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Meet Maria Elizabeth Barrera of Athena Acupuncture & Wellness Center in Whittier

Today we’d like to introduce you to Maria Elizabeth Barrera.

Maria Elizabeth, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
I came to the United States when I was six years old. I grew up undocumented for most of my life. Consequently, my awareness of disparity and the need to be resilient were not a choice but a mandate. As a teenager, I became part of lobby efforts to pass legislation that would allow undocumented high school students pay in-state tuition. The legislation became law in California, as result I was able to afford my dream school UC Davis. After graduating from UCD with my BA in Political Science and minor in Religious Studies, I became a Community Organizer with an immigrant rights organization. My job was to galvanize and teach others to be civically engaged in our political system. Community organizing requires maintaining people’s spirits high in the midst of crisis. Not surprisingly, after six years of being a staff member, I felt that my body and emotions could not take anymore. After taking a three months sabbatical from my job, I followed my intuition and enrolled in the Master’s of Acupuncture & Oriental Medicine program. Why acupuncture? Because the idea of energetic channels that exist in our body but cannot be seen–as a healing modality intrigued me.

In addition, the fundamental principles of Traditional Chinese medicine–like the balance of yin and yang which feeds into the balance of the feminine and masculine; the balance of action and rest made complete sense as an approach to health. Thus, after graduating from the program and becoming licensed, I joined two different private practices as a staff Licensed Acupuncturist (L.Ac.). In one practice, I learned how to treat people with worker compensation injuries and in the other I learned how to treat children who are in cancer treatment with the mentorship of a leading pediatrician Acupuncturist. While I worked for others, the vision of owning my on wellness center kept growing in me. And finally in September of 2019, I had an official ribbon cutting ceremony for my own business. Within six months of the wellness center opening, we grew to not only include acupuncture & traditional herbal prescriptions but to grow the team to include a mental health clinician, massage therapist, and a Reiki practitioner.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
Opening the business itself has been difficult. The learning curve is quite high; from learning the difference between a triple versus double net lease to what general liability insurance best fits my business model. It has been difficult to run the business aspect while simultaneous being the main practitioner providing direct services. Also, I am naturally more of a creative and big picture thinker and the business aspect of my practice demands linear and numerical thinking. Thus, it has challenged me to implement systems to keep my creativity engaged while delivering on the logistical parts of my business goals.

Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about Athena Acupuncture & Wellness Center – what should we know?
My specialties are women’s health, pediatric care, emotional pain and body pain.

My business specializes in healing others through reminding them that they know their body best. The business slogan is “Your Body is Medicine”. Most commonly asked is: “do the needles have some kind of medicine in them?” And the answer is “No, it’s your body that has the acupuncture points and I simply activate the points with the needle. Your body is the medicine.”

Any shoutouts? Who else deserves credit in this story – who has played a meaningful role?
Mentor: Dr Ruth McCarty–founder and owner of Open Mind Modalities & Director of Chinese Medicine at the Children’s Hospital in Orange County—taught me everything I know about treating children, especially children with complex diagnoses.

Mentor: Jenny Yu, Dean of Eastern Medicine at Southern California University of Health Sciences–any question I had she was fully accessible and present.

Mentors: Cliff Lee & Dr Thomas Lee, Clinicians & Faculty at Southern California University of Health Sciences–any business question about opening up my own practice, they were there and ready to share their strategies and insight.

My partner for believing in me, my vision and investing financially.

My child for inspiring the name of the wellness center.

Claudia Morales, Licensed Clinician and Social Worker–for believing in the vision of the wellness center and being the first to officially become part of the team of practitioners.

My parents–my Dad who did so much of the manual labor of painting and setting up. My Mom for helping stay sharp in my financial strategy for the business.


  • Initial Consultation: $90
  • Follow Up: $65
  • Cupping Therapy: $40

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
“Ribbon Cutting Ceremony” De La Cruz Photography

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