Lessons from the Butterfly


“We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.”
–Maya Angelou

Growth and transformation can be messy. Ask any caterpillar on its way to becoming a butterfly. After eating voraciously to prepare itself, it secretes a long stream of liquid from glands just below its mouth. This liquid stiffens to become a silk-like thread attaching the caterpillar’s hind end to a twig or leaf. Then it spins the thread around its body to form a covering which hardens into a shell-like cocoon or chrysalis.

Now things get murky.

We’ve all heard that inside the cocoon, the caterpillar changes into a pupa. But did you know that the process involves actually digesting itself from the inside out? I didn’t.

As the caterpillar’s body liquefies, some of the old tissues are salvaged to fuel the makings of a new form – created from “imaginal” (undifferentiated) cells within the caterpillar’s body. So by deploying digestive juices, the caterpillar-pupa recycles its old larval body into food for building a new one.

Once the butterfly-to-be is ready to emerge, it releases a fluid which softens its shell. The butterfly pushes on the shell walls until they break open; this pushing develops wing strength. Once out, the creature needs to pump still another fluid from its thorax into its wings so they can open; they also need to dry. But then off it flies — a completely new being!
This is far from the “presto-chango” story I learned in grade school. Who could imagine “imaginal” cells, or that all these holy fluids lie within the lowly caterpillar-pupa-butterfly?

Physicians go through their own transformations, sometimes through joyful events but also through suffering. And sometimes our holy fluids are tears.

Getting accepted to medical school, for instance, is a high point for many physicians -– but it’s often accompanied by geographic moving, leaving behind one’s previous community and supportive relationships. Then there are events like meeting our first dead body in anatomy lab, taking our first medical history and physical on a live patient, or being called “doctor” when we don’t yet feel like one.

Transitions and high water marks continue throughout physician lives: selecting residencies, graduating, often moving again, and perhaps being cut from a training program. A patient has a bad outcome or even dies; somebody sues. Parents get sick and die; we get sick, depressed, or addicted to drugs; we get married; have babies; we select our first post-residency job and it absorbs us completely. We get divorced. Maybe we have a change of heart about our chosen specialty. Possibly we experience a paradigm shift about medicine itself. Or, our practice goes bankrupt. Life can be a cascade of light and darkness.

All these potential events (and many more) can provide substrate for alchemy within us. Crises can become transformation points rather than only points of suffering; the effort we expend getting through them can parallel the butterfly’s struggle for release and freedom.

The trouble is that while we’re in transition, we often can’t see the process for what it is. As Dr. Rachel Remen has said, “A transformation in consciousness affects a kind of double vision in people. They see more than one reality at the same time, which gives a depth to both their experience and to their response to the experience.” But until we come all the way through transition’s doorway, we may only feel cross-eyed – or worse. We’re between no longer and not yet.

We can feel disoriented, adrift, and isolated during such liminal periods in our lives — or even completely liquefied, like a pupa-in-process. And yet, there can be solace within the lost-ness, as David Wagoner writes in his poem, “Lost”:

Stand still. The trees ahead and the bushes beside you
Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here,
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
Must ask permission to know it and be known.
The forest breathes. Listen. It answers . . . .
Stand still. The forest knows
Where you are. You must let it find you.

It is useful to think about, write down or share our own transformation points with others: times in our lives that changed us, and how we grew. These stories can provide sustenance for someone else coming along the same path, either now or later. They can serve as trail markers or cairns along the way. Finding them, we’re no longer so lost.

Transition, Migration, and Making Way for the New

I’ve ered tailed hawknjoyed working with Arizona Center for Advanced Medicine since January.   However, their intensified focus on Insulin-Potentiated Chemotherapy for cancer patients requires reconfiguring existing offices to make room for more IV treatment areas.

So, I’ve decided to move my practice of Classical Homeopathy and Holistic Psychiatry, effective 11/1/11 — and am very happy to announce that my new address will be at:

Optimal You
8114 E. Cactus Rd.
Suite #240
Scottsdale, AZ 85260

Phone:  480-656-9218 (unchanged)
Fax:  602-626-3695 (new)

Optimal You” is a group of highly skilled practitioners who believe there’s much more to mental health than the absence of diagnosable illness.  Optimal mental health also includes a feeling of well-being, resilience to stress, healthy relationships, recognizing one’s own potential, ability to work joyfully and productively, and contributing to one’s community. Personally, I would add experiencing (at least sometimes) a sense of spiritual peace. In addition, most healthy people are engaged with something larger than themselves. This allows a feeling of being energized and “on purpose” in their lives.

