as seven hours at a time. 'I don't have to take naps anymore, I don't have meltdowns, where I'm so tired I start crying. My overall health is so much better,' says Andren."

Several of us at the Freedom Center learned the NADA protocol at Lincoln Recovery Center in the South Bronx in 2005. After learning how effective this was for drug recovery, detoxification, relaxation, and trauma we thought a NADA clinic would be a useful and relevant service for the Freedom Center to offer.

Many people turn to Freedom Center's NADA clinic because they are experiencing an extreme emotional state that often stems from trauma. This treatment is effective with trauma because it does not require people to reveal anything personal or painful to a stranger. While it may be important for people to talk through traumatic events, there is unique benefit to the inward, collective nonverbal experience that can be provided at a NADA clinic.

The other main reason for starting the clinic was to provide a resource for people trying to get off psychiatric drugs. There are few resources for people withdrawing from psychiatric drugs and the intensity of the withdrawal is rarely recognized by our culture. Most of the Freedom Center's founders have gotten off psychiatric drugs and feel that doing so has been a critical component to their overall recovery and well-being. Their collective experience is the driving force behind offering a safe space to others who make this choice.

Currently, the clinic averages 10-20 people each week and has treated hundreds since 2006. Despite changing practitioners, monetary problems common to community-based grassroots organizations, the free weekly NADA clinic has stayed a strong and consistent part of the Freedom Center.

Other NADA clinics connected to Recovery Learning Communities, a regional network of peer-run support groups, have since spawned in Western Massachusetts. If Massachusetts were to pass a law allowing non-acupuncturists to get NADA trained, there would be a great opportunity for spreading NADA in peer mental health settings.

Other weekly programs at Freedom Center include yoga classes, a peer-led support group, a writing group, a reading/discussion group, and an educational radio show. While the Freedom Center runs on a budget of $5,000 a year or less, we are committed to keeping our programs free so they can be available to everyone.

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Will Hall and Lee Hurter will be presenting about Freedom Center and NADA-based peer mental health recovery at the NADA conference in Kansas City May 20-21, 2011 alongside other psychiatric workers with experience using NADA methods to as an alternative and adjunct to psychiatric treatment.

These breakout sessions will be held May 20:

Limits of Pharmaceuticals and the Far Greater Reach of Human Effort

NADA: An Alternative to Medication—Breaking Free From Medication Based Psychiatric Care

Featured Panelists: Dr. John Ackerman, Will Hall, Lee Hurter, Dr. Michael Smith, Dr. Elizabeth Stuyt, Robert Whitaker

For more information on the NADA conference in Kansas City, click here.

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