Health Provider Profile: Acupuncturist Sara Marie

Montana Health Journal
When Sara Marie was 20 years old she worked as a massage therapist in Missoula, and rented office space from Don Beans, a longtime Montana acupuncturist. A patient had brought in a dog that couldn’t walk, and asked Beans to perform acupuncture on it. The dog walked out of the office.

That was when Marie decided acupuncture was the field for her.
Now after 30 years Marie has devoted a career to acupuncture, helping patients benefit from a centuries-old Chinese form of medicine.

And now acupuncture has finally gotten the attention of some traditional Western physicians in the medical community who are seeing the benefits of Eastern medicine.
Marie owns her practice in Kalispell, on the city’s quiet east side, just across the street from the former Kalispell hospital. She works one day a week at the Montana Center for Wellness and Pain Management, where she and several other healthcare providers — including physicians — work together to find innovative solutions for people with chronic pain.

sara marie

Being part of traditional Western medicine is a bit of a “two-edged sword,” Marie said, something that has taken some time getting used to. While she’s glad that traditional Western medicine is seeing the benefits of acupuncture, she’s wary that the ancient practice doesn’t get diluted into bite-sized chunks that the American public can handle.
“Seeing other professions taking a little piece of that and use it in their practices, has been both a blessing and a curse,” she said. “We went from being witch doctors and quacks to now everybody wants a little slice of the pie.”
One reason that acupuncture is gaining popularity in pain-management is that there is more scientific, peer-reviewed research available, Marie said, so Western physicians are more willing to incorporate it into their practices. “Once western society decided to embrace acupuncture, and the research was there, that made people a lot more comfortable. We have a much better understanding from a physiological aspect,” she said. However, some terminology and theories are still foreign to us Americans. For instance, acupuncture — the oldest-evolving medicine in the world — is based on moving the body’s “chi” or energy into or away from places where there is imbalance.
“That is foreign to our western-trained minds,” Marie said.

Acupuncture aims to treat the entire person, not just give them a pill that makes the pain go away. Using highly delicate needles, acupuncturists are able to move “chi” or blood flow where the body needs it. The practice works well on physical ailments, as well as for mental health, Marie said. “We treat the entire individual,” she said. “If you come in with a headache, and your friend comes in with a headache, the treatment will not be the same.”
When inserted in human tissue, an acupuncture needle causes multiple biological responses in the central nervous system, she said.

Acupuncturists are fond of the saying, “Where there is pain, there is no free flow, where there is free flow there is no pain.” It’s the acupuncturist’s goal is to activate the chi and get blood to where it’s supposed to be so the tissue can heal, she said. Most people come to her for pain, but most any inflammatory illness can be treated, she said. Acupuncture has natural mental health benefits.
Marie works with mental-health counselors on using acupuncture for stress or depression. “Acupuncture seems to have a very chemically balancing effect on the brain, making you feel more self-assured and centered … all those things we aspire to,” she said.
Acupuncture examines the internal environment of the body: is it too hot or too cold, too dry or too damp. Also used are Chinese herbs that are classified as to whether they are warming, cooling, drying or moistening.

One of the myths about acupuncture is that it blocks pain in the body. The use of needles doesn’t block pain, Marie said, it decreases inflammation.
With low risk involved for someone experiencing pain, acupuncture can be a preferred choice for some types of pain relief. It also seems to fit well with other forms of integrative. “I think it can be complementary to most other modalities and forms of medicine,” Marie said.
She now finds herself in a traditional — yet progressive — situation to practice at the Montana Center for Wellness and Pain Management, where acupuncture works alongside medical doctors, physical therapists, mental health counselors and chiropractors — a treatment situation you would not have found only five or 10 years ago. Marie and other acupuncturists are embracing what science and technology have to offer. At the Montana Center, she now has access to lab tests and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). “We utilize what Western medicine has to offer us. This is a lovely picture of what I hope the future of medicine is going to be,” she said, “where there are multiple disciplines in one building working together to try to help the patient.”


THE TYPE of patients that have embraced acupuncture has changed over the years, Marie said. People who use acupuncture are not all alternative-lifestyle folks. “The majority are people like ranchers and farmers, down-to-earth people whose neighbor got well doing this,” Marie said. “They want to try it too.”
The process of getting acceptance of acupuncture from people like this has been gradual, but Marie said she hopes the art of acupuncture will be preserved in a pure form as more people use it, and practice it.
After all, the practice has a better chance of surviving in Western society if future generations embrace it, she said. Still, she wants to make sure that acupuncture — even in any new Westernized form — keeps the “Eastern” aspects to it. “I don’t want to see all the Chinese theory thrown away, all the individualization thrown away, just because we can’t embrace it scientifically,” she said.
Marie has been an advocate and avid practitioner of acupuncture from the first time she saw Donald Beans help a dog almost 30 years ago. She wants to make sure the next generation of acupuncturists and their patients have access to the same, or better, healthcare.

“I intend to leave this behind for the next generation to build on and have it even more powerful than it is now,” she said. “There is always something new to learn. I love that. There is no way I can ever know it all. The human body and mind continue to fascinate me at their innate ability to heal. That’s pretty exciting.”

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