Podcast 051: Exam Time!

Every year, our Advanced Studies Program ends with a weekend-long exam. There’s a written portion with short answers, essays, and case analysis, and an in-person oral & practical exam as well. This week, we wanted to share with you some of our favorite questions from the exam, mainly to focus on the reasons we ask these questions in this way and how they help us change our ingrained patterns of thinking. We’re also sharing some particularly great answers from this year’s group!


If you like our podcast, you might like learning from us in a more intentional way – like with our Family Herbalist program! It’s a great way to start incorporating herbs into your daily life, to keep you and your loved ones healthy and resilient all year round!


Episode Transcript

Katja: 00:12 Hi, I’m Katja!

Ryn: 00:14 And I’m Ryn.

Katja: 00:14 We’re here at the Commonwealth Center for Holistic Herbalism in Boston, Massachusetts.

Ryn: 00:19 Because we have returned from West Virginia! We’re still on the internet everywhere, thanks to the power of the podcast. And we’re still not doctors; we are herbalists and holistic health educators.

Katja: 00:30 The ideas discussed in this podcast do not constitute medical advice.

Ryn: 00:33 Do the ideas discussed in any podcast constitute medical advice?

Katja: 00:36 I hope not. [laughter] No state or federal authority licenses herbalists in the United States. These discussions are for educational purposes only.

Ryn: 00:46 Those are important purposes!

Katja: 00:49 I think, actually, it’s the most important purpose. Everyone’s body is different, so the things we’re talking about may or may not apply directly to you, but hopefully they’ll be interesting and give you some information to think about and to research more.

Ryn: 01:07 We want to remind you once again that good health is your own personal responsibility. The final decision in considering any course of therapy, whether discussed on the internet or prescribed by your physician, is always yours.

Katja: 01:18 Don’t let anyone take it away from you. We have shout outs. It is exam week and at the beginning of the week, I caught two shout outs and then everything has been kind of on the back-burner getting ready for exams with our advanced students. I have a shout out to Amy, who has questions about elder care; also one to Hilary, who just made me a beautiful set of hawthorn earrings to match with the hawthorn and motherwort necklace that she made me. She’s so awesome, her work is so awesome, and she just started listening to the podcast and that’s really exciting. Hi Hilary! If you guys haven’t checked out her work on Etsy, please do. She’s QuintessentialArts, and she makes beautiful herbs into jewelry and they’re amazing. So, if you have always wanted to walk around with a hawthorn leaf jewel on you, then you can! It’s really amazing. I think there were a few others that I marked with the podcast tag and then did not manage to get into the file, so I will get to you next week.

Ryn: 02:54 Don’t worry–we won’t miss you. Like you said, it’s exam time for our second year students. It’s actually exam time for the first year students as well. Theirs is a little less intense because they get to do it all by writing beforehand, this is not so much the oral examinations period for them.

Katja: 03:17 We make it really hard for our advanced students. The reason is because our advanced students are about to start their third year with us, which is their clinical rotations, which means that they’re going to start seeing clients unsupervised. They’re going to bring those case studies to us and we’re going to talk about them in round table and everybody’s going to make comments, but they’re going to sit unsupervised with clients now because they’re ready to do that. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been in practice, every so often, everything just flies out of your brain and you think, “Oh my goodness, I don’t know what to tell this person, I don’t know how to help this person.” There’s lots of reasons why that can happen, so that’s why we give our students a really hard exam at the end. We’ve spent two years with these guys, we know them, we know that they’re ready, but they need to know that they’re ready. If we didn’t give them a big exam, then when they’re sitting with a client and everything flies out of their head–because after 20 years that still happens to me (and Paul Bergner loves to say that after 35 years, it still happens to him, except I think it’s more like 45 years now)–they’ll think, “I’m a fraud; I fooled them and they didn’t really know that I’m not very good at this.” If we give a big, scary, hard exam, then the day that everything flies out of their head, they’ll say, “This happens to everyone; there are some places that I know for sure I can get this person started and then I will take the case to case review and we will talk about it and I will have more to offer.” It just helps inspire confidence in our students, because even sometimes when other people can see wonderful things about you, sometimes you can’t see them about yourself.

