Alternative Health in Corvallis: Six Professional Profiles

PlamondonAs an adolescent, visiting my primary care doctor was always a pleasure. Each time he’d walk through the door, exclaiming in a thick Brazilian accent, “My favorite patient!” During one visit, I admitted to having high anxiety, to the point where my sweat glands were working overtime in all social situations, where my stomach filled the silences in any classroom with obnoxious gurgling, and my voice took on a crying acoustic when called on to speak.

My doctor wasted no time in suggesting a list of prescriptions. I remember leaving feeling disappointed, like he had missed the point. I suppose I’d been hoping for some alternate suggestions before plunging into a bottle of pills. In some way, this visit was a catalyst to my interest in alternative health, and ultimately why I’ve sought out six professionals from a variety of local practices, explored the benefits of their services, and compared them with an average trip to the hospital or psychiatrist. Welcome to alternative health in Corvallis.

It seems, though somewhat tragically, that Dr. Jason Young of the Body of Health Chiropractic and Wellness Center was destined for chiropractic care, receiving his first adjustment at just three days old after an automobile accident that marked the first of more to come. Dr. Young spent four years in a Doctor of Chiropractic program before opening Body of Health in 2008, and more recently has been appointed president of the Oregon Board of Chiropractic Examiners. In other words, the guy knows his musculoskeletal stuff.

As a chiropractor, Dr. Young is primary concerned with the spine’s functionality, as well as “the biomechanics of the body as a whole,” pointing to the plentiful research proving that “the way we move affects how we feel and our health and longevity.”

Dr. Young is also “the dude” for OSU’s Athletic Department. He recalls a time, however, when his services were sought after in secret, the idea of chiropractic consultation once unacceptable by university standards.

Much criticism over chiropractic stems from its unsound origins. Its founder, Daniel David Palmer, claimed that all diseases were caused by bone misalignment, which we know now to be untrue. According to Dr. Young, since an explosion of research starting in the 90s, there has been a change in culture. “Now chiropractic is the largest alternative health care profession out there,” he said. Most practitioners aim at separating from traditional principles, with a “subset minority that still cling to those vitalistic approaches.”

Beat by just allopathic medicine and dentistry, chiropractic is the third largest healthcare profession in the world and licensed chiropractors are required to earn a Doctor of Chiropractic degree before practicing. In Dr. Young’s case, aside from a residency program, this meant just as much schooling as a Medical Doctor (MD), and more total classroom hours.

Pointing to Wikipedia’s claim of chiropractic being, on the whole, a “pseudoscience,” Dr. Young sees such lasting ties, between chiropractic (and alternative medicine in general) to more unscientific primordial ideas, jaundiced when considering that much of medicine’s origins were equally unscientific. Think of all those killer amputations and blood lettings.

“Medicine creates as many conditions as it cures,” said Dr. Young, explaining that chiropractors simply aren’t profitable for hospitals, making earnings on drugs and surgeries, each extreme or invasive approaches that can result in serious recovery time or harmful side effects. “We know that avoiding medicine and avoiding surgery are things that keep people alive,” he continued. “Part of the limitations of our healthcare system is that it’s very diagnosis-centered. It isn’t patient-centered.” While acknowledging the utility of diagnostic data for understanding majorities, Dr. Young finds an individualized scope more beneficial from patient to patient.

Dr. Young focuses on his patients’ environments—often the source for symptoms—within his other realm of practice, in Nutrition and Functional Medicine. “Basically our genes react to our environment. The cause of diabetes, for example, is not a misalignment in the spine. It’s a bad environment,” explained Dr. Young.

Dr. Young defines functional medicine as a holistic “process of looking at people’s whole lives, everything from relationships, emotions, genetic makeup, lifestyle, diet… and really trying to bolster a person’s system rather than chasing down their symptoms.”

Though not officially trained in mental health treatment, Dr. Young wisely speaks to an underlying principle of all holistic medicine, in terms of a mind-body connection. “I would challenge you to disconnect the body and mind and prove to me that feeling better is not somehow being better, that thinking better doesn’t make you better.”

Dr. Deborah Nixdorf is a naturopathic physician and licensed acupuncturist at the Northwest Health and Healing Center. Considered a primary care physician, Dr. Nixdorf completed her naturopathic medical degree and residency at the National College of Naturopathic Medicine in Portland. Her studies involved the same basic sciences as for all medical schools, including anatomy, cadaver lab, physiology, biochemistry—as well as pharmacology, endocrinology, neurology, oncology, pediatrics, gynecology, orthopedics, clinical nutrition, exercise science, homoeopathy, botanical medicine, and more.

