Podcast 231: Starting A Clinical Herbalism Business

We continue this week with Katja’s series: Starting Your Herbal Business! Today the focus is on the practice of clinical herbalism.

Building and running a practice as a clinical herbalist isn’t only about your interview skills, your ability to formulate a personalized remedy, or your capacity to build a holistic health plan in collaboration with your clients. Support work, research, and administrative tasks will take a fair amount of your attention – not to mention continuing education!

Clinical work involves a lot of teaching. You teach your clients how to prepare their remedies, you teach them how the herbs work, you teach them how to build healthier habits. So, our advice for cinical herbalists in training is: practice teaching!

To do all this, you need to understand the herbs on their own terms, but also in the context of modern life. That means common pharmaceuticals and potential herb-drug interactions need to be part of your education, too. It also means that you’ll need to be all brushed up on the legal status of herbalists, and the ways you navigate that. Here in the US, that means understanding our scope of practice as unlicensed practitioners, and your first priority is to avoid “the practice of medicine” according to your state’s laws.

Don’t let uncertainty keep you unsettled! You can build a practice and feel confident in your skills, and help a lot of people. Getting over the administrative hurdles will allow you to focus on the parts that drew you to this career in the first place: the people and the plants.

Herbal Business Program

Ready to start building your practice? The Herbal Business Program has all the nitty-gritty details about setting up your herbal business – whether that’s products, clinical herbalism, or another variety of herbal pursuit. From GMPs and labeling laws, to marketing, to taxes & insurance, to the technology you’ll need to make it all happen, this course has everything. You can do this!

Like all our offerings, this is a self-paced online video course, which comes with free access to twice-weekly live Q&A sessions, lifetime access to current & future course material, twice-weekly live Q&A sessions with us, open discussion threads integrated in each lesson, an active student community, study guides, quizzes & capstone assignments, and more!

If you enjoyed the episode, it helps us a lot if you subscribe, rate, & review our podcast wherever you listen. This helps others find us more easily. Thank you!

Our theme music is “Wings” by Nicolai Heidlas.

Episode Transcript

Ryn (00:00:14):
Hi. I’m Ryn here at Commonwealth Holistic Herbalism in Boston, Massachusetts and on the internet everywhere thanks to the power of the podcast. In this episode, we are continuing with Katja’s series on herbal businesses. If you missed the earlier episodes, just scroll back in our podcast feed. This time the focus is on the clinical practice of herbalism. So, as always, the questions are what do you do in that job? What do you need to learn to do it well? Listen on, and you’re going to hear all of Katja’s thoughts about it. We hope you like it. And by the way, if you’re dreaming of an herbal practice of your own, we can help you build it. We have a whole Herbal Business Program to guide you through from start to finish, even if you havHe no experience in running a business at all. And of course, we can teach you all of the herbal skills you’re going to need as well. You’ll find everything at online.commonwealthherbs.com.

Katja (00:01:06):
All right, well, it’s been a minute since I made a podcast episode in this series of jobs you can do as an herbalist, and what you will need to be able to do them, and what those jobs are like. So, today I want to talk about working as a clinical herbalist or integrating herbalism into your existing clinical practice, whatever that might be. Maybe it’s mental health care. Maybe it is a personal trainer. Maybe it’s massage therapy, whatever. And part of the reason that this episode is so late in coming is because we have been filming a bunch of new videos for the Clinical Skills course, which is part of our Clinical Herbalist Program. And I’m really excited about the updates that we’re making to that course. And they’re really topical with what we’re talking about today, working as a clinical herbalist. So, let’s jump in and talk about what it’s like to be a clinical herbalist. What kind of work you will do. What kind of training you need to get there. All that good stuff.

What the Job Entails: Consultations & Research

Katja (00:02:24):
So, let’s start off with what you will do in the job. What will your work life be like? And honestly, I think that the most important part of your job as a clinical herbalist is teaching and being a really effective teacher. But I’m going to come back to that because that is incorporated in my advice for people who want to go into clinical practice. So, I will spend a lot of time talking about that in the next section. Um, first I want to just talk about nitty gritty details about all the different parts of the job of being a clinical herbalist. So, obviously we’ll start with seeing clients, the actual consultations. Because I think when people think about clinical herbalism, obviously that’s the thing that comes to mind most. Sitting down with a client, and talking to them, and counseling them, getting information from them, collaborating with them. And this might happen in person, or it might happen online, like over Zoom. And there are pros and cons to both. Both are very common. Both are really effective ways to do the work. And usually what I counsel people is that even if you plan to work in person and have a physical office that people come to for consultations, it is still really smart to be able to offer sessions over Zoom. Because even local people sometimes need that. Maybe they can’t get childcare, and they really need to have a session. But they are not able to take the time to get there because there’s nobody to watch the kids. Or maybe they are immune compromised, and they’re trying to limit their exposure of going out into the world. Or maybe they’re disabled, and your space that you have is not accessible for whatever particular reason.