Ryn: 05:31 That’s the idea with the exam. The nice thing for us is that every time we punch it up and make it a little tougher, the students step up and get there.

Katja: 05:40 Every time, they’re pretty great.

Ryn: 05:43 It’s been evolving over the years and will continue to do so.

Katja: 05:46 We give them a written test and they have about a week and a half to do that. They get 40 short-answer questions (like a paragraph or something), then six essay questions, and three case studies, and then they get three days of oral and practical exams. If you follow us on social media, maybe you’ve been seeing some of that stuff. We make them reverse-engineer a bunch of formulas, you know, we give them a pot of tea and we make them tell us everything that’s in it.

Ryn: 06:20 And why are these herbs here together? What would this formula accomplish? What kind of body would this be best suited to or which not? You know, things like that.

Katja: 06:28 We make them take us on a plant walk, identify a ton of plants, and tell us what they’re for. We feel like that one’s really important because leading an herb walk is a really great way to introduce people to herbalism, but so many people are afraid to lead herb walks because they’re afraid they’ll make a mistake or that they’ll mess up the plant ID. The only way to not be afraid of that is to just do it all the time so that you feel really confident and you know that you’ve got your botany down solidly. In the first year, we go on a plant walk every weekend, but in the second year, we make them give us the plant walk. In the beginning, they’re all nervous, scared, and they make a bunch of mistakes. In the end, they’re like, “Yeah, we’ve done all this before”, which is perfect. Then in the oral exam, we ask them a million questions and we tell them that they need to answer us as if we’re clients, so they can’t do any of the shorthand–we make them explain it all. We give them lots of case studies that they have to formulate for and talk/logic out. And one of our favorite things, which is what we get to do tomorrow because tomorrow is the third day of their exam, is we pretend to be clients that we’ve had in our own practice and they have to work through a session with us. Each of them has to go through that and they have to come up with their protocol and do the whole thing as if it was real. That’s pretty fun, and I will say we definitely pick really hard cases for that.

Ryn: 08:26 Because if we pick the easy ones, we wouldn’t be serving them.

Katja: 08:28 No. But it’s also fun to go through all the cases from the last year and say, “Ooh, I’m going to do this one–they’re going to hate this one.” That is really fun. And they always do it–that’s the thing. We’ve never had a student who didn’t have any idea. We’ve had a student who said it was kind of intimidating, but they’ve always had helpful things to say that were right on, and that’s really good. I feel really excited about them.

Ryn: 09:00 This is a good weekend. So, for our podcast today, we thought we would share with you some of the questions from the exam. The ones that we thought were particularly interesting or that had a hidden reason behind asking, aside from it’s just good for them to know this in and of themselves. Let’s start with the one about the superfoods.

Katja: 09:23 We ask them to identify three superfoods and to tell us about their virtues. This is kind of a trick question. We include it because when you hear the word ‘superfood’, often the first things that come to mind are from very far away, maybe from exotic environments, maybe there is some exploitation involved in getting those things (whether or not we hear about that, that is still often the case), or maybe getting those exotic superfoods means changing the environment or the ecosystem of that place that they come from so that more can be produced for the hungry capitalist consumer market. What we really want to get here is that we want our students to be thinking about superfoods in terms of plain old, boring, locally available, super nutritious things. No matter where you live, there are superfoods.

Ryn: 10:44 We’re not so much looking for things like acai berries, noni berries, or whatever the next magic berry is, maca, spirulina, things like this that people are often drawn to in the superfood world.

Katja: 11:04 In our group this year, things that came up were nettles, which are abundant, grow really easily here, and they’re so full of minerals, vitamins, all kinds of nutrients, and are so good for you. I was thrilled that every single one of them had bone broth on the list, which again, is very cost effective. It takes some time to make, but you can make it out of any old bones and toss whatever you’ve got in there. A bunch of them also listed seaweed, which is for me a key component of bone broth.

Ryn: 11:45 And up here in the northeast, it’s not too far from the sea. I think about that a lot.

Katja: 11:49 It’s such a good way to deal with so many things. I mean, whether you’re feeling sick and tired, your body’s not going to be able to digest a bunch of complicated stuff but you can digest some bone broth, or whether it’s just that you need an infusion of minerals in your life, which bone broth literally is, it’s pretty exciting.

