Our clients rely on us to provide some perspective on their well-being. Integrative health care expands our potential to do that exponentially.

If you have access to see or touch only one small part of an elephant, your point of view is limited, right?

It’s the same with health care: Incorporating more parts of the whole and learning from people who touch the various other parts provides us with greater insight and perspective, and allows us to make more informed clinical decisions.

Our clients rely on us to provide some perspective on their well-being. Integrative health care expands our potential to do that exponentially.

My colleagues often refer to me as the embodiment of integrative care, but it wasn’t always that way. It has been a 20-year journey to get here.

A Bigger Scope of Practice

Beginning my career in massage therapy and CranioSacral Therapy back in 1998, I quickly found that I wanted a bigger scope of practice.

I was hungry for more knowledge about the human body, and equally eager to have the ability to counsel people about ways they could improve their overall health and well-being.

I discovered functional medicine, and that was it—I was hooked. I fell in love with the juxtaposition between deeply understanding anatomy, physiology and pathology, while also viewing the body with a vitalistic approach to healing, which Merriam-Webster defines as a “doctrine that the functions of a living organism are due to a vital principle distinct from physicochemical forces.”

We are not machines. We are self-correcting beings, capable of regaining homeostasis and adapting to our environments.

With this fundamental understanding, I set out to gather more knowledge with the intention of helping my patients better understand themselves.

I chose to attend chiropractic school so that I could continue using my hands as my tools. This provided me with the scope of practice I sought: the ability and responsibility to diagnose; the ability to order and interpret laboratory analysis and imaging, and the capacity to create treatment plans that include optimal nutrition and self-care as a centerpiece to well-being.

But when I chose chiropractic care, I was conflicted. I was also smitten with the language and paradigm of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). In this way of thinking, ancient observation of the body and healing methodology helps us see in a totally different system.

Without the aid of diagnostic tests, the ancient doctors and scholars had found a beautiful and unique way to describe the human body and its inner workings. This point of view includes a complete interpretation of body, mind, and spirit, which I have always found to be vexingly missing from allopathic medicine.

Mind, Body, Spirit

Without the inclusion of mind and spirit, there is no explanation for why some people thrive and some do not. So, after earning my license as a chiropractor in 2008, I embarked upon my journey in TCM.

Eight years later, I finished my master’s of acupuncture. I am currently pursuing my master’s of health science in applied clinical nutrition, taking an evidence-based approach to my many years of learning already in nutrition and food therapy.

My private practice is now the stuff my dreams were made of many years ago. Just this year, I rebranded my practice to Stockheart Whole Health: Mind, Body, and Everything In-Between. I treat all ages of people with a wide range of presenting conditions, and I use all of the tools I have accumulated over the past 20 years of learning—but I don’t rely solely on my skills and notions about care.

Stockheart includes many other skilled and kind-hearted practitioners of varying disciplines.

Each practitioner brings their unique training and point of view, their perspectives on health and healing, and their own ability to deeply connect with their patients. People seek our care because they know we will treat them with respect, take a team approach whenever needed, and meet them where they are.

Integrative health care is at the heart of what we do. It is of utmost importance to build trusting relationships with other excellent practitioners, so that when we make referrals, the patient finds a similarly open-minded and kind-hearted practitioner on the other end. Our professional networking is everything, and is a constantly evolving aspect of what we do.

My friend and colleague, Kevin McCarthy, CAR, RMP, BCSI, states it succinctly and elegantly:

“As a practitioner, you are most engaging when you are deeply engaged in your craft. Colleagues and clients respond to passionate inquiry, whatever that inquiry is.

“If you can combine an open mind, the ability to learn and a clear sense of where your interests and skills lie, you will be a sought out and valuable member of any team,” he adds.

Your passion for healing and learning are your guideposts for connecting deeply. With yourself, your clients, and your network of other healers. Surely you’ve seen the difference on all ends of that! We all love to be inspired by someone who is enthusiastic about something we don’t know much about. It helps other people care, and become committed to seeing from a new point of view.

Potential for Growth

McCarthy’s own path let him in an unusual direction. He had this to share about his collaboration with mental health providers:

“My own expertise and passion is in incorporating trauma therapy into the field of bodywork. While this may not be high on many massage therapists lists of preferred CE’s, most are already dealing unknowingly with the effects of trauma on the massage table on a daily basis.