Katja (00:04:29):
So, there are lots of reasons – more than that, even – lots of reasons that being comfortable and good at working over Zoom is really worth developing, even if you intend an in-person practice. But either way, that is sitting with the person, talking with them. Working through their health history and their health goals. And together with them coming up with a plan that’s going to help them feel better in their lives. So, that is, of course, a big part of the job. But there’s also a lot of support work for each consultation. So, there might be research time that you do before the session based on what you see in the intake form. And so you may just do preparation work to get ready so that you’re ready to speak. Maybe the person takes pharmaceuticals that you’re not familiar with, and so you spend time researching those. Maybe they want to talk about some kind of health situation that you are not familiar with, you haven’t worked with before. So, you want to do a little research before that. And a lot of times research happens afterwards too, because things come up in the session. Even if you go in really prepared, things come up in the session that maybe you didn’t think about or have never heard of before. And so you realize oh, okay, there’s more research to do. I think that research time is certainly equal to the amount of time you spend talking to clients. But honestly, I think it’s probably more. I think just hour for hour you probably spend more time researching even than you spend actually talking to clients. It is just a really big part of the job.

Katja (00:06:24):
And honestly, I think that’s great. You can’t possibly know everything. And we’re going to talk a lot about training and the importance of being very well-trained to do this work. But no matter how well-trained you are, there’s a lot of stuff you just can’t know. Either because it’s brand new. Like when covid happened, nobody knew anything about covid because it was brand new. Like literally it was impossible to have known about it. Well, you could know about the old SARS virus, but you couldn’t have known. You would’ve had to do a lot of research, right? So, I think that covid is a great example, because a lot of times people feel like I have to know everything. The pressure is on me to know everything. And it’s hard to imagine that it’s okay to not know everything. Just because the pressure that we get from society and the role models in the medical system all say you should know everything. But come on, you know that doctors don’t know everything. And the ones who are willing to research what you need are the good ones, right? But some doctors aren’t willing to take that time to research. We don’t have that luxury. I don’t think doctors have that luxury either. We have to research. But if you are sitting there thinking well, no. I have to know everything. I think covid is a great example. Because it was impossible to know about covid before covid happened. And if you realize oh, well yeah, of course. That I would not be able to have known. That opens up for you a way to take the pressure off. That it’s okay that there are other things that you don’t know.

Katja (00:08:07):
The important part is not that you know every single thing. The important part is that you don’t pretend that you know every single thing. Clients are going to come in with things you’ve never heard of, experiences you’ve never had. And I think this is fantastic. If you are in a place of believing that you have to know everything, it’s going to make you very uncomfortable. And you’re going to have imposter syndrome basically all the time. But if you’re in a place of hey, I’m solid in my training. I know what I know. I know there are things I don’t know. That puts you in this beautiful place of collaboration because a client comes in with tons of experience of what it is that they’re trying to work on. And you have a lot of experience too, on whatever the things are that you have worked on in your life. And if you just acknowledge that you don’t know everything, that opens you up to acknowledging that there are things your client knows that you don’t know. And it puts you immediately into a collaboration space with your client. So, right off the bat, just acknowledging that research is important, and you cannot know everything. Not only is good for our clients because it will serve them if we are researching in service for them. But also it is good for you because that is the thing that protects you from imposter syndrome. That is the thing that keeps you out of that space of thinking you have to know everything and puts you into that collaborative space with your client. So, research, yes, yes, yes, yes.

Aftercare, Administrative Work, & Due Dilligence

Katja (00:09:49):
All right. And then you’ve done all that research, you’ve talked to your client, and now it is time for your aftercare support for your client, right? So, that might be your follow up emails. It might be information sheets that you write, like PDFs, or pages on your website, or whatever that you write to help them through different strategies that are common. So, for example, we often recommend for our clients that they do some assessment around food sensitivities. And so often we will recommend a Whole30 or a gluten and dairy elimination for a month. Or if we think it’s egg, then we’ll say, okay. Well, let’s do an egg elimination for a month or whatever. And so it’s really helpful if you have already written up, as a PDF or as a page on your website, support for people who are going to do a Whole30 or who are going to eliminate gluten, and what are your favorite substitute products, and all that kind of stuff. So, when you write follow-up emails to a specific client like that, it is very targeted to that particular client. But you also have this support time where you may be producing materials that will help lots of clients, that you will use over and over again. So, all of that is support work and then all the future correspondence that you have with a client. And however, everybody sets that up in their practice a little bit differently. But that correspondence that happens in between the session and the next session, that’s all support time too.

Katja (00:11:34):
So, you see the clients. You do the research. You have the support time. And then of course there’s administrative work, which maybe that’s not the most thing. But every job has administrative work, and it has to happen. So, this is your marketing and advertising and building your client base, all the regular business stuff. Maintaining your website, your social media presence. Also your legal due diligence falls into this administrative category. If herbalists were licensed, that would be called maintaining your licensure. And there are things that licensed professionals have to do to maintain their license. But we are not licensed. Herbalists are not licensed in the United States. So, our work there falls not just on doing the continuing education credits that all licensed professionals have to do to maintain their license. Well, of course we’re going to do continuing education too, because it’s just a really good idea. But also making sure that you’re not practicing medicine without a license. Making sure that you’re staying within the scope of practice that is legal in your state and also federally. The definition of the practice of medicine is state mandated. So, wherever you live, you will check those laws and just make sure that your practice is staying in its scope. That’s our legal due diligence that’s important to do. And if you are a licensed professional, and you are incorporating herbalism into your business, then you will be maintaining your license on one hand. But also maintaining your unlicensed work and making sure that the laws in your state… that you are abiding by the laws between your licensed and your unlicensed work. And in some states that means that you need to separate them. In some states you can mush them together, and that’s fine. So, all of that kind of legal stuff falls under administrative work, and accounting, and paying your taxes, and all that good stuff. Okay, so we’ll get a little bit more into all that administrative stuff when we talk about training. And you don’t have to just magically know how to do all that by yourself ahead of time. You should be well trained on how to do all of the administrative work and all the legal stuff that you have to do. So, don’t worry. You don’t have to just magically know that. We’ll get to that.