Ryn: 12:17 Also this year, there were a couple of students that wrote down salmon, wild caught fishes, sardines, or things like that. That made me pretty excited. I think we had been talking a couple times this year about some things I had seen about how you can take an Omega-3 supplement or you could eat a third of a can of sardines and get twice as much Omega-3 from it, plus a bunch of protein, some bone minerals, and other good stuff. So that made me happy that it trickled through. Mushrooms often show up on here, that’s a good one. It’s trying to think differently about what constitutes a superfood and then, of course, thinking about how to explain that in a consult situation.

Katja: 13:05 So many different kinds of berries are superfoods and we have berries here. Blueberries and cranberries, so amazing. Cranberries are not super fun to just eat raw like a blueberry, but a homemade cranberry sauce is pretty darn awesome. The next question that I really wanted to talk about is a question that we ask about licensure. The question is: “Explain why we don’t use titles such as ‘Certified Herbalist’ or ‘Master Herbalist’. Discuss the debate about licensure as you would explain it to a client or a prospective student.” We have a lot to say about this, but this one student wrote such a beautiful, super-concise response and I wanted to share it. It says, “Titles and licensure place herbalists in a place of authority, which is inherently against what we’re trying to do. When a doctor has authority over their patients, it disempowers people from making decisions about their health. With herbalism, our goal is to give people the skills to know their bodies and the agency to make their own decisions from a place of empowerment. The goal is not to be another authority figure or to take responsibility for someone’s health.” I thought that was short, to the point, and really beautiful. A lot of them talked about how in our culture, we all have pretty much been raised to expect someone else to tell us what’s wrong with our bodies. If something is wrong, we go to a doctor and say “What’s wrong with me?”, and then the doctor tells us what to do and we don’t really question it, we expect to just do it. That’s not fair to us and it’s also not fair to doctors. It’s not fair to us because we should be collaborating with any health practitioner; whatever health practitioner we choose to see, it should be a collaboration, not a dictate. But also expecting a doctor to be able to know what’s going on in my body, they’re not in my body. Sure, they can take a lab test or this or that, but all that is just some data. It’s not the same as really being in my body. While I don’t expect anyone who isn’t a doctor to have the knowledge that a doctor has, there is some very unique knowledge that doctors don’t have and that is what it is to be you, what it is to live in your body and live in your life. I think, more than anything else, to me that is such an important thing around the topic of licensure: that if I am not licensed, then there’s no time at which I can have authority over a client. I am always in collaboration with a client, sharing what I know, what I’ve researched, what I’ve seen in the experiences that I’ve had, and pairing that with my client’s knowledge, experience, what’s real in their life right now, what’s accessible to them, and together coming up with a strategy that may involve lots of different things that’s going to get them to a place that feels more comfortable on a day-to-day basis.

Ryn: 16:49 You can see that we’re reframing or not taking an adversarial position to this idea of licensure or mastery. This idea that if only someone would recognize how fantastic we are, how much we know, recognize us for the masters that we truly are, and that kind of thing. That’s not really the perspective we take here. It’s more so like an active form of humility, I guess. You know, humility and other virtues are not things that you just have and they cling to you on the ether somewhere.

Katja: 17:27 You’re not born with them, right?

Ryn: 17:29 Yeah, and they don’t stick around just because you attained them in one moment. These are things that you practice, and this is a way to both emphasize that and to flip the script a little bit on some expectations that people walk in with. We want our students to answer this inwards, to write it down, think it through, so that they have that as a script or as a starting point for when people ask them in the grocery store, in a client session, or anywhere else because it comes up a lot.

