Acupuncturists Emily Cronin and Thomas McCarty provide free monthly sessions to Bastion residents
Opening our minds to new possibilities requires seeing results. That’s what happened to two local acupuncturists who now bring their knowledge and expertise to the Bastion community on a monthly basis, free of charge.
Thomas McCarty, owner of Tree of Life Acupuncture, first became passionate about helping others from watching his own mother navigate illness. He learned how to cook her a Japanese macrobiotic diet, which led to his interest in herbalism and Traditional Chinese Medicine.
The tools of this practice treat the mind and body as one, a perspective that can be particularly helpful to veterans navigating both physical and mental injuries. Acupuncture can be part of this approach, serving as a powerful grounding method, and providing an immediate therapeutic effect.
“Bringing the mind into the present is a very therapeutic thing for people who may be haunted by experiences overseas or at home, wherever that might be, or whose pain may be magnified by memories,” McCarty said.
McCarty provides acupuncture to Bastion’s veterans alongside Emily Cronin, who also became passionate about the practice through early life experiences. After witnessing how acupuncture helped her mother, Cronin was drawn to the theories of Traditional Chinese Medicine as a holistic way of healing.
“I thought that it was an affordable way of helping people feel better, and mitigating the excessive use of painkillers,” Cronin said. “And I just thought that in this country, that these could be great ways to help yourself and help people you love too.”
Bastion resident Susan Lutz agrees. She frequently takes advantage of the free sessions and has felt the benefits.
“I've had circulatory problems for the last few years,” said Lutz. “For example, my arms frequently fall asleep. I always feel a little better after an acupuncture session and I don't experience circulatory issues for a few days. “
McCarty and Cronin never select acupoints in advance. A session starts with questioning and identifying patterns to establish a treatment plan. This can involve targeting specific bodily networks, or checking for skin changes like tension, temperature, or tenderness before inserting needles at strategic points to relieve symptoms and correct patterns of imbalance.
“There's like a field of right answers,” Cronin said. “And then within that, you have different avenues that will get you to your end goal faster, or more directly.”
McCarty says that working with veterans at Bastion disproved his preconceived notions about the kinds of challenges veterans live with and has made him more aware of the way in which smaller wear and tear injuries can develop into major issues.
“Just individually, there's people who have such interesting stories, what they've been through and what they're into, and what they're building in their lives,” McCarty said. “And then as a community, it's just an incredible community…it's going to be the model for other places around the country.”
At Bastion, we rely on a wide variety of tools to support the healing and wellbeing of our veterans. Thanks to the skills and generosity of these two local acupuncturists, Bastion is able to offer monthly community acupuncture to our residents, completely free of cost.
The Bastion Brothers take a bow after Veterans Experience Project performance
Music can give us much more than just a catchy tune that we sing along to while driving or cleaning the house. It can help strengthen community, build inner and outer connections, and help us to heal.
That’s the idea behind Bastion’s music therapy, and it’s on full display during a recent afternoon in the Purple Heart room where a group of veterans* are working on Simon and Garfunkel’s “Sound of Silence,” lead by music therapist, Jeremy Love. Sitting in a circle, one vet plays xylophone, a vet jams on a keyboard-sounding iPad, and there is another playing harmonica with Love calling out chords and strumming a guitar.
It sounds good, and it’s kind of amazing to see and hear how quickly it comes together, but there’s also something going on underneath, perhaps subconsciously. Love, who has a master's degree in music therapy and has been working with the Bastion community for many years, draws it out with a simple question: “What do you associate with silence?”
One man tells how the song reminds him of good training days when he would play the song in his head while rucking with a full pack. Another vet doesn’t hold such fond memories. For him, the piece reminds him of the eerie and uncertain silence after a firefight. The others listen intently and offer encouragement: “It’s okay. You’ve got this.”
This isn’t an easy moment, and throughout the session the affected vet is comforted by his comrades. But it is a breakthrough, and it shows music’s transformative power to open people up when words might fail.
“What we’re trying to do with our group is to facilitate connection,” Love says. “And we’re using music as an agent of growth.”
Love is quick to point out that not all of their sessions are so intense and there’s often a lot of joy and synergy between veterans. In fact, the recent Veterans Experience Project at Gallier Hall put that on full display. Calling themselves the “Baston Brothers,” the group gathered onstage to play an original song in a Chicago Blues style with the lyrics relating what their time in the military was like and coming home.
You can hear the pride in the vets’ voices when they talk about that performance, and you can feel how playing music has brought them even closer together. And as Love points out, this therapeutic power isn’t limited only to the vets.
“Bastion is such a unique place, and I’m honored to be here,” says Love. “There have been times when I’ve been down in the dumps, and they have raised me up.”
*Due to the therapeutic nature of this article, we chose not to specifically name the veterans involved.