The Importance of Teaching

Katja (00:14:17):
All right. But I wanted to talk about… I wanted to come back to that idea of teaching and talk about a piece of advice for people who are working as clinical herbalists. And my piece of advice here – or my awareness, my piece of awareness – is that the most important part of your job as a clinical herbalist is teaching. And I could say that a few more times, just for you to hear it, because it’s really, really important. And you might be thinking well, yeah. But isn’t the most important part of the job staying up-to-date and being well educated. And yes, that stuff is super important, and you definitely should do that. But if you are the most well-educated and the most up-to-date person, but you can’t teach it to your client, then you won’t be effective. All of the education that we do as clinical herbalist. All of the learning, all of the studying, all of the mentorship, all of everything that we put into developing our skills. The purpose of all of that is so that we can communicate it to another human. And so every clinical herbalist is a teacher. It’s just that instead of teaching in front of a whole room full of people, you’re teaching one-on-one in a very personalized way. You are finding all of the information in your head that is relevant to this one person you’re sitting with in the moment. And thinking about how to organize that information. How to order it and prioritize it. And then how to share it with the person that you’re working with so that they can effectively make it a part of their lives. And the thing is that the clients that you’re working with, they’re not full-time herbalists. They’re not necessarily even part-time herbalists. They have a day job. They probably are taking care of kids, or a household, or a family, or elder parents, or whatever else.

Katja (00:16:35):
And they have just things going on in their lives. And they don’t necessarily already know how to make a long infusion. And they don’t necessarily already know about this and that herb and what they’ll do in the body. And they don’t necessarily already understand the ties between the types of food that they’re eating, and their baseline inflammation levels, and all the other things. All the million, billion things that are relevant to their health. A lot of clients come in, and maybe they’ve tried a lot of things. And their attempts haven’t worked because also nobody outright teaches people how to experiment. And so maybe they’ve tried things, but the way that they set up their personal experimentation wasn’t set up in the way to guarantee them success. And so some of the things that they tried may be worth trying again. But all of this, we have to explain it to them in a way that’s relevant to their lives, and their understanding, and their goals, and their priorities, and their needs. And that is a skill. That is not something that you’re necessarily born with, but it is something that… I mean, some people I guess are just natural communicators, sure. But it is something that you can develop, and that you can develop the ability to do it on your feet, right? Because when you’re sitting with someone, you’re hearing information. You’re getting their story. Ideas are coming into your head. You’re starting to synthesize those ideas into a plan. All that is great, and it can be the best plan in the world. But now it is now how am I going to explain it to this person using what I know about this person? Which might only be 45 minutes of conversation by the time that you start explaining. It might be a person that you’ve just met for the very first time.

Katja (00:18:32):
And so that skill of taking in everything you can about the person and then teaching everything that you want them to know in the context of their habits, and their life, and their styles, and what things will be motivating to them. If you spend time developing that skill, you are going to be a very successful clinical herbalist. Very, very successful. And if not. If you’re just like okay, well I’ve listened to everything, and here’s my list of things you should do. That’s not going to be as helpful. Some people will do the things on the list. But if a person understands why they’re doing things, and what that will get them. Like hey, if I drink a quart of this tea every day, it’s going to get me this result. I am a person who is super, super dry. I’m not, but I’m imagining being this person. Actually, I run pretty damp. But okay, let’s just imagine this person. They run super dry. They’re having trouble with constipation, but also lots of other dryness symptoms. Their mucosa in general is uncomfortably dry and whatever else. And you just tell them they need to drink marshmallow root, cold infusion. That’s fine. But if you really explain to them about the mucilaginous action of the marshmallow root. And it’s going to be a cold infusion. And it’s going to get kind of slimy and velvety. And they’re going to drink that, and it’s going to help the water stay in their body better. It’s going to hydrate them. It’s going to bring in some mineral content along with the water, and some electrolyte content along with the water, and really be soothing to all of the mucous membranes. And so if they make this quart a day, and they drink it throughout the day. Within a week, they’re going to start feeling like their eyes aren’t so dry anymore. And it’s going to really start moisturizing and nourishing the digestive tract. So, it’s going to make the constipation reduce and all those things.

Motivation, Transfer of Power, & Collaboration

Katja (00:20:39):
If you can get across to them, here’s what this is going to get for you. They’re going to be so much more motivated to actually do the stuff that might seem a little weird to them. I mean, marshmallow root, cold infusion, the first time you drink that – especially if it’s a really viscous one, like a really thick one – it’s kind of weird. Listen. I’m an herbalist, but I’ll say it. It’s kind of weird. And herbalists are pretty, you know, usually used to weird bitter things and weird things that are outside of normal, everyday modern cuisine, I suppose. But for a lot of people, it’ll be the first time they’ve ever consumed something like that. If they know what it will get them, if they know what it will do for them, that’s so much more motivating. And one other factor that I think is really important when we think about teaching as clinical herbalists is that that is a transfer of power. When we teach clients things, they now know what we know. And okay, it would take a really long time for you to teach a client every single thing that you know. But the stuff that’s relevant to what’s going on for them right now, yes, that gives them power. That gives them long-term motivation. If they understand what’s going on in their body and how the strategies that you’re recommending are going to help. As opposed to just saying here, do this. It will help you. But they really understand how it all started, how it all got there, and how we’re going to resolve it with the strategies that you’re recommending. Then that’s something that they can keep for the rest of their lives.