Katja: 17:58 Part of why it comes up a lot is because a lot of schools say that you will be a certified herbalist and that’s not true. What they mean when they say that is that you will be an herbalist with a certificate, but there is no certifying body. In order to be certified, there needs to be someone who provides that certification and the state governments don’t do that, the federal government doesn’t do that. That is only available for doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and stuff like that. So, while it is absolutely possible and fine to be an herbalist with a certificate, that’s not the same as being certified. Our culture really values titles, and I think that’s a form of authority too, that someone has bestowed on you a particular title and now you have authority because somebody gave it to you. If I have authority, it is only on the merit of my words in that moment. If I have authority, it’s because I said something that made sense, was well-articulated, was well-thought-out, and resonated with the person I was speaking with. I suppose in order to do those things, it is also that I have put in the time to study and the effort to really understand something, but the end result is that I can say something that has value and that resonates, so in that moment it has authority. But even that doesn’t mean that I have authority in every moment.

Ryn: 19:42 It’s not transferable.

Katja: 19:47 I may screw something up in the next sentence–please stay alert. [laughter]

Ryn: 19:52 Another question we have on the exam goes like this: ‘On entering your clinic for his second appointment, your client says, “I did all that stuff you said, but I don’t feel any better.” How do you proceed?’ So, if you are a practicing herbalist or one who aspires to practice, I would urge you to pause for a moment (literally pause your podcast) and consider how you would respond in that situation. It’s easy to feel defensive, it’s easy to feel like you’ve failed or made a mistake, or to say, “Well, maybe they didn’t do it right”, or any number of things. One student this year had a really great first sentence in particular, which was, “I would want to first acknowledge that they are still engaged and trying, because some people don’t even make it back to a second appointment.” I was delighted to see that. That’s something that we try to emphasize whenever possible, that even at the first appointment, somebody has already taken some initiative and a bunch of concrete steps to go out and see you. They decided that they didn’t feel good, they decided they could do something about it, they decided that herbalism could help, to find an herbalist, to find you, to make an appointment, to show up. If they’re doing that for the second time around, it’s good to remind yourself of that before you let your defensiveness, worry, fear, or anything else get in the way. So, I loved that was the first line of reaction there.

Katja: 21:38 You just mentioned defensiveness and fear and I wanted to talk about that for a minute as we transition into the next types of thoughts, and this comes back to authority again. When you’re collaborating, if something goes wrong, that’s a time for creativity. But if you’re in authority and something goes wrong, that’s a time for blame, criticism, and stuff like that. If you are feeling like you have to have the right answer and somebody comes in and says, “What you told me didn’t work”, it’s going to shut down your ability to be creative, figure out what actually is going on (because you don’t actually know what’s going on yet), and then to creatively solve that problem. Because there is a problem–we don’t know what it is yet, but there is a problem–and it’s going to require some creativity to handle. So, in every moment, this is a collaboration; this is not me bestowing the right answer upon the suffering person who has come to get my wisdom. It is a collaboration, and that always keeps us in the frame of mind where we can really either point things out with humility and point them out gently or come up creatively with new solutions to the problem.

Ryn: 23:11 Right. The other steps in the interaction are going to be things like going back to what happened at the first appointment, checking in, going through the whole symptom list line by line and saying, “Are you still feeling this way? Would you still describe your pain in that way? Are your symptoms still as prevalent as they were last time?”, because it’s easy to forget. It’s easy to forget what pain you were in yesterday or how you felt two weeks ago or a month ago.

Katja: 23:34 It’s not just easy, but humans are kind of programmed to do that. Otherwise we would never have two children. You would stop after the first one and you would say, “I am never doing that again.” We sort of re-calibrate on a constant basis, and a lot of times people–especially if you’ve been in pain or discomfort for a long time–the answer to ‘how are you doing?’ kind of becomes a habit. Sometimes we don’t realize that actually we’re feeling quite a lot better and we’re still giving our same habitual response to ‘how are you feeling?’ But it could be like, “Actually, now that I stop and think about it, I haven’t had a migraine for a whole week.” That’s kind of awesome.

Ryn: 24:22 In some cases, just the fact that the person has marched in, sat down, and said, “I don’t think this is working” with some fire behind it is also a good sign in and of itself. If at their first appointment they had come in and said, “I’m not feeling real good, I’m pretty low”, if they had no energy, no drive, no fire (maybe that wasn’t the problem they were complaining about, maybe they were complaining about headaches or some other thing), but you notice it, you write it down, you make a note for yourself of their overall vitality. Then they come in the next time and maybe they’re angry, maybe they’re even annoyed at you, but it takes some heat to have anger, it takes some energy to be annoyed with things in an outward expressive way. In some cases, even that is in fact a good sign. Finding ways to explain that to someone can be tricky, but it could be still worthwhile. At least for you, you could say, “Well, something has changed, something is different.”

