An Interview with Dr. Arlen McClellan, Licensed Acupuncturist/Herbalist at Jen Becker Acupuncture

Dr. Arlen McClellan is just joining the practice this summer, and we are thrilled to have her. She has a similar focus on women’s health and reproductive issues, but she also brings with her a background in microbiology to her study and practice of Traditional Chinese Medicine. It is this grounding in a mix of Eastern and Western techniques that gives Arlen a unique perspective and ability to translate between Western medicine and holistic and Eastern modalities.

Arlen answered a few of my questions so you could get to know her better. Read on to learn about Arlen and then book an appointment with her this summer!

Tell me about your background and how you came to acupuncture and Traditional Chinese healing techniques:

I grew up in Western Massachusetts with earthy-crunchy parents. My mom is an acupressurist and herbalist so I was exposed to acupuncture very young. I think my first treatment was when I was 5. In high school, I continued to get acupuncture for severe period cramps and for sports injuries. I was a high-level competitive soccer player and played on multiple local and state teams in middle and high school. Needless to say, I had a lot of ankle injuries and didn’t allow for much recovery time. Acupuncture was very helpful during this time. Many years later, I was finishing college, studying for the MCATs, working and training for a marathon (I suffered from a bit of Wonder Woman syndrome), and I burnt myself out. My primary care doctor couldn’t find a reason to explain the symptoms I was experiencing because every test came back normal. With no answers or direction, I felt lost. This was the point that my mom made appointments for me with her acupuncturist and a naturopathic doctor. Over the next year, I worked with them and got back to feeling 100%. That’s when it clicked for me: I wanted to practice a kind of medicine that could provide answers even when lab tests come back normal. The next day, I applied to acupuncture schools.

You studied pre-med in college–how has this informed your healing practice?

Studying pre-med helped me develop a deeper understanding of Anatomy & Physiology, Pathology, Pharmacology, and Lab Diagnosis. I have a strong understanding of Allopathic medicine and can easily communicate with other doctors. I am able to confidently break down and explain lab results to patients of mine.I find that to be invaluable. It has also allowed me to act as an advocate for patients in the past. My strong science background has fostered a hunger to understand how acupuncture and herbs are working physically and physiologically. I am fascinated by the research that’s been coming out showing how acupuncture stimulates the brain and how that then affects neurotransmitters, hormones and cytokines. I am an acupuncturist, but I am also a massive science nerd.

What’s one of the biggest misconceptions people have about acupuncture and Eastern healing techniques?

That it’s “woo-woo” or fake medicine. There has been an abundance of scientific research done on acupuncture and East Asian medicine in the past 10 years alone. At this point, we do know how the needles are creating a physiological change in the body, we understand the scientific mechanism in action. There is research published in peer-reviewed journals with results showing acupuncture and herbal medicine is as effective or more effective than more well known allopathic solutions to disease. One of my goals as a practitioner is to make this known.

What’s one of the most common issues you deal with as a practitioner?

This is less of a specific issue and more of something I observe on a macro scale: I have noticed over the years that most people I treat have something in common. This thing is that they’re stuck in a habit, lifestyle, job, relationship, or thought process that is either creating or exacerbating their symptoms. It can be really difficult to recognize these things in ourselves and sometimes we can’t. Oftentimes it takes someone objective to point it out. Sometimes we know this thing is the issue but either can’t see how to change it, or don’t think it can be changed. Both aspects of this are part of the pattern of disharmony we objectively observe and diagnose as acupuncturists. I am a very solutions-based practitioner. If I observe an area that a patient is “stuck” in, I help them find a solution so that they feel less stuck, with the goal of alleviating their symptoms. That solution doesn’t always have to be drastic; if your job is causing extra stress and you can’t sleep, the first step isn’t to leave your job. The first step is finding ways to reduce stress with nutrition, exercise, meditation, acupuncture and herbs. If that doesn’t do it, then we go to the next step.

Do you practice any other forms of healing other than acupuncture?

I have a certification in peristeam hydrotherapy, which is more commonly refereed to as Vaginal Steaming or V-steaming. This is an extension of my Chinese herb training. Otherwise, I have no formal training in craniosacral work, but plan to add that to my resume sometime soon.

