Clinic puts patients on natural path to health

By Paul Archipley | Mar 06, 2014
Photo by: Paul Archipley Jennifer Johnson, a graduate student at Bastyr University, practices cranial-sacral therapy on faculty advisor Dr. Laurie Cullen at the naturopathic clinic at Edmonds Senior Center.

It was Jennifer Johnson’s mother who first suggested she consider a career in naturopathic medicine.

“So, of course, I rejected it,” Johnson laughed.

But, she later came to admit, she did love life sciences, and eventually she warmed to the idea.

Today, Johnson is in her fourth year of a five-year program at Bastyr University, a leading institution in the study of natural medicine.

And each Wednesday morning, Johnson joins other students and faculty members at the Edmonds Senior Center where they provide a low-cost natural medicine clinic for all ages.

Faculty advisor Dr. Laurie Cullen, an Edmonds resident, said they provide a supporting role for patients’ primary care providers, with an emphasis on dietary and lifestyle counseling, physical therapies, and herbal and nutritional supplements.

“In my opinion, managing your health care is a multi-team approach,” Dr. Cullen said. “Patients do really well if they have a team.”

Patients’ needs are wide-ranging, she said, including treatment for diabetes, peripheral neuropathy (nerve damage), fibromyalgia, cardiovascular, menopausal symptoms, gastro-intestinal complaints, high blood pressure, colds, flu, allergies, and orthopedic problems.

They also deal with a range of mood disorders, such as anxiety, depression, and sleep disorders.

While they treat people of all ages, Cullen said many are older patients who are dealing with phase of life issues.

For example, “Maybe they’ve lost a loved one, a job, or a house,” she said.

“We’re not doing cognitive behavioral therapy, but we learn tools on how to counsel people on issues that come up in their life.

“It’s our job to facilitate a conversation so patients can come to answers on their own,” Cullen said.

Since it’s a teaching clinic, students like Johnson have an opportunity first to observe before becoming active in patient care and treatment.

Johnson said the age difference between students and older patients isn’t an issue.

“Some of their experiences are universal,” Johnson said. “I’m learning to bridge that gap, be empathetic.

“You learn to dive in, probe, and then talk about strategies” with patients.

Cullen said some patients, seniors in particular, develop issues because they spend long periods by themselves.

“They’re lonely. They sit at home all day.

“I find that elderly people are missing the simple act of touch,” Cullen said.

Consequently, they do a lot of bodywork at the clinic, such as cranial-sacral therapy.

Some patients who aren’t familiar with naturopathic medicine are skeptical – at first.

“But they get to talking to us, and they realize there’s value” in the approach, Cullen said.

Others can’t wait. “I’ve had patients so excited they can’t sleep the night before,” Cullen said.

Although Cullen can prescribe medications, such as antibiotics, naturopathic medicine more often deals with supplements.

And in that case, they’re often taking people off supplements, rather than the opposite.

“People self-prescribe a ton of supplements over the years,” Cullen said. “They bring in a bag full, and we throw half away.”

Open from 8:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. each Wednesday, the clinic is available by appointment only, for a small fee. The initial visit takes up to 90 minutes during which the patient’s clinical history is taken, followed by diagnosis and a treatment plan.

Following visits are equally generous, with patients being treated for up to 60 minutes.

Their “team care” model, with faculty and advanced student clinicians all helping, gives patients much-needed hands-on care and students much-needed experience.

For students like Jennifer Johnson, it’s a win-win opportunity.

“I like it because we can do a lot of good for patients,” Johnson said. “I feel like we can really help.”

For more information, call the Edmonds Senior Center at 425-774-5555.

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