by Janine S. Pouliot
LET’S FACE IT: LIFE COMES WITH ITS SHARE OF AILMENTS, ACHES, AND PAINS. For these things, we turn to trusted doctors to provide diagnosis and treatment. Yet more and more, people are also turning to holistic health care to complement traditional Western medicine. Believers in alternative health care swear by its effectiveness in treating everything from diabetes to premenstrual syndrome. That’s because the goal of holistic medicine is to encourage the body to heal itself.
But who are these people who deliver this sometimes unconventional healing? For one thing, they are practitioners who believe fiercely in what they’re doing. They are not snake-oil salesmen, trying to foist some quack cure on gullible sufferers. And they’re most certainly not in it for the money. They consider it a genuine calling coupled with an authentic desire to reach out and help people. They are what they preach.
“When my patient says to me that her whole person is healed, I say to myself, ‘Well, that’s why I exist,'” says Curry Chaudoir, executive director and senor acupuncturist, Acupuncture & Holistic Health Associates. “There is no other reason for me to be alive but to have this effect: for my patient to be at the receiving end of the knowledge that her body is taking care of its own problems – for the rest of her life.”
That’s pretty heady stuff. Yet Chaudoir is not alone in this sentiment. Positive feedback from patients is critical for virtually all practitioners. It’s the development of this uniquely intimate relationship between provider and patient that presents such validation.
“I listen to people with my hands,” points out certified massage therapist Marcy Cepulis, Jensen Health & Energy Center. “I put myself in the place of the client, feeling what they’re feeling, making a connection, anticipating their needs through my hands. That’s why I begin massages by placing my hands on their head.”
And, interestingly, Cepulis’ general outlook on her occupation very much mirrors that of Chaudoir’s. “I just love my job. It’s the best feeling knowing that you’ve improved someone’s life for a short time or possibly for a lifetime,” says Cepulis. “I love going to work. I feel really blessed that I have been able to form wonderful relationships.”
Cepulis offers a variety of massage treatments, particularly addressing the issue of pain. “That’s a big part of what I do,” she notes. One treatment called “trigger point therapy” works on the “belly” of the muscle, getting it to relax and surrender. “It’s very quick, very effective,” she says. But there is some localized pain from the pressure during the treatment.
By contrast, those who can’t tolerate this intensity may undergo myofascial relief, which applies slow, gentle, sustained pressure, peeling away pain like an onion. It’s all a matter of meeting patients’ needs.
What drew these holistic devotees to this type of health care in the first place? It’s not like back in school an academic advisor would have guided them toward a career in accounting, IT or hands-on holistic healing. So how did they get here? For many, the pull goes way back.
“My father was a pharmacist,” explains Monica Zatarski, herself a pharmacist with MD Custom Rx, which provides custom compounding of medicines. Compounding is a technique that dates back to the origins of pharmacology. Years ago, when patients were given a prescription by a physician, they’d go to a pharmacist who combined the appropriate ingredients to arrive at a personalized form of the medicine. Over time, however, that approach fell victim to mass production. The pharmacist’s role as preparer of medicine changed to that of dispenser of manufacturer-prepared quantities in, for example, 250 or 500 milligram doses.
However, some patients require a personalized dosage strength specific to their body. Others are not able to tolerate the fillers added to manufactured pills such as dyes, sugar, lactose, alcohol, binders or lubricants. These are used as bulk when the drug strength is too small to be accurately manufactured. And that’s what compounding addresses.
“Twelve years ago, my father started getting into prescription compounding, “Says Zatarski.” It’s always intrigued me. I found it interesting making medicine from scratch. We call ourselves medication problem solvers.”
Family also motivated Dr. Jan Jensen, Jensen Health & Energy Center. Jensen is a doctor of chiropractics, a certified instructor of clinical kinesiology and a founding board member of the Clinical kinesiology Organization for Research and Education. She also has conducted postgraduate studies in orthopedics, nutrition, cranial sacral therapy, Chinese herbology and acupuncture, and internal, functional and sports medicine. Jensen is currently involved in postgraduate studies in pulse diagnosis and functional neurology.
“I’ve always been interested in health,” she says. “I was in traditional premed, but wasn’t sure what I wanted to go into. Then my brother was injured playing soccer. He was told he’d never play again and needed surgery.”
Luckily, Jensen’s brother happened to know someone who was a chiropractor and began treatments with him. As a result, he never did require the surgery. “He started telling me about this wonderful healing tradition,” Jensen explains. “I learned holistic medicine looks at the whole body, at all the natural sensible things like exercise and nutrition. It keeps you healthy, rather than waiting until you are a mess.”
The notion that humans contain within themselves the solutions for what ails them is at the core beliefs of alternative health care providers. “Western medicine takes us in a direction that has nothing to do with the body healing itself,” notes Chaudoir. “It says that if you have a symptom, you treat it. And in the short term, that’s fine. It looks like magic to a patient. But then the symptom comes back. The other way is to get the body to heal itself. Acupuncture history goes back over 4,000 years and has always treated the underlying cause.”
In a nutshell, acupuncture is based on the ancient Chinese theory that illness is caused by imbalances in an individual’s energy flow called “chi.” This energy is believed to circulate through the body via a transportation system referred to as meridians. When chi is blocked, the rest of the body being nourished by the continuous flow suffers. Acupuncture restores the flow by inserting sterilized, individually wrapped, stainless steel needles into points on the meridians to clear blockages and restore the body to health.
In addition to the belief that the body can heal itself, good practitioners of holistic health must also possess a true fondness for people and a sense of patience as they describe their symptoms. Lengthy consultations often precede treatment, and any practitioner must have good listening skills in order to create individualized programs. “There is no one-size-fits-all health care,” says Jensen. Truly listening to each patient is part of the job.
“It’s rewarding to have very close interpersonal relationships with our customers,” says Zatarksi. We meet with them by appointment, sit down and work together to solve their medication needs. We probably get to know them better than the average chain store pharmacist would. We take care of entire families. It’s rewarding to feel trust, to see them learn about the alternatives out there, to give them hope.”
This free-flowing exchange makes holistic health care open-ended. There are always new challenges. Whether it’s digging deeper into ancient healing practices, learning about and adapting to the requirements of each patient or incorporating new techniques into treatment, the field of alternative medicine is just taking off in the Western world.
“Holistic medicine has become dramatically more mainstream,” says Jensen. “When I first started in practice over 20 years ago, people would say, ‘Organic, what’s that?’ Now everyone understands what it is, even if they don’t eat it. Patients are more educated, they go on the Internet, e-mail me questions. As people continue to get information about how to stay healthy, they’ll want to work more closely with coaches and knowledgeable people. But I don’t want them to become dependent. I want them to think for themselves, to help themselves.”
“I think as a society, we’ve become more stressed out with the introduction of technology,” agrees Cepulis. “We have less contact with human beings. People need to get in touch with the mind/body/ spirit connection.”
For many alternative medicine practitioners, their work is personally meaningful to them. Take Chaudoir, for example. His very first exposure was the clincher. “I went to an energy workshop and decided that whatever that was, I wanted to know about it. For the first time, something made complete sense to me. I thought, that’s it, I want to do this.” Most holistic practitioners couldn’t agree more.
Janine S. Pouliot is a regular Milwaukee Magazine contributor.