Katja: 25:25 I think also that sometimes the first thing you try isn’t the thing. Or maybe it seemed like the thing and in fact maybe it even is the thing, but it’s not accessible to the person right now.

Ryn: 25:45 For time, for money, or it just doesn’t appeal in the real world.

Katja: 25:49 Maybe it’s so obvious that this person has a food allergy and you know that if they’ll just give up that thing for four weeks, just long enough to see the difference in their own lives, that so much will change. But right now their life is so stressful that it’s not going to be possible for them. Well, then they came back and sure, nothing worked. It might be because they didn’t in fact manage to eliminate dairy completely from their diet. But that’s really hard to do.

Ryn: 26:22 And you have more data now anyway. You can talk about what happened, if they were able to do it for a couple of days, when were the times that it broke down for them or what led to that happening, and how we can parry that next time it comes at you. There’s always more that proceed with.

Katja: 26:39 It might turn out that your first approach was not the best approach, wasn’t the right approach, didn’t work, and so you try something different, no problem. But even if that first approach would have worked but it just wasn’t accessible, it doesn’t mean that you can never go there. It just means that you need to back up and take smaller steps. Maybe start with a nice gut-heal tea or some bitters that you carry around in your pocket in a tincture bottle that you take before a meal (assuming that this is gut problems), and do something that requires a little less effort (in this person who I’ve imagined). There’s always something new we can try and then we can come back to it later if it seems like it might still be the right thing. We don’t have to say, “Well, you didn’t really succeed so we can’t move forward until you actually succeed at this.” No, no, no! There’re so many other things we can do and we can come back to that later if we think it’s really important. Then I wanted to mention this question that you came up with a few years ago, which I’m pretty sure that when you did, I rolled my eyes–I’m sorry. The question is this: “If a tree falls in the forest and you are around, what can you learn from this about practicing clinical herbalism?” If I thought this was a silly question years ago, I have to say I am so in love with this question right now, I cannot even tell you. I want to bake it a cake and kiss it all day, I just love this question. [laughter] Our students wrote amazing things about it, like: “If a tree falls in the forest and I’m around, I’ve witnessed an event that may not be relevant to most people, but gave me information about the forest that I didn’t have before, and this is a powerful analogy for clinical herbalism.” Oh, that’s so good. And then somebody wrote (this one is so good): “If a tree falls in the forest, does it make a sound? If that tree makes a sound and nobody is listening, does it matter? Now, let’s apply this to humans. If a person is calling out for help, but nobody is listening, do they still need help?” I literally cried. That’s so profound. I also feel like that one sentence, “If a person cries out for help and nobody is listening, do they still need help,” is at the root of so much stuff that’s going on in our country right now. So many people need help, it’s hard even to be able to hear the number of people who need help, and it certainly is hard to provide all the help that the number of people who need help need. This person went on to write more beautiful things that are beautiful on top of beautiful, so profound and astute, and a word that I can’t think of right now that means they’re looking very deeply at that thing.

Ryn: 30:35 We’ve had some other good responses to this one over the years. I remember one time somebody was talking about how when a tree falls over, it’s a catastrophic event for that tree and for whatever got crushed when it fell down, but then it’s going to slowly rot and it’s going to be a little hollow. It’s going to provide a space for a family of chipmunks to live, provide food for a whole colony of ants; fungi are going to get their mycelial threads in and start to grow. So, there’s going to be more life that comes from that death. That’s an instance where we can see that, we can think about what the succession looks like and how it changes. It doesn’t have to be the same tree anymore, it’s in different stage of existence now and things like that.

Katja: 31:25 Which is so relevant clinically. So frequently, especially when we’re dealing with chronic illness, a person’s life is not going to go back to being exactly what they remember that life being before, and that’s not a problem. We want them to have a good, vibrant, and fulfilling life, but it doesn’t have to be the life that existed before they had this trouble. In fact, it probably won’t because there was something about that lifestyle that wasn’t sustainable for them and that’s how we got here. If ever I didn’t like this question, I just have to tell you I love this question now.