Katja (00:22:33):
And anytime that they get back into this sort of situation, they have the knowledge now to work on that on their own. Okay, they might need a reminder, but they have that knowledge. It is going to help them so much to stick with it and not fall off the wagon. If a client does something just because Katja says so – or whoever you are, just because you say so – that motivation doesn’t last very long. But if they do it because they really understand what it will get them, they’re doing it because they say so. They’re doing it because they’re bought in. And everything for me about working with clients is that power shift. I think that when so many people go to see conventional medical practitioners, there is a power imbalance. Where the practitioner has all the power, and the patient is just like uh, I don’t know. Can you just tell me what to do? And we are trained into that sort of scenario because we grow up in this system. And so we’re trained to see them as experts and as authorities, and that we need to do what they tell us. And even in our speech that comes across. Like oh, my doctor has me on satin drugs or whatever. People say that all the time. And I always want to challenge that because your doctor isn’t showing up in the morning, and putting that in your mouth, and then making you swallow it. I mean, if you’re in the hospital, they do come and give it to you and whatever. But you’re just a person. You’re going through your day. Your doctor doesn’t have you on that. You have you on that. You’re the one who’s taking it.

Katja (00:24:20):
But we’ve internalized that subjugation so much that it’s even just in our speech about how we talk about conventional medicine. And it doesn’t have to be. Not every doctor likes that set up. But it is just the way the system is kind of built. And that goes back to the history of the system, and class structure, and all kinds of stuff. But who was allowed to be a doctor, and who wasn’t allowed to be a doctor. And yeah, okay, well anyway. That’s like a whole separate history lesson. But as herbalists, first off, we are not licensed, and we are not doctors. And we don’t want to act like we’re licensed or like we’re doctors. But also it isn’t just like well, I’m supposed to tell you that I’m not a doctor, but I can cure you. I can heal you. I can whatever. No, that is not what we’re doing. I joyously am not a doctor. I joyously am not practicing medicine. I joyously am collaborating with my clients on experimenting to find what works best for their body, and how they can be most comfortable in their lives. And even how we can collaborate with their medical professionals. So that if they are taking pharmaceuticals that are helping them, that we can support them in that. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. And so that collaboration is what I really want to foster. And that is an equalizing of power. That is at all times trying to give back to the client the power that is actually theirs. The autonomy that is actually theirs in regard to their health, and what they do about it.

Katja (00:26:17):
And so I just think that that whole aspect of teaching. Just putting some stuff out on the table. And hey, okay, you have told me what your experience is like. And I’m going to talk to you about everything I know that could be helpful. And now you know that stuff too. And so now it’s all here on the table. And we can put it all together like a puzzle, and we can come up with a plan. And then we try the plan and see if it works. And then we make adjustments in whatever needs to be adjusted to get it to be just right for you. But it is that collaboration that is the equalizer of power. So yeah, so for all of these reasons I really think that teaching and developing your skill as a teacher is the most important part of your skill development as a clinical herbalist. So, every other thing that you learn is all of the background stuff so that you can then learn to be a good teacher, and collaborate well, and have a lot of success with your clients. Whew.

Take Your Time to Train & Learn Herb-Drug Interactions

Katja (00:27:32):
All right. Well then let’s talk about all of the training that you should get to be a clinical herbalist. That kind of sounds intimidating when I say it like that, but also, I don’t think that’s inappropriate. I mean, you shouldn’t be intimidated, but this is not like a weekend workshop. This is not that you’re going to do a nine-month apprenticeship, and you’re going to be ready to be a clinical herbalist. This is years and years of training. And I think it’s important to just have that at the outset. If you are really going to help people with who knows what is going to walk through your door, it just takes a lot of training. So, you can help your neighbors, and help your friends, and help in smaller ways much earlier in your training. When you really want to be a clinical herbalist, then it is. It is a lot of training. So, I think just setting yourself up for that right in the beginning. And just acknowledging that doctors go to school for a kabillion, gillion years. And nurses go to school for all those years. And all these different practitioners go to school for all these years. And it’s reasonable for us to also do that. Sure, herbs might not be totally hard, but human health is very challenging. So yeah, so well-trained. It is important. And so you’re going to need training in all the herbal skills as well as training in how to do a consultation, and all the support work, and all the follow-up and everything. Training in practice management. So, how to be legal. How to do marketing. How to everything in between.

