Five years ago, Brendan Carney '02 seemed to have it all. After a stellar Colby-Sawyer career, both in the classroom and on the basketball court, this former Academic All-American had landed a plum job straight out of college. Working for AND1, the basketball apparel company, at the height of its popularity, Brendan was managing multi-million dollar sponsorship accounts.
It was an unbelievable job, recalls the native of Lyme, N.H. I was playing hoops with the CEO every day at lunch. As a Sport Management major it was exactly what I wanted to do. Engaged to classmate Jennifer Buck Carney '02, Brendan was then living the proverbial dream, and thought he would never want another job.
It takes a certain amount of confidence and drive to make your dream job a reality. It takes even more to find the courage to walk away. After three years of fast-paced life in Philadelphia that saw him on the road three months of the year with AND1's popular Mix Tape Tour, Brendan came to an important realization.
I wanted to make a positive impact on people's lives, he explains, I didn't want to help sponsors sell more soda, more chips.
Having developed an interest in eastern philosophy through yoga and martial arts classes, Brendan began questioning some basic assumptions. What does it mean to be successful? What is wealth?
It's certainly more than just money, he says. It's 'How can I be the happiest person?' I figured out quickly the way to do that is to give back, to help people on an everyday basis.
A Twist of Fate
Brendan had always been interested in health and nutrition, and he began to look at career options in health care. One day he met an acupuncturist, which proved a fateful meeting. Six months later he quit his job, and he and Jennifer left Philadelphia for Boston, where Brendan enrolled in the New England School of Acupuncture. Today, he is a licensed acupuncturist and the owner of Central Path Acupuncture, a thriving practice in downtown Waltham, Mass.
Acupuncture has been growing in acceptance in this country since the late 1970s, but it is an ancient practice, originating in China some 2000 years ago and eventually spreading to Japan, Korea, and other parts of Asia. During an acupuncture session, needles are inserted into certain points on the body to relieve pain and promote the body's ability to heal itself. Contrary to what people might fear, there is no pain associated with the needles, other than perhaps a momentary and slight pinching sensation when they first enter the skin.
Although very much a mainstream practice in Asia, in the United States acupuncture is still considered a form of alternative medicine. At present it has something of an uneasy coexistence with Western medicine, although that appears to be changing. As of 2008, 11 states mandated that insurance companies cover acupuncture, and it seems likely that this number will rise in the coming years.
Brendan Carney is handsome and affable, with an easy smile that is infectious. He certainly doesn't fit any stereotyped notion of an acupuncturist, and one might be forgiven upon entering the perfect stillness of Central Path for mistaking him for someone other than the proprietor. Yet, once he begins to speak about the subject, his tone both calm and passionate, the depth of his knowledge is made readily apparent. There is no doubt that here is a man who has truly found his calling.
After an intensive three-year program, Brendan graduated from acupuncture school in 2008. He worked in several different offices, seeing how others approached the practice, before striking out on his own last year.
I always knew I wanted to own my own business, he says, mentioning his former professor, Academic Dean Beth Crockford, as someone who encouraged him in that direction while he was at Colby-Sawyer. One of his current mentors, renowned acupuncturist Kiiko Matsumoto, with whom he has apprenticed for several years, has been instrumental in guiding him along this path.
Brendan admits that opening a business in the middle of a huge economic downturn might seem foolhardy. As he points out, though, healthcare is a relatively safe business to be in; people are always sick or in pain. In fact, the sour economic climate worked to his advantage, allowing him to lease a prime location in downtown Waltham relatively inexpensively. Gutting what was essentially one large open area, Brendan transformed a former day-labor hiring center into a serene environment that seems an ideal setting for the tranquil healing that takes place there.
Bringing Art to Healing
So what brings someone to an acupuncturist? The number one reason that clients come to Brendan is musculoskeletal pain. He attributes this in part to the lingering view, once widely held by Western doctors, that acupuncture has to do with the nervous system.
That was the theory, he explains, that you're manipulating some kind of nerves, stimulating an area of the brain so that it fixes your problem. In fact, no one really knows how acupuncture works. It is an art form, insists Brendan. There's a saying in Chinese medicine. You can treat the same disease in two different ways and have both be successful, or you can treat two different diseases in the same way and have both be successful.
In other words, there is no one prescribed method of doing things. If someone is suffering from back pain, there is no back pain point that every acupuncturist will target. There is only a selection of points that can be targeted according to the style of the practitioner. Your own style is always evolving, says Brendan. I'm not going to treat like anyone else.
Brendan sees about 20 patients a week, 70 percent of whom are female, which he attributes to women generally being more open to alternative medicine than men. Besides musculo skeletal pain, his clients exhibit a wide range of symptoms and he has treated anxiety, depression and cardiac patients, as well as children with asthma or allergies. One of his patients, having completed a ten-week chemotherapy session, used acupuncture to treat her nausea.
According to Brendan, his clients respond very well to their treatments. For example, a back pain sufferer may typically experience favorable results within five or six sessions. There is also what he refers to as the by the way effect; as in, By the way, did you do anything for my allergies, because they got better? Acupuncturists are biased, laughs Brendan, we say we can treat anything. Part of that is because our job is to diagnose the body and figure out how it can heal itself.
Sometimes, of course, people just don't get better. If Brendan doesn't see positive results within four or five treatments, he will refer the patient elsewhere for another course of action. The true way to build a business is through socially and ethically high standards of morality, he says, the sincerity evident in his voice. So I always do what's best for them.
One of his patients has fibromyalgia, a condition of chronic pain and fatigue. She will probably never fully recover, but she comes in every week, and even though she lives with a lot of pain, her quality of life has improved. If I give her a treatment on a Friday, on a Saturday night she can put on her heels and go out dancing for an hour.
Expanding his Practice
In addition to acupuncture, Brendan offers classes in Tai Chi and Qi Gong, as well as treatment with Chinese herbal medicine. He estimates that 80 percent of his patients will use acupuncture and 20 percent will use the less familiar herbs, while in China that ratio is reversed. With a smile he explains this is due to the large needles favored in China, unlike the fine Japanese needles that he uses.
Besides his practice, Brendan has recently been invited to work at the Osher Clinical Center for Complementary and Integrative Medical Therapies, which is affiliated with Harvard Medical School. The cutting-edge center brings together alternative medicine practitioners with physicians from the medical establishment, offering a place where the two streams of thought can be integrated. Brendan himself sees the form of medicine he practices to be generally synergistic with traditional Western medicine, and welcomes the chance to learn and share knowledge.
Brendan's business has been open just under a year, but it turned profitable within just a few months, a remarkable achievement. He promotes his practice with his website, which features a blog that he regularly updates, and by building working relationships with doctors and therapists.
Mainly, though, he benefits from positive word of mouth from his clients. What he doesn't get is a lot of walk-in traffic, despite being in a highly visible part of town. As mainstream as acupuncture has become in the 30-plus years since it arrived in this country, it may be a while before it can lure in the man or woman on the street. When that day comes, Brendan will be prepared to help, ready with the knowledge, skills and compassionate nature that led him to walk the central path.
To learn more about Brendan and acupuncture go to www.centralpathacupuncture.com