“So in terms of our tool bag, it’s quite full, of all different treatment options,” said Dr. Nixdorf. Unlike MDs, systematically “squeezed” into making as many 15-minute appointments as their schedules allow, Dr. Nixdorf can spend up to an hour and half during a first appointment, with 30- to 60-minute follow-ups. Dr. Nixdorf relishes this time, saying, “The art of the medicine is figuring out what’s going on, and being that detective.”

Dr. Nixdorf is trained in identifying and supporting proper physiology as a means of encouraging optimal health. Before the body reaches an identifiable state of disease, it goes through a process of abnormal physiology. Dr. Nixdorf is able to examine the body’s functionally through functional testing, such as food allergy, adrenal, hormonal, heavy metal testing, and digestive panels. She views each result as a “piece of the puzzle” that can help a patient in reaching an “optimal state of health.”

Dr. Nixdorf endorses the medical community, as she enjoys collaborating with other primary care physicians and specialists, and sees the value in diagnosis as offering “a road-map,” outlining the most effective ways to treat and support someone.

As a licensed acupuncturist, Dr. Nixdorf also incorporates pulse and tongue diagnostics. She mentions the many studies proving the benefits of acupuncture, especially in relieving chronic ailments like allergies, pain, morning sickness, nausea, menstrual disorders, depression, anxiety, insomnia—the list goes on. The World Health Organization itself issued a long list of conditions and diseases acupuncture has been clinically effective in treating.

While acknowledging the value of clinical trials, Dr. Nixdorf noted how “in Western science, we think that if we can’t do double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trials for something, it doesn’t exist.” She further explained, “The issue we have is taking a model that’s completely different and trying to squeeze it into the Western medical model, because acupuncture and naturopathic medicine focus on treating individuals and clinical studies looks at disease and symptoms.”

Whatever the reasons, acupuncture is clearly effective. The ancient Chinese medicine is still around after 2,500 years.

Corvallis Community Acupuncture, run by Leyna Jensen, offers the unique and feasible experience of acupuncture in a community setting, with “sliding scale fees,” the first visit costing $25 to $45, and follow-ups ranging from $15 to $35. At Corvallis Community Acupuncture people pay what they can afford and there are almost always same or next day appointments available, as part of their “mission to make acupuncture really easy and accessible.”

I can personally vouch for Jensen’s services, after having experienced them myself (the perks of writing this article). My stomach had been unsettled all day before Jensen set me up in a recliner, with blankets and ear buds, then gently poked a few miniscule needles in my hands, feet, and head. After a good 45 minutes, I left with my gut calmed, feeling too zen to even ask further questions.

Speaking of take-aways, local hypnotherapist Robert Plamondon put me under at no cost. A computer engineer by trade, Plamondon started practicing hypnotherapy after using it to remedy his own insomnia. Plamondon’s clients are most commonly concerned with weight loss, smoking, stress, or fear.

Practitioners like Plamondon typically induce a hypnotic state in a quiet and comfortable setting, using body and breathing awareness to steer subjects from the beta-alpha awake states to deeper theta states. Essentially, hypnosis is guided meditation and is often compared with immersing oneself in a good book or TV show, or slipping out of attentiveness while driving down a well-known road.

“I have never had a client that I couldn’t get into a reasonably deep state,” said Plamondon, who relies on modern inductions. His go-to is the Dave Elman Induction, used by doctors before performing minor surgeries.

Using this technique, Plamondon induced me to a pleasant state of relaxation, before having me envision a library, one aisle stocked with “memory” books. One shelf-side held pleasant memories, and the other, darker times. Plamondon had me search for hefty editions in the present negative feelings section. I pulled out a harsh-looking book titled Anger, and heaved it down an opening he suggested I find on the floor (in my case, a black hole). While anger isn’t a word that regularly comes to mind while self-reflecting, I can say I left that day feeling relieved, and undoubtedly relaxed.

To uncover the origins for unpleasant feelings, fears, and stresses, Plamondon often employs the Informed Child Technique, in which the adult subject is guided to their former childhood self to instill wisdom and allow them to collectively get to the source of current troubles, then let go. In this way, hypnosis uncovers a basic human roadblock—the feeling we need “permission to change,” whether it be from ourselves or hypnotic suggestion.

