Grassroots health: Dr Google the people’s physician

In the age of the internet you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who hasn’t “Dr Googled” a health issue before. In fact, one in every 20 Google searches are health-related, according to the tech giant.

Maybe you’ve googled one of the top 10 trending health questions like, can you get pregnant on birth control, what is TBI or in the number one slot, what is cupping?

Whilst it’s often frowned upon and considered potentially dangerous to rely on google for health answers, the reality is, we’re all doing it, and often. Commentators are quick to point out what could go wrong in this self-doctoring approach, but how many people are asking what could go right? What does this trend to consult Dr Google actually mean?

I believe the rise of internet has enabled grassroots holistic health movements to flourish, that I like to call “The People’s Medicine.”  It’s a new type of folk medicine that’s reviving the common sense self-care approaches of eras gone by.

In the 19th century there were a number of popular movements which encouraged people to “be their own physicians,” as reflected in this historic book title below.  Herbs were often the treatment of choice and it was not uncommon for everyday folk to be familiar with their preparation and use.

people their own ph

Thomsonian Medicine, was one particular holistic health system that enjoyed wide popularity in the United States during this era, reaching over 1 million people in its height. Founded by a medical reformist Samuel Thomson, this movement promoted the idea of a self-directed health awareness and self-care care as a valid alternative or adjunct to “doctors orders”.  This approach appealed to members of the anti-elitist movement of the time as it offered people a more accessible and affordable way to manage common ailments.

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Excerpts from “The Thomsonian Manual”, by Samuel Thomson, 1835

In more recent times, the concept of self-care has been embraced once again in grassroots mental health recovery communities. The diversity of opinions found through the internet has allowed people to reclaim a sense of agency over their psychological challenges and look beyond homogenous conventional treatments.

The International Hearing Voices movement is one such example of people learning to be their own healers, or what could be called self-made therapists. In this movement people who have experienced auditory hallucinations meet in peer-to-peer groups to explore the value and purpose of these experiences rather than seeing them as an illness. They learn how to embrace their voices in a constructive and functional manner that often allows them to move away from psychiatric labels and medications.

“Our research shows that to hear voices is not the consequence of a diseased brain, but more akin to a variation in human behaviour, like being left-handed. It is not so much the voices that are the problem, but the difficulties that some people have in coping with them.” – from the international hearing voices website 

Smart Recovery  is another peer-to-peer movement that’s grown in popularly with the help of grassroots people power. Smart is a secular alternative to AA for people with substance use disorders but many physicians are unaware of its existence. Most people find out about it through a quick google search looking for an alternative. Much like Weight Watchers, Smart is facilitated by people who have recovered from addiction and been through the program themselves. The meetings, are based on psychological tools and mutual support.

There are countless examples of these sort of movements that are often very much driven by everyday people without health qualifications, who nonetheless are acting as catalysts for profound healing and change. There’s a support tribe for everything and if not you can start your own online.

There is of course a dark side to Dr Googling; obsession, hypochondria, panic or even the potentially lethal outcome of acting on dubious advice. But since people are unlikely to quit the internet, the best approach might be good old moderation mixed with a dose of common sense, as Doctor Thomson might have advised if he were living today.

After all an honest physician, he said, will tell you that:

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To find health …

to find health

The above quote is a variation of Andrew Taylor Still’s quote “To find health should be the object of the doctor. Anyone can find disease.” (I replaced disease with illness because I think this idea is true for mental illness also.. which is not a disease as such).

Beyond coping, managing and dealing lies a holy grail called HEALTH. What small step towards true health can you take today?



Do doctors practice magic?

If you asked a typical family physician if they could prescribe you a magic spell to restore your health chances are they’d think you’re joking or delusional. Doctors work with “evidence-based medicine;” their pills and potions are firmly backed by science. Witch doctors, on the other hand, practice magic, and that of course isn’t what you’re going to experience in a conventional medical setting… or is it?

The word “pharmaceutical” is derived from the classical greek words pharmakeutikos from pharmakeuein, meaning “to practice witchcraft”, and from pharmakon, meaning “to prepare poison” or simply “drug, medicine, charm, spell or enchantment”. Reading this makes me chuckle since the last thing a modern doctor would recommend is sorcery and certainly they would deny their scripts are dangerous… but does medicine have us charmed?