Though all have sole and separate practices, Optimal You’s practitioners have come together under one roof to provide patients the best of evidence-based psychotherapies, neurobiology, mindfulness-based practices, body-centered psychotherapies, addiction medicine, and psychiatry.  They believe, as I do, that healing and personal transformation through depression, anxiety, and other challenges is truly possible.

And now they’ll also have one of the few homeopathic psychiatrists in the world: me! (Yes, it’s an unusual blend of training and expertise.)  I feel very grateful to be joining them.

The space itself is calming and beautiful, but the collection of minds and hearts is priceless:

Beverlee Laidlaw Chasse, MC
Gail Cordes, MBA, MC
Soozi Bolte, MACL, MC
Pati Anderson, MC
Thomas Best, MD
Pamela A. Pappas MD, MD(H)

This building is on the northeast corner of Hayden and Cactus Roads in Scottsdale, in Odyssey Professional Park.   We look forward to seeing you in our warm, inviting new office space, and assisting you in transforming your health.

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What in the World is “Classical Homeopathy”?

Dr. HahnemannClassical Homeopathy is a 200+ year-old system of medicine developed by German physician Samuel Hahnemann MD.   It is a gentle yet powerful method that helps access, unblock, and restore healing mechanisms that are “stuck”.  With this assistance, people are able to heal themselves naturally and thoroughly.

Based on the principle of “similars,” Classical Homeopathy aims to deeply understand the patient’s exact suffering, and find a single medicine which can cause symptoms as similar to this as possible.  When given in the minimum dose required, this medicine (“remedy”) can stimulate the patient’s healing forces in precisely the way needed to relieve suffering and improve overall health.  Though complete healing is a ongoing process, the patient often experiences some relief soon after taking an appropriate remedy.   Made from substances found in nature, these remedies are  FDA regulated and manufactured in homeopathic pharmacies.

Classical Homeopathy differs greatly from the tradition of allopathic medicine in which I originally trained.  As a conventional allopathic psychiatrist, I would explore and diagnose the patient’s symptoms according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual IV-TR.   I would then develop a treatment plan calling for medicines that fought against (rather than being similar to) the patient’s symptoms.   Psychotherapy would often be included, though insurance companies seem to prefer that psychiatrists limit their services to pharmaceutical prescribing only.

Over the course of serious study since 1999, I’ve shifted my psychiatric practice to Classical Homeopathy.   This is because I believe that when used prudently and rigorously, Classical Homeopathy offers patients more profound healing and transformation than I could ever facilitate with psychotropic medicines and psychotherapy alone.   I base this on my personal  experience seeing cases both in homeopathic training programs and in my own practice.

Yet here in Arizona, the word “homeopathy” can be confusing because it’s used in many different ways.   For instance, people might notice my MD(H) homeopathic medical license, which I carry in addition to my conventional MD license.  The MD(H) licensure is regulated by the Arizona Board of Homeopathic and Integrated Medicine, and includes multiple modalities in addition to homeopathy:  acupuncture, chelation therapy, minor surgery, neuromuscular integration, nutrition, orthomolecular therapy and pharmaceutical medicine.    Most of  Arizona’s ~87 MD(H) (“homeopathic”) physicians focus on these other areas, rather than homeopathy.  This means that potential patients need to ask each physician about his or her specific practice, because homeopathy may not be part of it at all.

My own practice focuses on Classical Homeopathy, psychotherapy,  nutrition, and lifestyle.  Very occasionally, I may prescribe a pharmaceutical — usually after we’re clear that a homeopathic remedy is effective, and it’s safe to taper off psychiatric medications.

Another confusing issue is the amount of training required to become licensed in Arizona as a “homeopathic” physician.  To sit for the MD(H) licensing exam, at least 300 hours’ instruction in one of the above modalities is required — but only 40 of these need to be in actual homeopathy.   If a physician desires a primarily homeopathic practice, the MD(H) board still only requires 90 hours’ homeopathic training.  In my experience, this is far less than needed for proficiency in homeopathically treating people with complex, chronic conditions.

Becoming an excellent Classical Homeopath is a lengthy, demanding process.     My own path has included some 70 hours at Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine; graduating from what is now American Medical College of Homeopathy’s Homeopathic Practitioner Program (1100+ hours); several hundred hours with Drs. Rajan Sankaran, Jayesh Shah, Divya Chhabra,  and Mahesh Gandhi;  and many more hundreds of hours with California Center for Homeopathic Training (CCHE) since 2004.