What does self care mean to you? Do you have a self care routine?

Self care is a necessity, and I don’t mean just in the “I’m doing a face mask and taking a bath” sort of way. Don’t get me wrong–I’m a huge fan of baths and face masks, but self care encompasses much more than that. Self care is making a practice of taking care of yourself financially, spiritually, emotionally and physically. There has been an emphasis on self care in the social media world the past few years and I love that. I love to see my family, friends and patients making choices that help to reduce stress in their lives. I hope that the other forms of self care, like financial planning and setting time aside for rest, start being popularized as well. In TCM, we recognize the imbalances in a person’s body and use acupuncture needles, herbs, cupping and nutrition to correct that imbalance. I believe that finding balance in the different aspects of self care is important. For example, I had a patient who was really good at certain aspects of self care. She knew how to make herself feel good; she got her nails done, exercised, ate well, got regular facials, massages, and acupuncture. However, she was always stressed. After talking with her over the course of a few weeks, she mentioned to me that she keeps getting in fights with her partner because he thinks she can’t manage her money. That was an aha moment. This particular person was really good at one part of self care, but not another. We discussed ways that she could practice financial self care. She decided to hire a financial planner and after working with them, she told me that a part of her calmed down and she felt more in control and less stressed.

Much like this patient of mine, I am really good at certain aspects of self care and have to consciously work on the other parts. I have many routines that I’ve worked into my days, weeks, and months. It looks a bit like this:

Daily self care: coffee on my balcony without a phone, exercise (I was an athlete growing up so this is non-negotiable), making healthy meal choices, eating something sweet, playing with y dog, and my bedtime routine that I call Wind Down Time.

Weekly: therapy, seeing friends and family, acupuncture treatment, bubble bath, spending time in a green space, finances.

Monthly: leave the city one weekend per month, deep clean my apartment, get a massage, take a class that interests me.

How have you stayed sane, positive, and balanced during the past 15 months?

Oh wow, that’s a good question. To be honest, the beginning of the pandemic was a roller coaster. Much like everyone else, the beginning of the pandemic brought a lot of change to my life. I stopped seeing patients as an acupuncturist and stepped in as a full time nanny for a friend of a friend. There was a period filled with anger, grief and fear that I had to work through. I started seeing my therapist weekly and as I processed those emotions and held space for them, I started to return to the habits and routines that make me sane, positive and balanced again.

I had two different groups of friends who started doing The Class digitally during that time. We would do a Zoom meeting, sometimes with as many as 10 of us spread across the country, and then do a class together. Afterwards, we’d catch up on what things were like where everyone was, provide encouragement to each other, and listen to worries. The Class itself is cathartic, but intentionally connecting with friends was vital.

I also kept reminding myself of two things I learned in my 20s: The first is that you can do anything no matter how hard, as long as it’s for a given period of time. This is a lesson that has carried me through many difficult times in  my life, through grad school, my father’s diagnosis of cancer and later death, and working jobs that didn’t align with who I am but would get me to where I wanted to be. I know that as long as I keep putting one foot in front of the other, heading in the direction I want to go, I’ll get there. The second is that no matter what is going on in your life or in the world, you need to laugh, you need to play, and you need to dance. I can’t stress this enough. Laughter is contagious. Dancing immediately lifts a bad mood. My boyfriend and I developed so many pranks on each other and jokes over this past year in an effort to stay lighthearted. That was incredibly helpful especially on more difficult days.

What books are currently on your nightstand?

Oh this might be my favorite question! I am a voracious reader. On my nightstand I usually have one or two dense books, the kind you read a bit of and then have to put down for a day or two to let it sink in. And then there’s always a quicker read that I have trouble putting down. I just finished Between Two Kingdoms: A Memoir of a Life Interrupted by Suleika Jaouad, which I highly recommend. The others are: Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds, and Shape Our Future by Merlin Sheldrake, Fifth Vital Sign by Lisa Hendrickson-Jack, and Stay Sexy & Don’t Get Murdered by Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark (yes, I’m a murderino).