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Ear Acupuncture For the Masses

By Ryan Bemis

Acupuncture is becoming more accessible—one ear at a time.

Ear acupuncture, also known as auricular acupuncture, is the most widely used form of acupuncture within Western health settings in the United States and Europe.

This is due in part to the fact that some ear acupuncture protocols can be performed by non-acupuncturists. Standardized ear protocols are safely taught to existing healthcare workers who can easily integrate them as part of their clinical practice within hospitals, and mental health and addiction clinics. In the military, personnel are trained in ear acupuncture protocols to address pain and trauma symptoms in soldiers.

Perhaps the most established model of ear acupuncture today is a protocol known as NADA.

What Is NADA and What Is It Used For?

NADA stands for National Acupuncture Detoxification Association. This is a non-profit organization that was established to support the uptake of the ear acupuncture protocol that now bears its name.

The protocol itself was created back in the 1970s, by a psychiatrist named Michael Smith, at Lincoln Hospital in the Bronx section of New York City. Smith, alongside other physicians and community activists, modified an ear protocol used in China for pain relief and opiate withdrawal to develop the NADA protocol.

The NADA model of care originally was designed to aid the detox process for heroin and methadone addicts. But over the past three decades, the five-point protocol has been adapted for use in a variety of community health settings. In addition to aiding addiction recovery, the NADA protocol is used to support smoking cessation, weight loss, and generalized stress and anxiety. Psychiatric programs use the NADA protocol to help people who are coming off medications.

Why Those Five Points?

The NADA protocol—also sometimes referred to as the “acu detox” protocol—consists of five acupuncture points in each ear: Shen Men, Sympathetic, Kidney, Liver and Lung.

The Shen Men and Sympathetic points calm the recipient. The Kidney point addresses fear. Liver detoxifies and unblocks stuck energy, be it emotional or physical. Finally, the Lung point helps people let go.

As a protocol, this combination of points is a superb de-stressor for almost any individual. But as a model, NADA has an even greater impact because it empowers communities. Since these five points can be safely taught to local personnel, providers are able to directly influence the health and wellness of their own communities. For example, there are thousands of NADA-trained community workers in the New York area. After the recent Hurricane Sandy, these providers have been able to offer treatments to traumatized citizens and other relief workers.

NADA is a cost-effective—less than 50 cents for five needles in each ear—and drug-free method of healing for the masses.

Did You Say That Non-Acupuncturists Can Give People NADA?

Yes. In a clinic, hospital or community center, the person administering the NADA protocol is not necessarily a licensed acupuncturist. He or she might be a therapist, nurse, drug counselor or other community worker who took NADA’s training course.

Since the founding of the NADA organization in 1985, over 25,000 people throughout the world have been trained to perform the NADA protocol. Clinics offering the protocol exist today in over 40 countries. In the United Kingdom, nearly 90 percent of prisons offer the NADA protocol to inmates as a method of reducing violence.

Do Acupuncturists Also Perform NADA?

Many licensed acupuncturists use the NADA protocol in their private practices. Sometimes a person comes for acupuncture feeling very stressed. The NADA protocol often is the first thing an acupuncturist will do to help that person calm down.

Acupuncturists also use the technique when working in disaster-relief or recovery settings, in places where performing an intake and thorough diagnosis is impractical or culturally inappropriate. NADA Registered Trainers—the people who train non-acupuncturists on how to perform NADA—are licensed acupuncturists as well.

What Is a Typical NADA Treatment Like?

The NADA protocol requires no diagnosis for effective treatment. Unlike a private acupuncture session, where the practitioner spends a lot of one-on-one time with the patient, the NADA protocol is performed quickly, in a group setting.

A group receiving NADA treatments sits in silence while the practitioner walks around the room inserting the same five points into each person’s two ears. There is often a calming, almost meditative energy in these settings. The quiet group experience can be a profound addition to recovery programs, where talk therapies are emphasized.

In some health settings, the NADA protocol is available for anyone seeking help, regardless of his or her ability to pay. Many acupuncture clinics offer ear acupuncture treatments at a lower rate than full-body treatments.

How Can I Get a NADA Treatment?