In a few weeks I graduate from yet another intensive 2.5 year program with CCHE, whose teaching centers on the “Sensation Method” in Classical Homeopathy.    In a way, this is an unfortunate term — even Dr. Sankaran (who developed it) acknowledges it is simply solid Classical Homeopathy, understood through a wider and deeper perspective.

Why all this additional training, long since medical school, residency, and fellowships?  I’ve had a lot to both learn and unlearn.  I want to truly understand and assist people who come to see me, and to improve my effectiveness in Classical Homeopathy.    Patients are my ultimate teachers — and they know and show when I’m learning my lessons.  :-)

Straight from Dr. Oz: Homeopathy in Your Medicine Chest

Dr. OzThe Dr. Oz Show is a favorite of people all over the country.  A cardiothoracic surgeon with an outgoing, loving personality, Dr. Mehmet Oz educates viewers about basic health, medical research, and useful treatments for all kinds of conditions.   He also directs New York Presbyterian Hospital’s Cardiovascular Institute and Complementary Medicine Program — so is not completely wedded to conventional treatments alone.

Recently he had on his show Dr. Russ Greenfield, one of my integrative medicine colleagues through Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine.  Amazingly, they mentioned homeopathy!  You hardly ever see this on a popular TV show, at least not in such a balanced light.

The film clips (including very brief commercials) come in 2 parts:

Part 1:   http://www.doctoroz.com/videos/Alternative-Pain-Treatments-Pt-1?hs317=billboard_1

Part 2:  http://www.doctoroz.com/videos/Alternative-Pain-Treatments-Pt-2

They focus on using homeopathy for self-limiting conditions, such as Arnica for trauma and bruises, and Oscillococcinum for first symptoms of flu.  Dr. Oz related that he and his wife use these remedies at home with their children — including Nux vomica for “upset stomach”.

They conversed with a woman in the audience, who was interested in non-pharmaceutical remedies for aches and pains — and specifically asked about homeopathy.  They shared a few basic homeopathy principles,  such as stimulating the body’s healing through these remedies which, as Dr. Greenfield stated, contain the “essence or spirit” of the medicine rather than the material quantities found in pharmaceuticals.  Dr. Greenfield emphasized the controversial nature of these ideas:  how can a medicine with no molecules in it, actually produce results?  And yet, he said, there are studies showing “it works”.

Part 2 contains some very important points.  From the presentation, the woman above supposed that Arnica would  be the right remedy for her migraines — since they said it could help with pain.  Dr. Oz (bless him!) told her that homeopathy was a very complex field, and that he would probably not use Arnica for a migraine.   “I’m not a homeopathic practitioner,” he said, mentioning that some people study this field exclusively.   He reiterated that he was only sharing a few very simple remedies for self-limiting conditions, which might not be the right remedies for something more complex like a migraine.   Such humility seems rare in physicians, but he was very gracious with both the subject, and this woman.

I’m really grateful to both Dr. Oz and Dr. Greenfield for this on-air conversation.    They said the word “homeopathy,” making viewers aware of it.  They also hinted that it’s a field offering much more than first aid for self-limiting conditions.  When done with precision and fidelity to the principles laid out by Dr. Samuel Hahnemann (the physician who founded it in the 1800’s), this is very true.  Conditions like migraines are usually complex and chronic; finding an effective remedy for these requires much more investigation than grabbing something off the shelf at Whole Foods.

That said, Arnica can be miraculous for many . . . and I’ll save that story for next time.

2011 Brings New Healing Space and Joyful Collaborations

After several months’ planning, I’ve just moved my office to a new location:  joining with Martha Grout MD, MD(H) and her team at Arizona Center for Advanced Medicine,  still  in Scottsdale, Arizona.

It’s the sort of collaboration I’ve longed for — where together we can help people maintain health through good nutrition and lifestyle, and can use nontoxic methods of healing when people are sick.   The goal is bringing together multiple ways of healing for multiple kinds of conditions, as even Dr. Hahnemann talked about “obstacles to cure”  including poor diet, toxic living situations, and behavioral problems which could impair responses to homeopathic medicines.

Expert in functional medicine, nutrition, and acupuncture, Dr. Grout has built a completely “green” (nontoxic) healing space that brings in all kinds of light — including through the team of practitioners she’s gathered.  For instance, psychologist Steven Swerdfeger PhD offers guided imagery and hypnosis, useful in many types of chronic pain and other symptoms. Also, cognitive scientist and educator Stephanie Reese PhD offers the Brain Advantage program, a non-drug intervention helpful in ADHD, memory issues, and depression.  Neurofeedback, colonic therapy, nutrient infusions, and specialized treatments for Lyme disease, chronic fatigue syndrome, and cancer are also available.