Katja (00:29:17):
You will need a very strong focus in herb-drug interactions, and that is really intimidating for a lot of people. Some people feel pretty nervous about pharmaceuticals. And so they just think well, I just will avoid it. I just kind of won’t go there. But listen, training is the answer. Actually training is the answer any time that you’re thinking oh man, that makes me really uncomfortable, or that makes me really nervous. Training always is the answer because it takes away that nervousness. But especially with herb-drug interactions, these days most people are taking pharmaceuticals. And it’s very hard to run a practice and not encounter pharmaceuticals. And also, I think that it’s important to recognize that if you’re working with whole herbs and just tea and stuff, okay. That’s one thing. But as soon as you start recommending any kind of super potent extract of something. Now that also has a higher likelihood of interaction, or adverse effects, or whatever else. I think a good example is these really super high-powered turmeric capsules with black pepper. Or even not with black pepper, but just with the piperine in it. And they’re so much more powerful than what you would just eat naturally. Naturally. Like what you would just eat if you were having turmeric, and pepper, and other herbs in curry or something like that. And we’re starting to develop a pretty strong body of evidence that those high-powered supplements can cause liver damage. And so just recognizing that the herb-drug interactions and the herb safety aspect of things, it’s really inescapable now.

Katja (00:31:19):
Back in the eighties and maybe even in the nineties, you could practice. And just be like well, I probably won’t have to work with anybody who’s taking medications. But that’s just not possible anymore. Everybody who comes for help will be taking something. It’ll be lovely but rare when you work with a client who doesn’t take a pharmaceutical. So, don’t be nervous about it. Don’t be scared about it. Don’t be out there thinking I don’t know. Pharmacology is really scary and all that other stuff. Doctors don’t know much about herb-drug interactions. And it’s really on us as herbalists to pick up the slack because they’re not doing it. Pharmacists don’t know much about herb-drug interactions. So, in order to keep our clients safe, we have to be the ones who really know, and who make safe recommendations. And often we have to be the ones educating medical practitioners who our clients are working with. So, that’s also important. You don’t have to be afraid of your client’s doctor. You can collaborate with your client’s doctor. And when you have the training, then you won’t feel nervous about that. You won’t be like oh my goodness, imposter syndrome or any of those other things. You’ll just communicate to them as a professional, one professional to another. Or you will give your client the appropriate information so that they can advocate for themselves in a professional manner. In a way that the doctor will recognize and understand. Okay, well anyway. For all of these reasons, don’t neglect your herb-drug interaction and herb safety training, even though I know you got into herbalism because you don’t like that stuff. But training is the answer, yes.

Mentorship & Care of the Herbalist Community

Katja (00:33:07):
And then your training really needs to include mentorship – live, personal mentorship. Because it’s not just about learning each individual skill. There also is just so much guidance about how to put that into practice. And every single client that you work with is different. Every body is different. And so having guidance as you take everything you’ve learned and apply it this way for that client, and this other way for this client over here, and then yet another way for the next client, that’s challenging. And so having a mentor who can help you through that process is key. Now, when you look for a mentor, you may not find one in your area to work with in person. That’s not a problem. Mentors will work online. We have a Mentorship Program, and that’s done online. It’s still live. We work with each of our students personally. But we just do it over zoom, so it doesn’t really matter where you are. And there are other mentors who do that as well. So, when you’re looking for a mentor, look for someone who will go over all of your clients with you. Who will answer any questions that you have about every case that you’re taking. Who gives you time to talk about all your cases and really hear all your questions about okay well, I worked with this person. I’m really not sure where to take this case from here. And then also someone who will encourage you to review all of your own client files regularly, and even go through that process with you. This is really important. When you work with clients, that’s just one moment in time. That’s just like okay, well last Tuesday I worked with this person, and this is what I came up with for them. But a month from now, or two months from now at the end of the quarter or whatever else, you might have different ideas. You might have different thoughts about what you could have done for that person.

Katja (00:35:18):
So, set up time – and preferably with your mentor – that you can on a regular basis go back through your client files. And say oh, I could have done this differently. Or What could I have done differently for this client because they never came back for a follow-up. I think I didn’t really serve them well. What could I have done differently? How could I have come up with some other kind of idea that would have helped them better? Okay. So, all that kind of stuff. And even not just launching into practice without seeing it first. You should be able to observe other clinical herbalists working with clients, and seeing what that looks like, and how that process plays out, and how it goes through multiple follow-ups. All of that is stuff that if you watch it first, it gives you that context of how do you set up a consultation? What is the flow of the session? How does it change and shift from person to person that you work with? And so being able to observe all of that and then try it out while they’re observing you. And their able to tell you okay, make this change. Oh okay, you could have done this differently. Or hey, how did it feel when you said this? Did that feel better than last time? And all that kind of stuff, whatever it happens to be. And then that they’ll go through all of your cases with you. So, that’s what you’re looking for when you’re looking for a mentor.

Katja (00:36:52):
All right. And just another reminder that herbalism is unregulated. Because herbalism is unregulated, it is up to us to keep our clients, and ourselves, and each other safe. Or in other words, if you operate outside the law, you aren’t just endangering yourself. That’s not just a risk that you take on yourself. That’s a risk for all of us as herbal practitioners. Because if somebody does something really egregious, and then there are big lawsuits about it and whatever else, that’s how the need for regulation comes. And although on one hand regulation brings with it a certain amount of legitimacy and recognition. On the other hand, it brings with it a great deal more cost and a loss of freedom. There are a lot of cons with regulation. So, I personally think that we are better off working unregulated, because we have more freedom. But also, I like not being licensed. I like communicating to my clients hey, I’m an educator. I am not a licensed medical professional. That means that you need to be engaged in what we’re doing. You need to be the one deciding if this is right for you. I’m going to tell you everything I know. You’re going to tell me the stuff that you’re experiencing. We’re going to put them together, but you’re the one in the driver’s seat. You’re the one who gets to say that doesn’t sound good to me. That doesn’t sound right to me. I want you to do more research so that I feel comfortable with this. Or I want you to do more research and find me a different way.

