‘I had to fight for my own health and fired many doctors’
Conventional medicine refers to the health care system in which medical doctors, nurses, pharmacists, or therapists treat symptoms using drugs, radiation, or surgery. Alternative or complementary medicine, on the other hand, references medical treatments that are not considered “orthodox” by general medicine, such as herbalism, homeopathy, or acupuncture.
“Complementary medicine techniques are the future of medicine at this point as more insurance companies are recognizing the values of preventative medicine,” said Anne Williams, physical therapy specialist at Mountainside Physical Therapy and one of many local practitioners in a brisk, thriving alternative medicine community.
Williams believes the biggest problem with traditional medicine is that doctors are under so much stress to see so many patients that some they care for fail to receive the attention they need. This phenomenon may eventually cause a turn toward alternative medicine. Indeed, the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health estimates that around 38 percent of adults (4 in 10) use some form of alternative medicine.
“You have to evaluate the whole person, and that doesn’t get done in a regular medicine system,” she continued. “I always see my patients as an individual puzzle. I try to fix that puzzle.”
At Mountainside, Williams makes it her mission to focus on total health and healing, focusing on only one patient per hour, and she espouses a variety of therapy techniques.
Williams practices manual physical therapy, a special type of physical therapy delivered with the hands — not a device or machine, as is done in many physical therapy practices. Williams says this technique physically alters patients’ abilities to perform an exercise or stretch a specific body part. In addition, she often welcomes into her practice those who offer Pilates, dance, aquatics, animal-assisted healing, art healing or nutrition classes to her clients.
Molly Peterson of Heritage Hollow Farms turned to alternative practitioners and doctors outside of her insurance network in her own struggle for wellness.
“I had to fight for my own health and fired many doctors,” she said. “I had to self-research and be fiercely determined to be heard. … Most of my health need answers came from beyond traditional medicine and was all out of pocket.”
Peterson, who has turned to doctors in Illinois and Arizona as well as local herbalists like Teresa Boardwine of Green Comfort School of Herbal Medicine, says that alternative medicine provides an opportunity for patients to be seen and heard, as well as giving them another route for healing when general medicine fails to provide the answers. At her first consultation with Boardwine, she spent nearly two and a half hours talking about her health history. “Teresa knew that all of that matters,” Peterson says. “I’m not saying that general practitioners don’t care, because they do. But thinking beyond the norm when you only have seven and a half minutes [with a patient] is hard.”
Boardwine, who has owned her business for around 23 years, says herbalism, the study or practice of the medicinal and therapeutic use of plants, is accessible, “grounded in the wisdom of the ages,” and that traditional medicine can leave one lacking in wellness. “Most people in the world turn to what’s outside their door first — not pharmaceuticals.”
Boardwine says clients seek her out for assistance with a variety of self-diagnosed issues, including menopausal balancing, nervous system issues, depression, anxiety, exhaustion, and autoimmune conditions.
Boardwine believes that the beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains and the rural, agricultural lifestyle of Rappahannock County causes people to seek green ways of living and a holistic approach to healing. “It has to be the willingness of an individual to go down that road [of herbalism],” Boardwine explains. “Clients seek me out because they want to not be overpowered by medication, and they want balance and nourishment.”
Boardwine conducts both consultations with patients and hosts many different classes and programs to educate the community about the health benefits of herbs. Her students have included the likes of Colleen O’Bryant, who now sells her own herb-based products in Sperryville’s Wild Roots Apothecary, and Kathy Edwards, who focuses on naturopathic, or nutrition-based medicine, at her business located in Hearthstone School, Healing With Love and Nature.
Edwards first became interested in nutritional medicine after working at a health foods store and becoming certified by the American Naturopathic Medical Association. She, too, loves to help educate and empower people to take responsibility for their own health.
“Holistic healing is not just about the physical. It’s about body, mind, and spirit,” Edwards explains.
In addition to helping her clients tailor their diets to their own particular medical needs, Edwards has also taught programs on raw food and practiced applied kinesiology, muscle response testing, and Reiki, an energy-based technique for stress reduction performed by laying the hands on or above the patient.
Edwards counsels her clients to eat organic: “I always tell my clients to eat as close to nature as they can,” she says.
Edwards also believes that people in Rappahannock may be more open to alternatives due to the environment surrounding the region. “It’s a very progressive area that is into gardening and health and is connected to nature. It’s a wonderful community that’s open to alternatives.”
Cara Cutro, who owns Abracadabra Massage & Wellness in Sperryville, corroborated Edwards’ thoughts and lamented modern medicine’s disconnect with the spiritual part of each and every person. “Clients come back to me because they get relaxed and connected to themselves [during their massage]. I would call that feeling of connection to life spirituality, and I bring that spirituality to clients through touch.”
Teaching tarot card reading classes, specializing in energy healing, and administering massages that incorporate herbalism, Cutro says the concept of spirituality in medicine often gets a bad rap. However, she encourages her clients not to have “contempt prior to investigation” and to be open to alternative therapies that could bring them healing.
Cutro and many others are witness to the successes of alternative medicine: increased relaxation and self-knowledge of one’s own health conditions. Moving forward, it may be a combination of both alternative and general medicine techniques that address the health needs of our community.
“Do fight for your health. Do listen to your gut feelings. Do be OK with walking [away] from a doctor who doesn’t hear you, see you,” Peterson urges.
Williams hopes that all of us — doctors, patients, and alternative practitioners and the like — can capitalize upon Rappahannock’s strong foundations in alternative medicine to fulfill her ultimate vision for the patient recovery process, prescribing: “I dream of a community involved place where people could volunteer their time and efforts. Community involvement is important in the rehabilitative process, and people could benefit from rehabilitating others. There needs to be one central place where you can get your body cared for.”