The healing space is fragrance-free, meaning that people entering are asked not to wear colognes, scented hair products, or other aromatic substances so that environmentally sensitive patients can be comfortably treated also.

I’ll continue offering consultations in classical homeopathy for patients with anxiety, depression, grief, trauma, and stress-related health conditions.  My practice includes individual psychotherapy as needed, as well as mentoring and coaching for physician colleagues seeking to strengthen resilience and fulfillment in their own lives and work.  I use pharmaceutical  medications only rarely — mostly on the road to tapering or discontinuation as appropriate and safe for each patient.

It’s heartening for me to work alongside Dr. Grout, as we both hear and value our patients’ “story-beneath-the-story.”   This allows each person’s unique healing process to unfold, even though we approach care in different ways.

Arizona Center for Advanced Medicine is on the northwest corner of Raintree Drive and Thompson Peak Parkway:  9328 E. Raintree Drive, Scottsdale AZ 85260. My office phone number remains the same: 480-656-9218.

What’s in Our Water? Can Homeopathy Help?

Today’s healthcare faces many widely publicized challenges, including rising costs, limited accessibility through physician shortages and lack of insurance coverage, therapeutic toxicity and side effects, and many more.

Less frequently noted are the issues of medical pollution and environmentally-related illnesses.

Did you know that pharmaceutical drugs are showing up as contaminants in our waterways? One source is directly flushing unused medicines down toilets — but medicated humans also pass their metabolic byproducts into those same toilets. Up to 90% of some drugs taken can be excreted.

Ideally, sewage treatment would capture and eliminate all of these, but removal efficiencies vary widely — averaging about 60% of total drugs in the waterway. What happens with the rest?

A 2002 report from the US Geological Survey found medications such as synthetic estrogens, Tylenol, ibuprofen, Prozac, antibiotics, anticonvulsants, and others in waterways all over the United States.

All these can affect wildlife — for example, by feminizing male fish and poisoning certain birds. Also, very low concentrations of antidepressants such as Prozac and Luvox can induce spawning in bivalves; Prozac also stimulates the ovaries of crayfish. SSRI’s can even affect aggressive behavior in lobsters. How all this might relate to human behavior is still to be determined, yet raises alarming questions.

Developing more ecologically sustainable forms of medicine could cut down on these problems. Sustainable medicine is:

  • Safe and non-toxic to patients
  • Cost-effective
  • Non-polluting and renewable
  • Holistic, adaptable, and flexible
  • Protective of the quality of life on earth, the environment, and earth’s natural resources
  • Synergistic with human health and planetary well-being
  • Connected with the web of life

Many forms of Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) meet these criteria; homeopathy is a prime example.

In fact, homeopathy is one of the safest and gentlest forms of medicine available. It can be used in pregnant women, newborns, and very elderly people too. It’s also relatively inexpensive; depending on potency, prices may range from a few dollars to pennies a dose. Consultation with a skilled homeopathic physician is often the greatest portion of cost, because of the time involved. But depending on insurance coverage and type of practitioner seen, some of these fees can be reimbursed.

Homeopathic medicines are made from natural plant, mineral, or animal substances, and are non-polluting. Only very small, renewable amounts of these source substances are needed to make large quantities of medicines with nearly unlimited shelf life. Homeopathy can be — and is — practiced all over the world, from urban areas to rural Africa and India. Research has shown good efficacy in treating epidemic diseases as well.

Homeopathy is holistic, considering the entire being rather than isolated parts. It’s individualized and adaptable to the need of the person coming for help. In addition to offering relief from presenting complaints, it also improves overall health and may prevent or mitigate future illnesses.

Anchored as it is in the healing properties of the natural world, homeopathy is connected with the web of life. It brings together human health and planetary well-being. In many cultures, such as those of ancient Hawaiians, Navajo, and Hopi people, true human health is impossible without connection to — and care for — the natural environment.

New homeopathic medicines are being found and prepared all the time, with great attentiveness to the environments in which they naturally exist. Sometimes the patient’s complaints give hints to this; homeopaths listen carefully and learn well.

Additionally, homeopaths — and more and more conventional physicians as well — share deep respect and awe for healing and life. The natural world not only provides medicines that heal, but in itself is a medicine that can heal.

In their article “Greening Healthcare: Practicing As If the Natural Environment Really Mattered” (Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine; Sept/Oct 2002; 8:5; pp 76-83.) Irvine and Warber discuss these healing qualities in detail. One of their most interesting points is that interacting with the natural world enhances spiritual well-being through the experience of greater interconnectedness. Many of my own patients spontaneously remark on this feeling in themselves, as they gain more resilience on their own healing journeys.