Ryn: 32:09 Well, that’s all to the wonderful responses from our students. I can’t take any credit for that one. [laughter] We have another whole series of questions about movement, because, I think you guys know, this is really important to both of us as an aspect of holistic health. We want our students to be able to speak to people about this, especially around a few key issues–things like overtraining, variability in your kind of movement habits, things about the difference between exercise and movement, stuff like that. One of the items in here was: ‘Respond to these statements as if they came from a client’, and we’ve got a few like, “I love to jog”, “My doctor told me to do kegels for incontinence”, or whatever else. But I want to talk about this one: ‘If the client says, “I have to sit in a chair all day at work”, how can we respond to that?’ A couple of students responded this year in ways like, “What do you mean? Are you tied down?”, “Is it a social pressure thing that’s making you feel like you have to sit there or is it more that’s what everybody else seems to be doing and you’re worried in advance that you’re going to get in trouble if I take a walk, if you go on a break?” There’s a lot of ways we advise people around this, but I’d say the first part is anytime the phrase “I have to” is uttered, that’s time to perk up your ears and start to think about how we can bust up some cycles, change some expectations, and get people thinking a little bit differently around that kind of thing.

Katja: 34:02 What does it really mean when we say “I have to”? The only thing you have to do is die someday. I guess you have to eat at some point, you have to drink at some point, but there’s very little that you actually have to do. People say death and taxes, but you actually don’t even have to pay taxes. Well, there can be some problems if you don’t or maybe you’ll get away with it.

Ryn: 34:23 You would expect there to be some problems. We were promised problems you guys. [laughter]

Katja: 34:27 Yet, in our culture we use the phrase “I have to” so commonly.

Ryn: 34:39 Which is not to say that we’re going look to the client who said that and say, “You’re wrong–you don’t have to!” It’s nuanced. It takes a little while to shift an expectation, predisposition, or something that has ingrained itself in that way, but it’s important work, it’s necessary.

Katja: 34:59 I like to try to be more specific when I find myself saying it and say instead, “I feel obligated to”, “I feel pressured to”, “I feel like if I don’t I will disappoint someone”, “I want to”. So often the things that we think we have to do are actually the things that we want. Like, “I have to stop at the grocery store on the way home.” No, I want to stop. I have some food at home, they’re not calories that I feel like eating, but you know, I want to go to the grocery store. Sometimes you need to, but I do really try to think more specifically about that phrase. Maybe the person says, “I feel obligated to sit in my chair all day because if I don’t, my boss will think I’m not being productive.” Now there’s a problem we can solve. Now there’s something that might not be easy, but we have a direction that we can go in. Before that we didn’t really.

Ryn: 36:08 I think the solutions to the problem are many and varied, and we had a lot of great options come from the student responses this year. Like, “What if you get up and go to the water cooler more often? Then you’ll have to pee later and that’ll also get you moving and get your fluids flowing.” That was pretty funny. Or just, “Maybe we can rearrange your desk environment, maybe you can have a standing desk. If you can’t do it at work, how can we change your movement habits at home?” No one answer, but many, many answers,

Katja: 36:43 A lot of companies won’t do a standing desk because of the money or whatever. And you solved that problem back when you used to work in an office by just getting a bunch of copy paper, stacking it up and making it tall enough to put your computer on top of and Presto. I guess the company paid for the copy paper, but eventually they were going to use that copy paper.

Ryn: 37:08 I wasn’t hoarding it, if we needed to print. [laughter]

Katja: 37:12 Or you can get old telephone books or whatever. Yoga balls are a great response, too. It doesn’t cost the company any money for you to bring in a yoga ball to sit on, if your boss will let you.

Ryn: 37:29 Options there; again, the taking that statement at face value is a great way to run up against a wall that you can’t go through or around. We need to find ways to change our own response to that kind of habitual phrasing and also ways to then communicate that or pass it onto someone else.

Katja: 37:52 This question is, “Why do people want drug substitutes or quick fixes?” So many people come to an herbalist and they sort of just expect a substitute for aspirin or a substitute for their blood pressure medication.