The origin of the word pharmaceutical reflects the rich history of western health and its earlier folk medicine roots. Before the rise of science physicians and healers utilised a vast array of tools, substances, procedures and practices to treat the ailments of the day. These were both natural and man made; earthly and magical; common sensical and bizarre.


A plant pharmacology manuscript from the 11th century

Medical manuals from medieval Europe, such as  The Canon Medicinae, outlined everything from medicinal herbs to brutal procedures like bloodletting to balance imaginary “humours”.

blood letting diagram

A chart showing the parts of the body to be bled for different diseases, c.1310–1320

Whilst we’ve come along way since then in our understanding of anatomy there’s more to traditional medicine than bloodletting and the shock factor aspects of its biggest “fails”.. Although we might shudder at the thought of certain archaic treatments western medicine has a long history of using folk remedies as a type of “lead” for scientific research.

Have you ever popped an Aspirin and considered how its discovery was based on research into willow bark, a natural medicine dating back to Sumerian civilisation? If not, now you might!

A significant portion of drug discoveries, many of which we rely on today, were inspired by natural cures.  For example, more than half of drugs that were approved between 1981 and 2010 were the outcome of natural or botanical leads. It almost seems a bit cheeky how on the one hand, the medical establishment is willing to entertain alternative claims in the spirit of scientific inquiry but on the other hand, quick to denounce them as pseudoscience, quackery or spiritual woo woo.

Nevertheless western medicine is highly cautious and prides itself on rigorous evaluation. This works well for the study of pharmaceuticals, yet drugs and their herbal cousins are just one type of healing “tool;” one branch of the wellness tree. Drugs are the expression of one scientific tangent. But what about other health sciences? Why do they get less attention? .. and what tangents or “leads” might we have left behind in the shadows of history?

Unfortunately our enthusiasm and reverence for drugs has somehow permeated much of what we consider standard day-to-day healthcare. We use drugs for almost everything that ails us, and there’s rarely a time where they’re not part of a typical treatment plan. This seems normal to us but imagine if we only used the tools of astronomy to study the ocean. That would seem illogical and bizarre yet somehow when it comes to medicine we’ve got this one tool that seems to be running the show.

But isn’t there more to health than the application of drugs?


The World Health Organisation defines heath as “a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” True health involves a complex synergy of many contributing factors: from lifestyle to location, from diet to exercise, from genes to their epigenetic expression. This unfortunately proves far more difficult to study clinically, although there are many people dedicated to doing their heads in with this epic task.

Most doctors know that there’s more to health than drugs yet scripts for pharmaceuticals continues to be their modus operandi. That’s the way doctors roll and I wish them no disrespect because drugs are their area of expertise. However, its frustrating as a patient when the recommendation of anything other than drugs seems to be a rarity.

Perhaps there is the odd occasion where a physiotherapist might be recommended for a sports injury or a counsellor for grief but more often than not the doctors I’ve seen simply prescribe pills. End of story. Yet culturally we have this idea of them as being all round health advisers.

As such many of us feel at a loss after visiting a conventional doctor. We find the tablets give us unwanted side effects, or they don’t adequately resolve an issue. Some people have mysterious illnesses like CFS that medicine doesn’t fully understand yet whilst others feel deflated by the lack of time allocated to discuss their health problems. Patients are churned in and out of clinics like battery hens on a production line and there’s a general sense that something ain’t right. Many turn to alternative approaches out of sheer desperation.

That’s why alternative medicine is hugely popular. In the United States, approximately 38 percent of adults (about 4 in 10) use some type of complementary or alternative medicine. Even shamanism and witchcraft has experienced a revival with increasing numbers of people flocking to traditional ceremonies such as popular ayahuasca journeys in Peru. People are going as far as converting to neo-paganism reflected in data like the 2011 UK census where paganism was listed as the 6th most popular religion after Judaism. People are dabbling in the dark arts but maybe it’s because they offer a new light.