Katja (00:38:40):
When a client knows that I’m not licensed, that is a call to engagement for them. And it’s also just a very overt reminder for them that they can say no any time, and they should feel totally free to exercise that. So, okay. I don’t think it is a drawback to be unregulated, but it does come with risk. And so it is important to know the laws, to operate within the laws even if you don’t like them, and to not practice medicine without a license. Do not give advice about pharmaceuticals. Do not tell a person not to take their pharmaceuticals. Do not tell a person they don’t need that surgery, whatever. There’s so much work that falls into our legal scope of practice, so much we can do, that I don’t find any need to be reaching outside of that scope to do things that aren’t legal for me. And so I don’t think it’s bad we’re unregulated, except that because we’re unregulated, we all have to really take our work seriously. Not just for ourselves, but for the whole community. And the thing is clients will come to you and ask you. They will say things like I want to stop taking my drugs. Can you help me do that? I want to stop taking statin drugs. Can you help? And then we have to educate about why we can’t actually help with that. I mean, we can support them through that process. But in terms of actually them getting off the drug part, then that’s the work they’re going to have to do with their medical provider, with their prescribing practitioner. We can support them to be their healthiest selves and to make some really great choices that can support their cardiovascular health.

Katja (00:40:36):
And that’s so important. That is such important work. It’s also work that doctors don’t have time to do. They don’t have time to do a ton of education. In this example that I’m making up here, okay, well statin drugs must be the answer. Because they don’t have time to explain about canola oil versus olive oil versus whatever. They have too many patients that they have to see every day because there just aren’t enough primary care physicians. So, education about how hawthorn helps provide anthocyanins that support the vasculature, and the health of the actual muscles of the arterial walls, and all that kind of stuff. That’s stuff that we can do. And we don’t have to really drop into that place of practicing medicine without a license. But we do often have to explain that to our clients about where those boundaries are.

Resist the Urge to Go into Practice Too Soon

Katja (00:41:36):
The other thing is that when people find out that you are studying clinical herbalism, they want to be your client already before you’re ready. They want to pressure you to jump right into practice. And that’s awesome. That’s enthusiasm. They want answers now. That is great. Don’t do it. Really resist that urge. You can still help people but do it under the guise of being a student. Stay in that student place while you are a student. Don’t rush yourself into practice. First off, you don’t need that pressure. You don’t have to put the cart before the horse. You don’t have to run before you walk, or whatever metaphor is appropriate here. All of society is pressuring everyone to go faster, produce more. Do more with less, all that stuff. You don’t have to put that pressure on yourself. And telling people no, I’m not seeing clients yet. I’m still a student. That does not mean that you can’t help them. Because the next sentence can be but I’m happy to work with you with what I know. And talk to my teachers. And see if we can collaborate and come up with something based on the information that I have so far. We can do some experiments together. You could even be helping me learn actually, if you’re willing to be a Guinea pig. There’s a lot of really excellent benefit and interaction that can happen with people who want you to do this work for them without feeling the need to just go ahead and jump into clinical practice before you’re ready.

Katja (00:43:25):
That part, that’s where you get imposter syndrome, and where it’s uncomfortable, and always those creeping feelings coming in. But when you’re like hey, well no, I can’t work with you as a client because I am not a clinical herbalist yet. I’m a student. But I have been studying about that thing you just asked me about. And I can’t give you all the answers, but I’m happy to tell you what I know .and we can do some experiments, and that’s going to help me learn more. And it might help you too. So, I’m happy to help you at the student level. And let’s just try that for now and see what happens. It’s cool because that takes all the pressure off you. It leaves you open to always be able to say okay, well that’s actually the end of what I know. I told you I was still a student. But hey, I’ll ask my teachers. And I’ll see if I can find out more. And also my school runs a free clinic. You could also come and talk to my teachers about that or work in free clinic. Or something like that, if your herb school does that. Ours, we do, and we also have a student clinic. But it just takes all the pressure off you. And the other thing about that is that if you jump into clinical practice too early, not only are you feeling all this pressure, and uncertainty, and imposter syndrome. But that’s a risk for you as a businessperson as well. Because what if then you’re not able to help that person? And word gets around that oh, I don’t know. They’re studying, but they’re not very good at it. Or I saw this person and they’re not good at it. And then two years from now or however long from now you are ready to start your practice. But there are people who worked with you when you weren’t really ready yet. And they have negative opinions about the work that you do. That’s going to impact your ability to build a strong client base.