As medicine evolves, I hope that many healing traditions come together with current science in fruitful, respectful ways so that all may benefit. In this way, we may better care for our environment as well.

Following the trail of homeopathic healing

Having traveled a long trail with her studies of  homeopathic healing so far, depth psychotherapist Dr. Jane Ferris recently wrote in with some very good questions.  She wondered about the frustration of homeopath and client when the “right” remedy seems elusive; also, might there be any benefit in taking remedies which are “close” but not exact?

Nearly every homeopath struggles with these questions.  We want effective help ourselves, AND we want to be helpful to others.  As homeopaths heal, our own inner noise quiets — allowing our perceptual abilities to improve.  This is vital as we serve our patients.  So the healing of a homeopath (or any other health care provider) has long-lasting ripple effects.

To find a homeopathic remedy for anyone, the first task is discerning the “disease” to be treated.  Rather than a pathologic diagnosis as in allopathic medicine, in homeopathy this means the vital disturbance of the life force as shown through the patient’s deepest inner experience, personal mannerisms and attributes, and unique individualizing symptoms, etc.  Clearly seeing this requires an unprejudiced yet very sharp eye.  It also determines the success of everything that happens downline.

The more intellectual we are — and the more knowledgeable about homeopathy too — the more difficult it can be to discern what in us requires treatment, and to find an applicable remedy.  We can so fill the room with our dramatic human stories that our compassionate homeopaths can [unwittingly] get lost in their forest.   We don’t intend this to happen, and yet sometimes it does.

What is our deepest suffering?  How do we experience it?   Our vital disturbance — the core theme that shows up everywhere — expresses at all levels of our being.  A discerning eye can follow the trail.  Oddly though,  the more intent we homeopaths are on “helping”, being “smart”, and “figuring things out”, the more we go astray.     We’re much more helpful if we allow the vital disturbance to excavate itself rather than go digging for it.  This can require more patience than some of us have.

Yet if we can allow the patient to show us clearly what needs assistance, the “similar suffering” remedy shows itself too.

The good news is that we have ~4000-5000 remedies to choose from, even though some are not as well proven as others.  The bad news is that sometimes the “exact” right substance — the “simillimum” — is one that has not yet been made into a homeopathic remedy.   Close approximations may be available though, and yes!  They may certainly help.    Thank heavens Dr. Hahnemann (founder of homeopathy) said, “Let LIKE cure like,” rather than, “Let the EXACT cure like.”  Since every substance in the universe might be a remedy for someone,  a little leeway is lifesaving.

This does not mean being sloppy, though — we can harm patients with deep-acting remedies that bear no real resemblance to their suffering at all.

Then, what happens after the remedy?  The path of authentic healing is unique for each of us.  My initial homeopathic training left me feeling as if the “right” remedy should quickly fix everything for the patient . . . and anything less merely indicated my incompetence.   Fortified by my previous allopathic medical training, this both added to my pain and distracted me from hearing the patient.

Fortunately, I have had wise mentors.  Years of experience have also shown me that even with very well chosen remedies and responsive vital forces, healing is a process.  Unless we comprehend this, we’re likely to be discouraged when our patients don’t respond to our ministrations with immediate and complete cure.    We have to be willing to work with them over time, and to be available when the healing trail seems to dip into the brush.

More on this later — and many thanks to Dr. Ferris for her questions.

“The Healing Life” — Why This, and Why Now?

Welcome to this new blog dedicated to the many ways healing shows up in our lives — plus the myriad things which impact and/or support healing.

We’re complex beings who function on multiple levels at the same time:  mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual.   So going forward, this blog might include postings across multiple areas such as:  meditation and mind/body interactions,   exercise, nutrition, shamanic journeys, animal wisdom, medication —  and certainly classical homeopathy.

There’ll be surprises too.  :-)

In my practice and life, I hold a holistic point of view that values relationships with others . . . including the planet we share.  Much of  contemporary medicine neglects this.  But more longstanding healing traditions include ALL parts of our environment — in fact we can’t be completely healthy unless we’re in “right relationship” with our planet and its other beings too.   My blog speaks likewise.

Another thing about the blog title, “The Healing Life.”   My work certainly serves others’ healing, but as a doctor and human, I’m healing too.    So I write both about what what helps people in general, and about my own healing experiences as well.    After all, patients come to doctors with their situations and suffering,  but both people can transform in the process.   In healing myself, I heal a little part of Medicine.  Every doctor or other health practitioner who sees patients has a chance to do the same, each in his/her own way.

So, welcome — we’re in for all kinds of adventures together!