What if these alternative health trends were to provide the next set of clues or “leads” in the evolution of medicine? What if magic and medicine were to merge once again? This may not be as delirious as it sounds. In many ways medicine already has a magical element.

Medicine has well established the healing power of suggestion though the observance of the placebo effect; the phenomenon whereby a patient heals after taking a fake pill which they believe to be real. Clinical trials are forever on a race to beat the placebo control but often draw even. We know our thoughts impact our physiology and that positive expectation tends to improve recovery outcomes. We know that burning ceremonial sage actually does “cleanse” the air via its anti bacterial properties and that prayer and meditation can significantly reduce stress. We know that on a quantum level matter is energy that actually responds to our mere observation.  This is all based on legitimate science.

So what’s next? Could the power of intention be the next greatest medical tangent? Could it be that witch doctors were on the right track all along?

I believe conventional medicine might do us all a service by reclaiming it’s pharmakeuein roots, respecting it’s botanical history and honouring alternative trends with a sense of reverence and curiosity. Otherwise where will it get it’s future inspiration from?


























55 assholes: your best teachers

What if your best teachers were 55 assholes? In this comical video below the late self-help author, Stuart Wilde expresses his gratitude for assholes and what they have taught him.

“Isn’t it fantastic that free of charge I’m surrounded by 55 assholes, they are going to teach me a lot about myself.”

At some time or other we all have to deal with assaholic personalities; from garden variety jerks to full blown sociopaths there are plenty out there to keep us on our toes. Whilst it’s normal to feel upset by an asshole sometimes the best thing you can do is step back and gain some perspective. What helps me is to just see it for what it is; to call it out, even if that be just in my head.

This person is behaving like an ass. It might have nothing to do with me. They might be very skilled insensitives, highly adapted pricks, super cunning douche bags. They might be addicted to control, power or subtle manipulation. I don’t have to take that crap on. Neither do you. Easier said than done I know.. but maybe this video might help.

..And lets make a pledge to not be assholes ourselves today.

Why allowance can work better than acceptance


Dear brain, grant me the serenity to temporarily ALLOW the things I can’t change … because I wouldn’t want to ACCEPT them, since acceptance might be a self-limiting concept that blocks the potential for those very things to actually become changeable in the future.

Eh.. what the? If things aren’t changeable then how do they change? And why have I butchered and de-spiritualised, the serenity prayer?

Let me explain!

We all know there are some things that at this very moment in time, we might need to accept. Say it’s a cold and gloomy winters day and all you can do is rug up and deal with it. You might prefer the sunshine but for now you just accept that it’s winter.

But what if accepting things keeps them habitually locked in place?

Take for example my friend Lucy who always hated winter. Year after year she would complain about winters (which she said exasperated her depression), and found it hard to just “accept it.” So instead, she allowed it, for a time, until she had the resources to literally move to the desert! Sounds extreme, but now she owns a house that roasts in the heat all year round and says she couldn’t be happier.

I’m not saying we should all consider moving to desert just because we might not like winter, but for Lucy a sense of acceptance might have held her back from this adventurous choice and novel solution to her winter blues!

So why use the word “allow”? Doesn’t this word mean essentially they same thing as accept?

I think there’s a subtle but important difference. Accept has a certain futility attached to it; a sense of permanence. I accept this thing which is likely to hang around for good. Allowance on the other hand has a more temporary feel. I allow myself this chocolate indulgence but as of tomorrow I’m going to reduce sugar. To me allowance isn’t a prediction.. you’re not imprisoned by its fate.

There is a popular therapy used by many psychologists called Acceptance and Commitment Therapy or ACT for short. It can be very helpful for people experiencing mental health challenges and I love how it incorporates mindfulness. On the other hand I’ve noticed many people using ACT as an excuse to not actually push the boundaries of possibility. To get lazy and to devalue desire.

Mindfulness stems from Buddhist philosophy which sees desire as the root of all suffering. But I personally believe desires are the root of motivation and meaning. Of course sometimes they are destructive or we get addicted to certain insatiable thrills but generally speaking I believe a joyful existence is a dynamic dance between desire, action and allowance.