To find a program or practitioner near you that offers the NADA protocol, email NADA at or call them at (888) 765-6232. If you’re interested in receiving assistance with public policy issues for expanding NADA services in your region, email

Note: Click here for a Spanish version of this article.

Featured photo by Sara Calabro

Ryan Bemis works as an acupuncturist, NADA trainer and NADA supervisor in the U.S./Mexican border region. He is founder of Crossroads Community Acupuncture in Las Cruces, New Mexico and the NADA Border Project in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. He is also a contributing writer and editor for Guidepoints, NADA’s bimonthly publication.

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C Karen Stopford

While NADA is a blessing for those who are not licensed acupuncturists, it is a total ripoff for those of us who are licensed and actively use the protocol. In order to train anyone to use NADA, you must pay over $300 for a 3-4 day course, plus travel and lodging, then after training complete 2 years of experience in an acudetox setting (alcohol/drug), get a letter of recommendation and pay them an additional $200. It is downright extortion. NADA is simple and, as a licensed acupuncturist, I would love to be able to train the RN’s at our local rehab facilities. However, I cannot because of these policies. If clients wish to find NADA treatment, they can ask their local acupuncturist, who often will provide it at a steep discount, or contact Acupuncturists Without Borders to find members. I will in no way endorse NADA or their practices which exclude many willing, compassionate, and experienced individuals from providing others with needed help.

Rayna Gardener

You are right, Karen. As usual, it’s all about the $$. The same agency that sets the standards stands to profit from their own requirements, similar to CCAOM forcing 3rd year acu students to shell out $135 for their useless “clean needle technique” course and another 35. for the mandatory book, which is not allowed to be borrowed, only bought. NADA technique isn’t rocket science and no one needs to “own” it. If I ran the world it would be taught in high school (as CPR should be) and given to the masses.

Ryan Bemis

You’ve raised some important points. In any allied health field, the challenge is always to maintain high standards of education while making education and entry accessible and affordable. NADA is a shining example among other addictions, acupuncture and behavioral health professions in successfully striking this balance, and doing so for decades, has sustained affordable, accessible, high quality training amidst careful scrutiny and approval by medical boards, hospitals, and reps from government branches from executive to judicial to legislative.

NADA does especially maintain high standards for those who can become a NADA Registered Trainer. NADA wants those who are trainers those who have actually completed NADA training, and those who have experience working in NADA programs. In other words, NADA can’t have those training people who don’t have training themselves. Without experience doing NADA or proof of receiving training in NADA, providers won’t be approved by NADA as qualified to teach NADA. Yes, you need to have letters of recommendation in order to become a NADA trainer. All health education professionals in all fields usually have to have experience, training and letters of recommendation in order to be allowed to represent and promote their field of expertise. NADA also doesn’t let anyone have an ADS certificate. Those who don’t meet the NADA core competencies and ethical standards won’t be able to practice. Like other acupuncture organizations (from NCCAOM to AAMA to AWB to POCA), like nursing and addictions professions, NADA also maintains standards.

Above other acupuncture organizations, NADA trainers–en masse–provide perhaps the most affordable acu education out there. We work hard to make NADA training affordable and accessible. We advocate for polices that will make NADA even more barrier free for people needing care. NADA is a lean, volunteer driven, grassroots organization. Not a lot of “money making” going on. Fees NADA charges for membership and RT certification are miniscule compared to other fields in the US.


I appreciate your eloquence. However, your comparison of a letter of recommendation to a four year masters degree in Traditional Chinese Medicine is disappointing. Perhaps your argument for inexpensive training should be extendend to include western medical doctors, psychologists, and police officers. You can train people for all of these professions cheaply, especially if they come with letters of recommendation…but is that a benefit? With the appropriate amount of training to include an accumulation of western and eastern pathology courses, years of diagnosis and differentiation and thousands of clinic hours, one might suggest inexpensive is not as effective as knowledgeable, individualized treatment. Afterall, a man with a scappel does not a surgeon make.