Katja (00:45:30):
But if you’re a student, and you’re learning. And people in your life are pressuring you to go ahead and take clients now. And you hold that boundary and say I’m not taking clients yet because I’m still learning. But I will tell you what I know, and we can learn together. That is like pre-marketing. Because they’re seeing the experimentation, and they’re learning the process. And they’re learning about what this work is like. And it’s okay that you maybe come to the end of your knowledge at some point, maybe even before all their questions are answered, because you’ve already announced that you’re a student. And if they will continue to work with you. And you continue to have a good relationship with them. And say hey, you know, I’m learning this other cool thing now. I wonder if you’d be willing to be a Guinea pig for me. They’re seeing you grow. Their confidence in you is building as your skillset is building. And so when you set it up that way, you’re actually setting yourself up for success because they have seen your skills develop over time. Instead of them seeing your skills in their not fully-developed state and thinking that’s all you’ve got. And then thinking that your practice isn’t really very valuable. So, both from the perspective of let things be comfortable for you. Don’t put that pressure on yourself. But also from the perspective of building your clinical practice. Just giving yourself the space to be a student while you’re a student and not have to jump right into practice, is a luxurious gift that you can give yourself that will also really help build your practice when you are to that point.

Incorporating Herbalism with Other Practices

Katja (00:47:17):
Okay, so also let’s think about if you already have a practice. You are a nutritionist. You are a personal trainer. You’re a massage therapist. You are a talk therapist. You’re whatever. And you want to start incorporating herbalism into your work. Educationally, it’s still basically the same. Just because you are some kind of a licensed practitioner already. Or even you might be a nurse, or a pharmacist, or a doctor. You don’t really get to skip any steps. You still need the full herbal training. Because if you’re going to incorporate herbalism, you can’t just pick one little thing to plug in there. You really need to understand the system. It’s sort of like how absurd the opposite is. Like well, I’m a clinical herbalist, but I’m just going to include a few little surgical procedures. That’s absurd, right? That just sounds so silly. And so we need to recognize that it’s also silly in the other direction. So, don’t try to skip any steps. Start at the beginning and learn everything that you need to learn, so that you are a competent clinical herbalist in your own right, as well as a competent, skilled talk therapist or whatever else. It’s kind of like becoming an interpreter. Before you can be an interpreter, you have to be fluent in two languages at least. You could have more. You need to know the whole of the language that you’re translating into and the whole of the language that you’re translating out of.

Katja (00:48:58):
You can’t just know a little bit about the language that you’re translating from, as long as you know a lot about the language that you’re translating to. That doesn’t make any sense, right? You need to know both languages fluently so that you can mush them together and do your work as an interpreter. The same thing here. As a licensed practitioner who wants to add clinical herbalism to their practice, you need to know both systems. Whatever your license is and clinical herbalism in their entirety as freestanding disciplines. So that you can then join them together effectively, fluidly, and be able to serve your clients in the best way possible. So, don’t skip any steps, is what I’m saying. And then the other thing here is that to just remember. I said this at the top, but just to emphasize it again. If you are a licensed practitioner, your license might come with some restrictions. And this is going to depend on the state that you are licensed in, and the type of practitioner you are. Some licenses are very, very broad. And there is no problem whatsoever with integrating herbalism at all. Some licenses are rather strict. And there are some problems with integrating herbalism with that license. Which does not mean that you cannot work as an herbalist. It just means that you may have to keep the two practices separate to protect your license. And again, that is not based on what kind of license you have. It is based on the state you live in.

Katja (00:50:46):
So, if you’re an RN in Idaho, or New Hampshire, or Massachusetts, or wherever, your laws may be one thing. If you’re an RN in Florida, your laws may be another thing. Florida is a state that actually has pretty strict laws for nurses. And so it isn’t about the license level, the license type. It’s about the state. And so your board of licensure is also in your state. And you may have as part of your board a holistic association, like Holistic Nurses Association or Holistic Therapists Association, whatever. And you may not, but you might. And so you can talk to them. You can also ask wherever you’re getting your training, wherever you are being trained. Both as an herbalist and wherever you got your training for your license, you can ask them. And of course, just read the law as well, and that will help you. That is something that you should be taught in your clinical herbalist training at least. They may not think to teach that to you in the training that you got for your license, but your herbal training should cover that.

Required Training & Connecting to a Clinical Program

Katja (00:52:07):
All right, let’s talk about what kind of training you need. We’ve spent all this time just saying training, training. Let’s talk about what kind of training that you need. So, you need the full spectrum of training in herbalism. At our school that is the Family Herbalist Program, the Community Herbalist Program, the Clinical Herbalist Program, and then Clinical Mentorship. And, you know, when we started our school, we named them that way because we originally had it with numbers. Like Herbalism 1, Herbalism 2, whatever. And that just wasn’t very awesome. And so we were trying to find a set of names that showed that everything built on itself. And I’m not sure that we really succeeded in that. Because in our school, everything that is in Community, you need the Family knowledge to be able to do it. And everything that is in Clinical, you need the Community knowledge to be able to do it. It all builds on itself. And the reason that I’m saying this is because there are lots of different herb schools out there. And lots of herb schools have a Community Herbalist Program or a Family Herbalist Program. Or lots of herb schools might use the words beginner, intermediate, advanced. And even there are some schools that are running Clinical Programs. But it’s important to recognize that they are not equal. They are not the same. They’re not teaching the same material, and they don’t provide the same level of preparation.