So how about Allowance Commitment Therapy? .. or should I just allow the the word accept? Perhaps I should accept the word “God” in the serenity prayer rather than replacing it with “brain” to keep the atheists happy. My wisdom says brain/God… what’s the difference… the brain is such as mysterious and commanding beast it may as well be worshiped.






The problem with emotional bypassing

spiritual advice

Recently I came across the term “spiritual bypassing,” which is a tendency to bypass negative feelings or life problems by focusing on only positive and uplifting spiritual ideas. For example a person with cancer might focus on getting better, faith healing, going to church and praying with friends rather than contemplating or responding to their illness. The problem with this of course is that they may miss real and practical ways to deal with their problems or else suppress their fears which may resurface in future with greater intensity.

Spirituality aside I think this concept can apply to emotions generally (even for atheists) and for the sake of this post I’ll call this “emotional bypassing”. This is a tendency to bypass negative feelings in attempt to feel better, more positive and rational about life. It’s the habit of “thinking your way out of feeling bad”, to a a degree which might be counter productive.

Everyone thinks their way out of feeling bad at some stage or other. This is a fairly normal response to unwanted experiences. You’ve heard it before, your friend says his job is dull and boring but “it pays the bills and puts food on the table.” However it can be problematic when it is overly relied upon at the expense of just feeling what you feel.

Emotions are there for a reason. They are a guidance system, a message, a signal to reflect or do something differently. Maybe it’s time your mate looked for a new position or is in need of a holiday. Maybe he needs to explore dullness and boredom through mindfulness and learn to accept those feeling as part of the diverse contrast of their day to day lives.

Something I’ve found with myself is that thinking my way out of feeling bad can be superficial and fail to address core beliefs. These core beliefs can be subconscious or hidden and sometimes those beliefs just want the opportunity to be heard and validated before anything can be done about them. I also find emotional bypassing a good excuse to avoid taking action towards my goals. In other words if you ignore your emotions you can remain stuck.

We live in a culture that values a positive attitude. I often see this reflected in employment adds, “looking for positive vibrant sales person with a can-do attitude.”  We make an assumption that being positive is actually a superior way to be. Yet allowing our fears, being careful, cautious and at times negative are some of the qualities that have made civilisations thrive. Take for example farmers preparing for the worst case scenario of a crop failure. Storing up reserves and salting foods for long term preservation. We can see many examples of ancient civilizations who carked it because they got to cocky.

Having said that being cocky has it’s place. The saying fake it till you make it exists for a reason. But it’s all about balance and finding the right middle ground for you.

Also you don’t have to be anything. You can be a chronically miserable person if you want to be. There’s comedian called Doug Stanhope who has some hilarious comedy skits built on his self professed depressive state. “I’m Doug Stanhope, and that’s why I drink” he says, whilst holding a beer and smoking on stage.

There’s no right way to be. It’s just the diversity of life and what you aspire to that matters. Allowance and authenticity are powerful forces for change. It’s ironic how they work.

I would challenge employers to consider different ads. “Looking for an anxious hyper vigilant person to write occupational health and safety policy. Must have the ability to notice potential hazards that could result in workplace accidents.”


Why alternative medicine needs a new name

Alternative, integrative, complementary, holistic and functional medicine. These are just some of terms used to describe new, emerging, understudied, unappreciated or at times dubious therapies which haven’t yet made it into mainstream medical practice. But none of these terms, in my opinion, truly reflect the their potential to become the new “conventional”.

Alternative reeks of rebellion and the fixed position of rejecting convention. Complementary suggests tools that merely assist rather than replace existing protolcols. Integrative and holistic hint at the same conclusion. Functional points to the dysfunction of the mainstream medical model; it risks aggravating the advocates of a tried and tested approach.

So what else is possible? What’s another word that could be used to describe a type of medicine that’s non-conventional but shows great promise? That doesn’t offend the existing experts but lends itself to exploring the cutting edge of discovery? That doesn’t fuel a division between ideologies but rather acts as a powerful catalyst for change? I have an idea but before I get to it lets look at alternative medicine and why it often gets rejected or dismissed.