Lori Slaunwhite

As a non-acupuncturist ADS who also trains people in the protocol, I would like to share my experience. Karen is correct in that the protocol is a blessing to those of us who do not provide full body, diagnostic acupuncture. She is also right when she says that protocol is simple. However, simple doesn’t necessary mean easy to learn or easy to accept.

There is a great distinction between offering the 5 points to a client/patient and the NADA protocol. Acupuncturists have always been able to insert the needles and are obviously quite competent in doing so.
The protocol is more than just needle insertion however.

As someone who teaches many acupuncturists, I tell my students that they don’t need me to learn where to place Shen Men, Sympathetic, Liver, Lung and Kidney. What they may need my help in is in developing the skills to provide acupuncture in a group setting, often with people are not their typical fee paying clients – people who may bring a lot of energy to the room, some with long histories of trauma, some active and non active alcohol and drug users, and many with the weight of the world on their shoulders. The dynamics of working with any group is a challenge, and this one is no different. Add the key components of a non-verbal, non-diagnostic approach….. it takes practice to balance it all as a practitioner while holding an open, inviting space for all.

As for training fees, I cannot speak for all trainers, but I can assure you that I don’t train because I think it is profitable, in fact, it simply isn’t. Trainers provide their expertise both within the classroom and throughout the practicum – a 70 hour minimum requirement. I am in contact with many of the ADSes I trained well beyond their certificate, supporting new programs, working on building partnership, and most of all, creating barrier free treatment opportunities.

As for the organization, yes there are rules and fees, like we would expect from any type of body like NADA. For anyone who may be interested in learning more about training or how to start a program in your area, I encourage you to call the NADA office for information. They are a wealth of information and support to many people, not just in the US, but internationally.

Sincerely, Lori Slaunwhite
Ontario, Canada

Ryan Bemis

Not sure what you’re referring to re: letters of rec. No comparison is being made here between a letter of rec, or NADA training, and a four year TCM degree.

No assertion is made here that the limited NADA training is equivalent to full body acupuncture training. Health promoters, for example, are in no way equivalent to medical doctors. Barefoot doctors, or military soldiers trained in acupuncture protocols throughout China are in no way equivalent to full body acupuncturists who have gone to school for 10 years. But all of these types of practitioners has their place in addressing disparities.

Affordable education in any field is critical when providing services for rural, lower income and minority groups. This is what NADA is all about. Some of the most formidable advocates and trainers of NADA worldwide are full body acu practitioners with 4 year TCM degree education. They’re not training surgeons. It’s about empowering communities with a simple, safe technique that they can help their own people with.

Linda Brokaw

Looking for 5 point NADA training close to Northern California.

Ryan Bemis

Hi Linda, Great to hear of your interest! Unfortunately non-acupuncturists cannot learn and apply the NADA protocol in the ‘liberal’ state of California. This is similar to Oregon too. The full body acupuncturist community in California has been split on this issue: some oppose a NADA policy which would allow it, and some advocate that a NADA policy allowing nurses and counselors to practice NADA would help the state address health disparities. Unfortunately there’s few NADA programs around in California, as a result of the opposition and state budget cuts. For more on the saga of NADA on the West Coast, and more info on who is advocating for progressive changes in California, I recommend reading this story published by the Mental Health Association of Portland and Guidepoints:

Cheers and feel free to email with questions you have about state policies and how to get NADA training.

Mary Catherine

Who trains in Maryland?

Ryan Bemis

Hello, for information about finding a training in your region, email, this is the email for the NADA office and they have a registry of trainers around the world.

marisol melendez

Hi. I would like to know who trains in the ny metro area, to get certified as a Auricular Detox Acupuncturist. Thank you

[…] NADA ear acupuncture (acu detox) training The second training will be May 26, 27 and 28th. This is a NADA training in ear acupuncture/acudetox towards certification of Acupuncture Detoxification Specialist. The training will be conducted by Ryan Bemis, DOM, RT in Spanish and trainees must have a working knowledge of Spanish to participate. The cost will be $350 for the 3 day training and includes support through certification at national and state levels as well as support for locating internship sites in the border region.  The training will offer supervised clinical practice on applying the NADA protocol persons with severe psychiatric disabilities, and for trauma/addictions recovery. […]

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