Bringing a ‘holistic view of health’: Additional medical options available in community outside of traditional medicine

Published 11:00 am Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

By Abigail Chalmers for the Tribune

In a society dominated by modern medicine and continuous scientific advancements, it’s typical to check into the doctor’s office when one’s health isn’t up to par. Yet, in the face of such promise in the medical field, others have turned to a more naturalistic, holistic way of bodily healing that draws its roots from other cultures and the earth itself.

Acupuncturist Cierra Anderson operates her practice, Healing Focus Acupuncture, out of the Skyline Mall in Albert Lea. She received a master’s degree in oriental medicine from Northwestern Health Sciences University and offers a variety of services from acupuncture to massages and Chinese herbal remedies.

Email newsletter signup

Anderson’s practice draws its roots from Eastern medicine as opposed to the Western-type medicine commonly practiced in hospitals. Her primary service — acupuncture — is widely practiced in Asian countries like China, Japan and Korea, and is known for its success in relieving pain and helping “[bring] the body back into balance.”

“We say chi and blood tend to circulate throughout the whole body, and when it gets stuck or when we don’t have enough, things become out of balance,” she said. “Acupuncture is supposed to help the body naturally.”

Anderson said the “Eastern philosophy definitely can translate into the Western” way of thinking, adding that when Eastern medicine providers perform acupuncture, they’re tapping into what Western medicine practitioners call the nervous system. Anderson, who experienced both Eastern and Western medicinal training, found that her skepticism over the benefits of Eastern medicine faded away when she realized the connections between the two kinds.

The most common mental illness in Western medicine — anxiety — is just one of many nervous system conditions that acupuncture can treat.

“Acupuncture actually helps flip [the body] from being in a stressful state to a more relaxed state, which is when our body does its best healing,” she said.

Anderson’s practice also coordinates with Western medicine practices for various patient needs. She said her services are often used in conjunction with in vitro fertilization (IVF) patients looking for fertility help and that partnering the two solutions increases success rates. She said that in other instances, patients seek her out to avoid certain Western practices like surgery or starting a medication regimen.

“I would say probably two-thirds of my people have exhausted Western medicine methods. I’m kind of their last resort because they’ve tried a lot of things,” she said, “and about a third of people are more natural-medicine-oriented.”

One patient of Anderson’s was able to evade hip surgery with the help of her services.

“We did 12 [appointments], and he was like, ‘I don’t know what you did, but the 12th one did it,’” she said. “So he didn’t need surgery … he was very happy with that.”

Each patient receives a different care plan based on their individual needs and preferences. In the first session, Anderson conducts a complete health history survey, learning as much about the patient as possible. Then, as the sessions continue and she treats them as she sees best, she allows the care plan to stretch and fluctuate as necessary.

“Chinese medicine is very much a symptom-based medicine,” she said. “So if a person came in with [a specific problem] one day and their symptoms changed, the treatment kind of adjusts.”

Anderson’s day-by-day approach comes from acupuncture’s Chinese background because in China, it’s normal to have the needle treatment as part of a daily routine. She added that anyone looking to maintain good health and wellness should consider acupuncture.

“People come in here, and they take a little nap … I think everybody should take a 20-minute nap every so often,” she said. “If anybody wanted or should do [acupuncture], it would be to feel better. It’s just a really nice, natural wellness.”

Ariel Barkheim operates her own practice, Rooted Family Medicine — also in Skyline Mall — utilizing different alternative medicine than Anderson. As a naturopathic doctor— a degree that requires four years of graduate school —she focuses her techniques on herbal remedies and tinctures.

Barkheim treats many patients with a variety of symptoms, and like Anderson, her practice has the luxury of adjusting treatment plans as the sessions progress.

“I describe my technique as detective work,” she said. “We do a lot of listening to the symptoms of the body.”

When a new patient comes in, Barkheim likes to spend a solid hour-and-a-half listening to their health history, goals and current lifestyle to get a holistic view of the patient and what might help them to feel a bit better. In some cases, she also runs labs to test “things that aren’t as commonly tested in the conventional medical field like vitamin D and B vitamins. Her clients seek her and other alternative medicine providers out to get this sort of specialized, individual treatment.

“Philosophy-wise, it’s really all about looking at the holistic view of health, which I think maybe many conventional doctors don’t have time to do,” she said.

“They’re seeing a lot of patients in a very short amount of time … there’s no way you can ask someone about their health goals, their sleep, their diet, their stress, their mood lately … that’s one luxury I have.”

Similarly to Anderson, she finds that some of her patients are looking for a different option to avoid stronger medications or simply to find a natural remedy to things like gut health issues, menstrual problems or mental health disorders like depression and anxiety. Barkheim uses both herbs in pill form and tinctures, which she said are “like an alcohol extract of herbs” that she can create specifically for a particular patient’s needs.

“Herbs can really fit this nice spot inside to help our body adapt to the stressors of the world,” she said, “and they’re really safe. I don’t have to worry about them being addictive or causing depression to get worse.”

She added that her practice also works well in combination with traditional medicine, adding that she shares several patients with Mayo Clinic and that it’s helpful when a patient needs a particular pharmaceutical.

“A lot of times, in those cases, we work really well together,” she said. “There’s a good space for all of it.”

When coming to Albert Lea, Barkheim wasn’t certain that there would be a high demand for her practice. But she was pleasantly surprised to find that the area had a strong interest in learning about her treatments and gave what she had to offer a try.

“People are very open,” she said. “[They] want to be educated, they want to learn, they want to help because they sometimes aren’t feeling like they’re getting the help they need. It’s something people are looking for, which is great.”