Psychiatrist, philosopher, civil rights activist, visionary, teacher, rebel, co-founder of the North American Detoxification Association (NADA)—all of these words and titles describe the late Dr. Michael O. Smith, who passed away in December of 2017. Although this extraordinary man did not possess the title Practitioner of Oriental Medicine or licensed acupuncturist, his contributions to the advancement of acupuncture are significant.
Tracing his career back to the early 1970's, Smith pioneered an entirely new system to treat drug addiction and mental illnesses in an impoverished community in the South Bronx. For more than 30 years since then, he was the director of the Substance Abuse Division at Lincoln Memorial Hospital. Seeking a non-pharmacological approach, as demanded by his patient base at the time, Smith created an auricular acupuncture treatment consisting of five points on each ear.
The protocol was based on a similar treatment devised by Dr. H.L. Wen in Hong Kong in 1972. Wen's treatment proved successful in helping patients overcome heroine addiction. Smith's protocol followed suit and was very successful with his patients. While determining what the name of this new treatment should be, Smith decided to call it the NADA protocol. Typical of his humility and good humor he explains that nada is the Spanish word for nothing. He believes the practitioner administering the treatment is basically doing that-- nothing.
According to Smith, all people inherently possess the means to heal themselves. Therefore, application of the acupuncture needles only serve to summon the invisible, but very real force, which can release a patient from the grip of addiction, or quiet a mind affected by mental illness. During treatment, there is no counseling provided for the patient, uncovering another reason why NADA is such an apt name. Jokingly, Smith also said any president of the NADA can brag they are the president of nothing.
As more patients kicked their drug habits utilizing the NADA protocol, the entire field of acupuncture and Oriental Medicine in the United States soon benefited as well. Smith paved the way for the first states to legalize the field and provide acupuncture licensure. The NADA protocol delivered ample evidence that acupuncture is a valid and safe medical treatment.
What is it like to receive the homely, but elegant NADA protocol? It begins by entering a 'safe zone.' This is a comfortable, quiet space that reflects the sense of decorum and conventions of the population being served. There are other people receiving treatment in the space, without barriers between them. This group setting, also known as community acupuncture, is a very important aspect of treatment, according to Smith.
Smith believed that in traditional doctor-patient relationships, the patients all too often lost their own healing initiative and put more faith in the doctor than themselves. According to Dr. Smith, "if you want to empower patients, just put more patients than providers in the room." Group settings, with the practitioners outnumbered by patients, provided more opportunities for patients to teach others, engage in therapeutic dialogue and experience their personal power.
Dr. Smith revolutionized the treatment of drug addiction and mental illness and in doing so, revolutionized the entire field of acupuncture and Oriental Medicine. His contributions may still be forthcoming, even after his death. The following words are a tribute to this visionary of a man, from some of his associates.
"You have taught us well, even where it seemed almost impossible or too difficult. We often only understood you later, because with your thoughts, ideas and humanistic philosophy you were often far ahead of us."
About the Author: Vanessa Vogel Batt, L.Ac., MSTOM, studied at the Pacific College of Oriental Medicine, and practiced acupuncture and Oriental medicine in New York for several years. Vanessa enjoys traveling the world, and has published articles on acupuncture and Oriental medicine and related health topics for websites and publications in both the U.S. and abroad.