Katja (00:53:44):
So, don’t just go on the name. Talk to the school. Talk to them a lot. They should be very happy to answer your questions in a very straightforward way. They should not be hiding information. I mean, it’s one thing if they don’t understand the question, and it takes them a minute to get the answer right. I’m not being too critical here. But if you feel like you’re getting a runaround, that’s a red flag. Before you consider a school, you should also check their free material so that you see if the way that they teach is actually good for your learning skills. You see if you’re actually aligned with the priorities of that school and the values of that school. So that you can see if you just like the sound of their voice, whatever. If you’re going to be listening to material as an audio file or watching it as a video file, do you find the voice grating? That’s a silly thing, but all these things are part of how you learn. Or if it’s a reading-based curriculum, do you find the writing style comfortable to learn from? A serious program should not be a reading-based program. There are some schools that do like here’s a giant PDF, and you can learn all the stuff from the PDF. And that’s fine, but that’s not education. That’s like books. That’s supplemental. When you really want to do clinical work, ultimately in the end you need that personal attention, that personal mentorship in the end to make sure that you really do actually have all the knowledge, and that it’s all integrated well.

Katja (00:55:34):
The other thing to really recognize is that schools practice different styles of herbalism, and they’re not necessarily interchangeable. So, you may have started your practice in a school that focuses heavily on Ayurvedic inspired herbalism. And then you may want to go and do some clinical training, but the school that you want to do clinical training at does not practice Ayurvedic style herbalism. And so that won’t be a compatibility. In our school clinic, and I think probably most schools who run clinics feel this way. We want to make sure that all of our clients are receiving compatible recommendations, compatible information from all of our student practitioners. Because they bring family members. They bring their friends. A person and her sister may both sign up for a free clinic session. And if they get drastically different advice, that doesn’t inspire confidence in them. And also it makes it hard for them to collaborate in their lives together. Or often people will have a session with one student, and then they will choose to have a session with another student. But if they get drastically different advice – like one of them is coming from a vitalism perspective, and one of them is coming from an Ayurvedic perspective – then it can be just really confusing for people who don’t know very much about herbalism and don’t understand that there are these different schools of practice, these different philosophies of practice.

Katja (00:57:23):
So, what all of that means is that when you go to get your clinical training, you may find that just because you have done your lower-level training at another school, that doesn’t necessarily translate into a clinical program in the same way. And there’s no need to be disappointed about that. And you don’t need to feel like oh, now I have to throw all that out and start over. Actually, it’s the opposite of that. The more that you know, the better. Because every client is different, and different things will work for every client. And they’re going to have different experiences. And you are going to be trying to speak to them and explain things to them in a way that is motivating and comfortable for them. And so the more experiences you can draw on to do that kind of knowledge transfer, the better actually. So, if you have come from a school that does not have a clinical program, and you want to transfer to a school that does. And you find that you have to start at a level that feels like a step back for you. That’s not actually necessarily a step back. It is a step broadening, right? It is just broadening all of your experience. And if you know that ahead of time and kind of expect that that is likely. Then instead of feeling disappointed that oh, this is going to take me longer than I thought. Instead you can realize oh, this is going to take however long it takes. And when I get to the end of it, I’m actually going to be able to explain things across a multitude of systems. and that’s actually going to be a real benefit for my practice. So, looking at it that way I find is both accurate and also less frustrating as well.

Business Training

Katja (00:59:20):
And then the other thing that is important in terms of training is that running a clinical practice is a business. And so if you don’t have any business training. If you’ve never run your own business before, or you don’t have any skills at that, that’s fine. There’s no problem with that. They don’t teach it in school. It’s not like you should just magically know how to do that, but you should get training for that. So, a Business Program will be really important. And it’s best if you take a Business Program that is specifically for herbalists. The Small Businesses Administration or your local Chamber of Commerce or whatever, they often run little business programs to help people who are starting businesses. But they’re very oriented towards retail, or service, or whatever. And the thing is that they don’t know the laws about running an herbal business. So, sometimes their counsel about how you should market, or how you should this, or how you should that is not entirely translatable into our legal landscape. And so it is ideal if you take a Business Program at an herb school that is a well-developed Business Program, but also is operating within the herbal laws already, or the laws that regulate herbalism or don’t already.

Katja (01:00:51):
All right. So, that is running a clinical herbalism practice in a nutshell. Certainly there are questions that you have, or things that I left out because they just didn’t pop into my mind in the moment. And if that is the case, just ask. It’s totally fine. You can always email us at info@commonwealthherbs.com. We are always happy to answer your questions. You’ll find links in the show notes. And if there’s anything that we can do to help you and support you in this journey, then let us know. Because this world needs more clinical herbalists. People need care, and they need people who are trained to provide it. And the care that we provide as herbalists is not the same as conventional medical care. It is unique and really, really needed in this world. So, if this kind of work appeals to you. If you already kind of have the drive to do it, then yes. Okay, it’s going to take a minute to get all the training you need, but really jump in because it is such a necessary thing for our entire society. We just need more clinical herbalists.

Ryn (01:02:06):
That’s it for this episode of the Holistic Herbalism Podcast. This show is produced and edited by us, Ryn and Katja. If you like what you hear, check out our online herbalism school. All of our courses are taught primarily by video lesson, so you can watch at your own pace. Each has an accompanying MP3, so you can take your learning on the go. There are PDF files with quick guides and key information. Every lesson has an integrated discussion thread where you can ask your questions and get a faculty response within a day. Our courses come with access to a lively community space. Kind of like social media, but herbal and therefore better. Plus access to twice weekly live Q&A sessions. And all of this is yours for lifetime access. There’s no ticking time limit for you to take in all the material, so you can take your time. Instead, you’ll find everything we have at online.commonwealthherbs.com.


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