Ryn: 38:12 “What can I take instead of…?”

Katja: 38:16 We want to look at why people want drug substitutes or quick fixes and how we can bring them to another point of desire. Then parenthetically we also ask, “How did that happen for you?”, because in order to do this work (for almost all of us) that happened to us at some point.

Ryn: 38:37 The idea here is it’s not just enough to say that it’s bad to want a quick fix, it’s morally repugnant to want to be out of pain immediately without doing the hard work of changing everything in your entire lifestyle. It’s easy when we spend a lot of time with people who think in the holistic way and are always looking for the root cause to get kind of judgy around people who don’t, and then those people are most of your clients. We need a lot of ways to not be judgy about our clients.

Katja: 39:14 This student actually approached that head-on by saying, “I actually don’t blame people for wanting quick fixes for their health. Even if I think that might be misguided, people are desperate to feel better and they have very little time to focus on their mental and physical needs. Plus, from a young age we’ve been taught to put our health in the hands of others, so by the time that we’re adults, we’re not equipped with the knowledge to set the necessary boundaries that promote a healthy body and mind.” I thought that was really awesome. Another student was talking about outsourcing our ‘self care labor’, which I thought was amazing. You wrote a comment on there, too, about that one. And boy, the word ‘labor’ is not normally the word that follows self care; ‘treat’ follows self care, you hear that or ‘indulgence’, but labor is not a word that often follows self care.

Ryn: 40:16 I loved it because it was then tied to ’emotional labor’ and how often that is completely unrecognized by 49 percent of the population–is that the number for males? [laughter]

Katja: 40:28 Also the recognition that self care is work. It is absolutely work to make yourself high-quality, nourishing food. It takes time, it takes money, it takes energy. It is work to go to bed on time. It requires effort to get up and go for a walk in a day, especially if you’re down and it’s hard to even stand up,

Ryn: 40:57 Especially if you have joint pain that would be relieved with more regular, consistent, low-intensity movement, but for a while it’s going to hurt. It’s going to hurt the first 10 times you go out for your walk and the 11th time it’s going to hurt a bit less, but if you keep with it you’ll get there. That’s a hurdle, that’s a lot.

Katja: 41:18 Anyway, I just love that. And then, of course, that our culture does not provide a supportive environment for the work of self care; our culture believes in outsourcing self care, so that’s pretty lame.

Episode Transcript

Ryn: 41:36 There was a nice response on this one: “People want these quick fixes because we’ve been taught they’re the only options available.” First of all, that’s worth keeping in mind, and of course, because change is hard. The trouble with drugs substitutes, the trouble with quick fixes is that they often aren’t actually quick fixes, they don’t always work. They also place the ability to be well in the hands of somebody else–a doctor, an insurance company–who’s going to pay for your drug, or the pharmaceutical company that decides to ramp up the price by $500 per EpiPen this year, things like that. I love this note, “You’ve placed your ability to be well in the hands of those people and they can refuse that to you at anytime.”

Katja: 42:22 If you’re a person who has good health insurance and good access to healthcare, you might need to just listen to that sentence again.

Ryn: 42:34 “They can refuse that to you at anytime.” And some forces in our milieu are actively working for that right now. (Don’t forget to vote; be an informed voter as well, that also matters.)

Katja: 42:49 How many clients have we seen so many times where they say, “I went and they told me it’s all in my head” or whatever. There’s a new round of gallbladder cases, those come in cycles. I remember one in particular where the woman did end up having her gallbladder removed, but the doctor who advised it didn’t examine her, didn’t do an ultrasound, didn’t even palpate, they did nothing. She just said, “I have pain”, and kind of pointed in her general intestinal area and the doctor looked up from his paper, looked back down again, and said, “We’ll just take your gallbladder out, it’ll be fine.” And that ended up not being what it was. A subsequent doctor was really great and helped her out a lot, and I was able to collaborate with that doctor and with the client and we were able to resolve a lot of the issues. So I’m not saying that all doctors don’t care, just this particular one was not great. That’s a whole separate issue from “I’m going to refuse access to you”, which is a huge issue, but “I’m just going to not even try, I’m not going to assess this thoroughly; you’re bugging me.” And that’s a thing.