For Plamondon, the advantage of hypnotherapy, compared with regular talk therapy, is that “in the state of hypnosis, people are easy to steer and don’t need to talk.” This is not to say that hypnosis comes with a loss of control. Hypnotists act merely as guides and the subject’s mind does most of the work. Also worth debunking is the worry that one could get stuck in a hypnotic state. Given the distractions of our world and basic needs of our bodies, this is impossible.

Plamondon admitted that occasionally a client will slip into what they perceive as a past life, and that there are two schools of thought on the matter. Hypnotherapists either “go with it or kill them off.” Past Life Regression (PLR) Hypnosis is a whole subdivision of hypnotherapy that gets immense criticism, but is backed with fascinating research (check out Ian Stevenson) and vivid, interesting experiences.

Michaela Lonning of Michaela’s Counseling got her start at an early age as a peer counselor in high school, moving on to work with homeless youths and high-risk teens. Much of her clientele come to her after having “hit a wall in typical talk therapy.” Lonning has a passion for “working with results of trauma and highly sensitive people who are struggling in their relationships.”

Lonning refers to research that focuses on the results of trauma and relationships on the mind and body. Essentially, the traumatized body becomes automated for anticipating the presence of danger—the brain conditioned with the expectation of neglect or abandonment.

Lonning’s counseling tactics stray from regular talk therapy in that she incorporates a mind-body modality, being able to interpret the body’s cues or physiology in relation to what is being said. For Lonning, “the body really tells an eloquent story,” through posture, eye contact, subliminal reactions, and other signals.

Counseling within a group setting is something Lonning especially enjoys, having recently started a women’s group. “In our culture we focus on individuality so much,” said Lonning. We’re steered to self-help books, meanwhile missing out on the shared experience of “healing through community.” Lonning’s group sessions run “counter to that cultural conditioning we have, that we’re all individuals that need to heal alone.” One of her personal pet peeves is the saying, “You have to learn to love yourself first.”

“We learn love in relationships… [and] how our culture has made that into an individual endeavor has been really isolating for people,” Lonning continued. Collaborating with clients about what’s most important to them plays a big part in Lonning’s counseling techniques. One of her common phrases is “What if we explore this together?”

Lisa Wells of the Live Well Studio became interested in yoga and Pilates after experiencing major back issues in her late 20s and early 30s. As co-owner of the Live Well Studio, Wells hires certified individuals with minimal training, registered through Yoga Alliance. Wells defines the studio’s primary goal as “helping people be more comfortable in their bodies.”

According to Wells, comfort begins with meditation—a stillness and awareness of being in your body, while learning to block out distractions and “turn your attention internally to your flesh.”

Essential in doing so is focusing on the breath. “The breath is a physiological bridge between the conscious mind and the unconscious mind,” said Wells. Such attentiveness allows for a better interpretation of “what happens reflexively and what happens with intention” within the body.

Wells dives into the physiological science behind our senses, referring first to proprioception, our understanding of where our bodies exist spatially in relation to other objects. Interoception, on the other hand, is our capacity for feeling life, which we are unable to project onto other objects, say a pen, for example. “Even though I can project my spatial awareness into the pen, I don’t project my awareness of life,” Wells explained.

Wells noted nociception too, or the sense we call pain, “inversely correlated with proprioception and interoception, so that the more of your brain that’s devoted to the awareness senses, the less of your brain is devoted to pain.” Considering these senses, meditation is literally capable of changing one’s neurological make-up.

As for conventional medicine, Wells sees hospitals and MDs as having a great place. “I don’t think it’s an either/or question. I think it’s a how we use best of both question.” She suggests using alternative practices and modern medicine as “complementary tools.”

In closing, Wells offers pointers for building mind/body awareness. She recommends sitting still for as many minutes as you can spare in the mornings, offering a gratitude list to set an appreciative tone, and taking at least a moment each day to notice your breath.

It was techniques like these which allowed me to gradually relinquish my social anxiety. (At least to the point where I can perform this job.) While I hold no ill will toward MDs or conventional medicine (well… mostly), and understand it as crucial for rescue and remedy solutions, it appears to me that our true mind-body gurus can be found within the alternative health system—practitioners who have the time to get to know us and to foster within us a better sense of self in relation to our world surroundings.

If interested in hearing more from local health professionals, consider attending the Healthy Living Expo, hosted at Gill Coliseum on Saturday, April 16 and Sunday, April 17. The expo is anticipated to include local practitioners in health, fitness, nutrition, and wellness, and is sponsored by the Corvallis Chamber of Commerce and more.

By Stevie Beisswanger