“Importantly, this is one critical field of health care that is primed for growth in the coming decade. There is a growing awareness in the mental health community that trauma is a primary concern in treating a variety of mental health issues, not just PTSD. In addition, there is a consensus that bodily approaches to working with trauma are essential for efficacious treatment.

“Just look to Bessel Van Der Kolk’s recent book, The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma, for a prime series of examples. There is a desperate need for people trained in touch therapies who are also conscious of the impact of trauma on the nervous system. 

“The potential for growth in this field is due to the fact that the field of psychotherapy is aware of this need, but traditional prohibitions on touch make it very difficult for most psychotherapists to engage in the kind of therapy needed by those suffering from trauma.

“Trauma-informed massage and bodywork is the logical choice to fill this missing link between mind and body. I would encourage any bodywork or massage therapist to consider educating themselves on the definition of trauma, its physical and emotional manifestations in the body, and some practical techniques for working with trauma when it presents itself in the treatment room. Somatic Experiencing is one great resource that trains both psychotherapists and bodyworkers in the field.

Working integratively means being able to check your internal reactions—do you open up and become curious when exposed to ideas or skill sets different than your own or do you become defensive? If the latter, do you know why? 

Exploring this personal set of skills, i.e. being cognizant and able to interact with your own internal dialogue is, I think the most effective means of becoming a valuable member of a team. Seeking out the skills to do this, through psychotherapy, interpersonal dialogue, meditation and mindfulness training, etc. is the best money most practitioners of any modality will ever invest in their own work.”

Benefits of Integrative Health Care

If you’re interested in creating more integration in your practice, you need to build a bigger table. Reach out to those in your community (or in the larger social media community!) who are doing interesting things, and who have tremendous passion for what they do.

Surround yourself with those who love to share with an open heart, collaborate with the larger medical community, and serve the greatest good. And of course, be a lifelong learner. The world needs more of us!

I’ll leave you with the reasons I live and love integrative health care.

  • It is what I want in those who provide my care. When I go to the doctor, I want her to know that her knowledge base is limited, and I want her to know when to send me somewhere else.

Ideally, I want her to send me somewhere she knows and trusts. If she is confronted with a different way of thinking, I want her to receive that information with an open mind, and from a place of curiosity and not defensiveness.

There are worlds we all don’t know. I want those advising me about my health to live in that reality and advise me accordingly.

  • It keeps me in the learner’s mind. I am constantly reminded that I am but one person. Everyone benefits from sitting at a bigger table.

Certified Rolfing practitioner Grant Ernhart put it, “One of the benefits I have felt as a practitioner working in concert with a team of therapists, is that I am constantly being reminded to check my ego and remain humble. No one person can have all the answers for every client all of the time.”

The benefit for clients is clear: They get the knowledge of multiple perspectives of care and that generally leads to a better if not best fit in matching clients needs with practitioners strengths.

  • No medicine is right for 100 percent of people. No matter how great you are at your craft, some people will not get well. They need a different approach. With the range of tools I have accumulated, I can switch gears when it seems appropriate or refer out to someone who offers something different that what I can offer.
  • I believe in the interconnectedness of all things. Touch is one way of healing. Food is also important. And movement. And plant medicine. And sometimes we need a surgical intervention. One person cannot know and do all of these things well.
  • Other individual points of view are important. Other practitioners have pieces of the puzzle that are beyond their professions. They come from their life experience, their culture, and their understanding of healing. When I work integratively, I enjoy all of these contributions.
  • Connection is vitally important to healing. Each of us offers a different connection for our patients from other practitioners. We are probably more aware of this even than those we treat, and so if I feel the connection I am providing is not quite right for the work that needs to be done, I want to incorporate another practitioner to fill the need.

That may not mean that I am not a part of the picture—but adding someone else to the team may create synergy.

After all, we are more than the sum of our parts.

About the Author

Michele Renee, DC, MAc, has a broad depth and breadth of education and clinical experience, starting with massage therapy and CranioSacral Therapy in 1998. She earned her Doctor of Chiropractic in 2008 and her Master of Acupuncture credential in 2016. Serving as the Massage Program Director since 2015, she has been working at Northwestern Health Sciences University since 2008. She wrote “Integrative Health Care: Massage Therapists Are Needed on This Team” for the February print issue of MASSAGE Magazine.

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