Ryn: 44:24 From a lot of perspectives, it’s important to investigate this, and as holistic herbalists, we’re working from a really different place and we need to help people understand that place before they can start to operate in it. They need at least a little bit of an introduction or a little bit of a way to change up their expectations, but it’s not impossible, and in most cases it’s not even very difficult.

Katja: 44:57 We have to be present, also. We can just as easily fall into, “Just give up gluten, you’ll be fine’, “Just go for a walk”, whatever anybody’s personal thing is.

Ryn: 45:16 Especially if something worked for you and was magical, now that’s the thing for everybody.

Katja: 45:23 We have to be present too, and we can fall into the exact same trap of not assessing fully.

Ryn: 45:33 Somebody is complaining about digestive problems, and maybe their diet is not that great and you think it’s that crappy standard American diet again–get your food allergens out of there and reduce your Omega-6 intake, you’ll be fine, no problem. If you do that and you don’t also talk to them about how much they sleep and move and what kind of stressors they’re under, you might not notice that their digestive problems come in a cycle. Every time they have to do a presentation at work twice a week, that’s when they get the crazy diarrhea, and that’s a whole different set of problems, it’s a whole different set of herbs to solve that for you. It’s easy to miss. Kind of on that topic of falling into a habit, falling into a pattern, or getting on a subconscious level to think that your way is right, one question that we like to ask our students every year is: “Tell us about an area in which you and we disagree, if there are any.” These students have been with us now for about two straight years, we’ve been interacting in person at least for a good long weekend once a month, gone on a camping trip twice together, have had a lot of emails, written communications, and everything, so they know us pretty well. If they have something that they know that we believe, we teach, or that we say a lot and they don’t agree, I want to hear about that. These are people that I’m interested in their opinions.

Katja: 47:11 We foster that environment in the classroom. We tell them all the time, “Don’t believe anything that we say”, and “Everybody’s trying to convince you that their way is right and don’t let us to let us fall into that.” But that’s not the same as being alone in a quiet space when you’re writing and you have a chance to sit down and say you’re really not on the same page with this thing. Every so often we get a student who says, “Actually, I don’t disagree with you on anything”, and that’s cool, but I love seeing the places where students disagree with us. Sometimes it’s difficult and challenging, but it’s so valuable. It’s valuable every time.

Ryn: 48:02 We’re coming into the time of year when we’re reassessing our programs and planning out what we’re going to do differently next time. Often there’s something I think that we’re not conveying the way we really want to if somebody says they disagree. We’ll look at it it’s not exactly what we meant that time, or maybe I didn’t explain that well, maybe I was kind of being flippant one day and didn’t think too much about it, but that person took that comment really to heart. I want to be aware of those things, maybe change how I talk about it in the future, or just be aware that there’s an issue over there that’s a little tense, touchy, or trepidatious and I didn’t realize. Those things are always valuable.

Katja: 48:49 I think that’s super important.

Ryn: 48:54 So, if you teach classes maybe some of these questions might be helpful for you with your students. Or if you take classes, these might be things that you want to consider, whether they’re asked of you explicitly or not. And hey, if you’re another herbal school teacher, we’d love to hear if you have any thoughts or ideas about things that you found particularly helpful to include in your exams, the way that you teach, the way you present things because we can all get better, and the more we remind each other of that, the more likely it is to happen.

Katja: 49:35 The more that we are seeking to collaborate, when there is a place where we can improve, we won’t feel like that makes us a bad practitioner, bad person, or a bad herbalist. It just makes us have a place for more creativity and more growth, and that’s actually awesome.

Ryn: 49:56 So, here’s to growth…

Katja: 49:58 And here’s to our amazing, awesome students, who I totally love.

Ryn: 50:04 We’re going to give them the runaround tomorrow.

Katja: 50:07 It’s going to be super fun.

Ryn: 50:10 Alright folks, we’ll be back for you again next week and until then, stay healthy, be well.

Katja: 50:16 And make a plan to vote!


Join our newsletter for more herby goodness!

Get our newsletter delivered right to your inbox. You'll be first to hear about free mini-courses, podcast episodes, and other goodies about holistic herbalism.