There are a myriad of reasons why a particular modality, therapy or product might be debunked or ignored by the mainstream. Sometimes these reasons are valid; take for example “caffeine infused underwear for weight loss”.. a product that seems incredibly bogus from the word go. So it won’t come as a surprise if I tell you that it was found to be a complete scam.


Wacoal fined $1.3 million for making false weight loss claims about their “caffeine infused” underwear.

Health scams induce a sense of skepticism in us all. No one wants to waist their time on a product or service that is expensive and doesn’t work. It can be heart breaking or even life threatening for people to get sucked into false claims. That’s why mainstream medicine values its clinical trials and evidence based process because they strive for proof that a particular treatment works.

However, a lack of clinical evidence doesn’t mean a particular treatment or product lacks promise. Bogus scams aside, there is a sea of valuable knowledge in the alternative medicine world and many products or therapies do demonstrate excellent potential.

Much of alternative medicine is really just understudied medicine; systems and modalities that haven’t gone through enough rigorous testing to be accepted into conventional practice. Sometimes this is due to lack of funding or lack of interest in a particular system. Other times there isn’t enough financial incentive to have a particular practice investigated. There can also be issues with the type of evaluation used; some argue that clinical models for pharma drugs are not appropriate to examine other protocols that work in a more complex and synergistic manner.

Despite these barriers it is not uncommon for an alternative idea to feed into conventional practice. In fact natural products have been the most successful source of potential drug leads in all of western medicine’s history. Take for example the anti-malerial drug quinine approved by the United States FDA in 2004, isolated from the bark of Cinchona succirubra.. which had been used for centuries for the treatment of malaria. There are endless examples like this where folk medicines were studied and became catalysts for scientific breakthroughs.

Nevertheless, there tends to be a dismissive attitude from both conventional and alternative practitioners towards each other. Conventional doctors can be incredibly skeptical, closed minded and quick to dismiss the alternative as pseudoscience, quakery, fraud or spiritual woo woo. If it hasn’t been studied, replicated, peer reviewed, published and widely agreed on then it either doesn’t work or is far to risky to recommend, they might say.

Conversely alternative practitioners are highly suspicious, sometimes outright paranoid about conventional medicine, emphasising the terrible risks of side effects, critical of a perceived failure to look at the root cause of illness, and guard their modalities from a potentially corrupt profit driven force . .. and it’s probably true to say that the thirst for profits has corrupted health care, but as we have seen above with our caffeine undies, it happens in all arenas.

I once asked a gastroenterologist if he would collaborate with a gut health nutritionist to help me resolve chronic gut pain I was experiencing. Both refused to communicate with each other. The gastroenterologist said “nutrition is not my area, plus a lot of those people are just out to get your money”.. the nutritionist said “a gastroentrologist can’t solve this, they just prescribe drugs that mask the symptoms.” It was greatly disappointing to hear the brutal dismissal of each others area of expertise. I wondered why they couldn’t simply communicate and collaborate?

This incident reflects how medicine has become specialised and segmented, sometime at the expense of the patient’s health. What would it take for this to change? For better dialogues between specialisations to become more widely adopted. For the alternative and mainstream to communicate better rather than fuelling a sense division? Surely there’s merit in the meeting of both worlds?

Thats why I think alternative medicine should be renamed emerging medicine. No longer stuck in some obscure corner out of sight and out of mind.. emerging medicine has got somewhere to go. It’s counting itself into the future. It’s not dismissing itself but it’s not dismissing the establishment either. It’s open to evaluation, it’s evolving and alive. It knows it could be the next big thing.  It welcomes scientific inquiry as well as keeping the skeptics on their toes. Most importantly it fosters dialogs between the new and old and and a sense of mutual admiration and respect.

Perhaps you can think of a better word to conceptualise this health revolution? Perhaps a word is just a word and not that important at all. I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.





I’m back and the blog title is the same (for now)

Hello lovely people. I’m back in wordpress land and I have kept the blog title the same (for now). Last month I went through a blogging slump where I felt a bit frustrated with the topic of mental health and I thought about morphing this site into something different. But in reality I think I just needed a break to do some personal contemplation, reading, walking, mediation and refocusing. Over the last few weeks I’ve spent less time on the internet and more time reading real books. There’s something refreshing about good old print… but I’m back now surfing the interwebs with renewed interest.

