On April 12th 2013 I officially got my Naturopathic Doctor license. I was elated and excited to start working in the “real world” after my 10+ year academic career. It’s been a journey of learning, and I’ve cultivated many skills and strengths along the way. Below are the 5 things I’ve learned in practice that I’d like to share:
- Everyday you are learning and teaching
You never stop learning. Ever. If you did, then either you’ve lost passion for your craft or you’ve hit an egotistical wall where you believe you know absolutely everything (both are problematic). I learn from everywhere – including my patients. I’m an open book and my books are always open! To be engaged in a practice you have to actually practice what you teach! In medical school I remember ever new thing we learned (whether it was a diet, a supplement, or my favourite hydrotherapy) we tried. And discussed after. We were excited to be engaged in the medical treatments and that excitement should not fade, even when you are no longer a student (that’s called passion!). Wanting to learn about your career field is a good check to see if you are in the right field. You are probably thinking “but I’m an Accountant, what books am I going to read about that?” There are many! Get your Freak Economics on!
If you are always learning then you are always teaching. Doctor means teacher and I greatly believe in and am grateful for that responsibility. It’s our job to explain what’s going on physically, emotionally, and spiritually and how that relates to how a person is feeling. One way to test if you’ve learned something is if you can teach it. If you have difficulty teaching something you may not completely comprehend it (or you may have difficulty communicating it or relating to your student). Being able to communicate information in a way which people understand is a big part of health. If people can’t understand how they’ve gotten unwell, they’ll have difficulty in understanding, or believing, that they can get well.
2. The first step to health is self awareness
You can’t address what you don’t acknowledge. Sounds Dr. Phil”ish”, but it’s completely true. If a person doesn’t want to help themselves, or refuses to look at them self honestly and humbly, then they will create a subconscious block to healing. As a society we’ve learned that if we avoid something then it goes away. That’s not how life works. If you avoid it then it goes further down and lies hidden, not absent, and comes up as other symptoms. Symptoms are a sign that the mind-body is screaming out to be acknowledged and taken care of. Being aware of our health issues and taking responsibility for them is the first step to heal, because then you begin to believe that you have the power to heal.
3. Everyone has the ability to heal
Everyone and everything has the ability to hea;. The amount of time and effort required is dependant on the individual. Healing also can be uncomfortable, but the discomfort will pass with time and in hindsight be beneficial. In biology we learned the ability of organs to regenerate their tissue, skin to recycle, and even the simple cell has the ability to divide and differentiate. Neurons in the brain have been shown to take over the role of surrounding neurons that have been damaged or rendered dysfunctional. The body and mind can adapt. It can change and grow dependent on it’s environment. When we change our environment (ie what we eat and how we think), we change gene transcription and our physiology. Hence, we have the innate and amazing ability to heal.
4. Simplicity is key
Think about fixing a light bulb in the ceiling – would you stand on a rickety wooden ladder to do it? Not at all. You need a solid foundation to properly hold you. The same goes with your health. If one, or more, of you health fundamentals are lacking, then it makes you more susceptible to health problems. These fundamentals are: food, water, rest, air, and love. I relate them to the elements, love being the ether or effervescent magically elusive fifth element that cannot be quantitatively measured. Many diseases are rooted in trauma, resulting from lack of self love or self esteem. If will feel we aren’t worthy of love (or nourishment, or life, or acknowledgement, the list goes on…. ask a person what love means to them and that’s what they need in life or lacked growing up) then our vitality diminishes, making us more prone to physical and emotional injury. These health elements must be addressed first and always. If someone is lacking energy – ask where their energy is going? Is it being drained, not hydrated (water), not restored (sleep), they are low in iron or nutrients (food), poor circulation or nerve cells are hyperactive (air) or they give their energy away to everyone else (love). We look for a more complex answer because we think it must be complicated. Think simple and treat with pure and whole concepts.
5. The mind and body are interconnected and intertwined in health.
A mental issue may be a physical issue and physical issues may cause mental emotional issues. For example, depression can be due to a lack of thyroid hormone, and constantly sacrificing yourself for others can cause hypothyroidism. Mind you it’s not that simple of a cause-effect, but they can contribute. We exist as complex weave of physical and metaphysical forces – hence our symptoms cannot be addressed in isolation. That’s one of the core concepts that I love about Naturopathic Medicine – everything is connected. As Naturopaths we ask about everything. And many times I’ll hear… “well this may not be related…..”… it is! If you are experiencing it, then it’s related! If you create one effect it will cause a ripple effect in the entire body. Hence why drinking more water may alleviate headaches in one and constipation in another. Simple intervention may have dramatic effects in many different ways. It’s all connected and it all matters.
I could write a book on all the things I’ve learned in the past 5 years…..and things I didn’t read in my books or learn in my classes. It’s been cultivated from experience and being active and engaged in practice. Some days I wish people could hear what I hear in my walls (not that they will because patient confidentiality of course!), because then they would realize how normal their health concerns are. We hide our pain and sufferings so well that people believe we are well… and eventually we too begin to believe our own compensations. It’s ok to not be “ok” and to communicate that with others. Connecting and being heard is part of being human, and another beginning piece in improving our health. And even if we believe everything is going great and don’t need help with our health, it’s important to continue to do health check ins to foster that self awareness and encourage personal growth. Our health is a journey is which we get to learn and grow.