The frustration I felt in relation to the mental health arena will probably come up again no doubt. It extends to my frustration with the entire medical model, which I believe has been corrupted by a profit driven pharmaceutical industry, that ironically doesn’t always have people’s health as it’s top priority. Okay so maybe I sound like a conspiracy theorist or scientology driven anti-psychiatry campaigner but I promise you I’m neither.  No, I don’t belong to any obscure religious groups and there’s no cult agenda behind this blog.

What drives this blog is a quest for truth in the spirit of activism; to explore the inconvenient facts that your physician might not have told you such as:

  • There is a serious lack of research on the long-term outcomes of people taking psychiatric drugs. The few available studies suggest that all the major classes of psychiatric drugs add little additional long-term benefit, and for some patients they may lead to significantly worse long-term outcomes. EEEK!!!
  • The concept of a chemical imbalance in the brain is a theory not scientific fact… it’s never actually been proven… double EEK!!

The quest for mental health is broad, epic, complex and controversial. Brains live in bodies and bodies inhabit the planet. Environmental scientists tell us our planet is sick, and our behaviour unsustainable. It’s not surprising then that much of this is reflected in our individual pathology. But conventional practice keeps selling the dream of a simplistic problem (broken brains) and magic pill solution. And I keep bumping up against people who have this view… and sometimes I get OVER IT!!

But I’m going to keep my chin up and keep asking questions because that’s me. I’m a curious soul with a sensitive BS meter. So what else is possible? How do we go beyond the corporate slogans and cultivate real, authentic, genuine and lasting mental health? How do we thrive in an insane world?

Anxiety is excitement with no place to go

anxiety is excitment

The late Psychologist Fritz Perls, founder of Gestalt therapy, often said “anxiety is excitement with no place to go”. Whilst I don’t believe this quote explains anxiety in its entirety I do believe it points to a type of anxiety that is the result of suppressed or misidentified excitement. I can certainly relate to the feeling of not knowing how to realise my excitement for certain goals and projects and therefore feeling a sense of pent up frustration, which at times can bubble up into an intensity.

I know for myself I need to take action on what excites me. This is key.  Lately I haven’t been doing this nearly enough! I have my reasons, health issues have arisen or life gets in the way but I believe it’s important to keep coming back to what is exciting and either FIND A PLACE TO GO with it, make a plan, or map out a path that’s going to get you there. Easier said than done but still important to remember when navigating through those difficult times.

When I was in my 20s I explored the idea of becoming a Dance Movement Therapist which is a type of body-centred psychotherapy that often incorporates Gestalt type ideas. I did some volunteering for a dance therapy association and took some classes which I really enjoyed. I wasn’t much of a dancer in the traditional sense but enjoyed the creative and improvisational process. I remember in one of the group workshops the facilitator kept singling me out to say “you are a real sensation seeker” … “look people she’s a real sensation seeker.”

At the time I didn’t know what she was on about but later I read that “sensation seeking” from a psych point of view is “the tendency to pursue sensory pleasure and excitement. It’s the trait of people who go after novelty, complexity, and intense sensations… and who are often “easily bored without high levels of stimulation” (Psychology today). Right on the money teach but I have no idea how she could have known this about me based on my movements dancing around like a freestyle idiot. LOL.

I went off the idea of becoming a dance movement therapist because I decided to pursue the music path instead. This is where I felt I had I had more skills/ ability but dance therapy has always been one of those careers that I’ve thought is very much underutilised and under the radar. It’s often an excellent choice for people who find talking therapies limited in their effectiveness. It’s used a lot with dementia patients, people with eating disorders and in drug and alcohol recovery. Perhaps it’s also ideal for real “sensation seekers.”

Sometimes you can talk about “anxiety” until the cows come home but really what you might require is to move, find direction or take action… to let your body talk and to remember your excitements. Below is a wonderful clip from a dance therapist on the topic where she explores the idea of anxiety as excitement in relation to her work with a client. It’s a wonderful clip and I hope you enjoy it!