My Career in Natural Health – and Why You Want One

(as published in the Spring Issue of Health Action Magazine)

“You saved my life”

“I don’t know what we would have done without you”

“He’s like a totally different kid – he’s happy, doing well in school and not sick all the time”

These are the kinds of comments that we hear in our office on a regular basis; we get them in cards, emails and teary phone messages. There is something really amazing about being in a career where you get to observe people changing over time; where you can see them dealing with physical and emotional challenges and watch them blossom into their full potential.

Over the last 13 years I have worked in many different aspects of the natural health world. I’ve worked in and managed health food stores, prepared food in a healthy deli, written articles for newspapers and magazines, done one-on-one consultations and sessions, trekked through the rainforest with shaman, poured samples at health shows, taught classes and presented in front of large groups. Now, I am the owner of a natural health and wellness centre where myself and four other practitioners see clients, recommend products and teach classes. The three-and-a-half years that Happily Holistic has been open have been some of the hardest of my life and I wouldn’t trade them for anything.

Canada is still behind the times in some ways when it comes to how the natural health industry is perceived. While it has definitely improved in the past decade, I still meet with glassy-eyed stares on occasion when people ask what I do for a living and when I use the word ‘herb’ one in every crowd will ask, “do you mean pot?” As an instructor for various specialized kinesiology classes I am constantly trying to reinforce the fact that this kind of therapy is scientifically proven, reproducible and teachable and thus lend some credibility to the field. Europe, Asia and Australia are much more accepting of the natural health field and the concept of integrative medicine. Hopefully, this is where Canada is going in the future.

Despite this tendency to be a bit behind the times, in Canada as well as the world as a whole, the natural health industry is booming. According to Global Industry Analysts, the worldwide alternative medicine sector is expected to reach close to $115 billion by 2015. Their market report states that: “Over the past ten-year period, the market has recorded strong growth, relatively unaffected by the economic recession. Other elements that have had a positive impact on the market include a trend toward using herbs to prevent and treat illness, greater acceptance of functional foods, the FDA’s Current Good Manufacturing Practices publication concerning dietary supplements, and supplier innovation.” Insurance companies are increasingly covering alternative or complementary sessions, noting that people who take advantage of these tend to use less medications and doctor visits overall. According to Statistics Canada, Canada’s functional food and natural health products industry is a leading contributor to global innovation and growth. Canada has more than 680 functional food and natural health product companies with revenues of $3.7 billion. In 2010, 71% of Canadian adults reported that they have used a natural health product, while 38% reported that they use at least one product on a daily basis (Source: Ipsos Reid, Baseline Natural Health Products Survey among Consumers).

In a field that is steadily growing, most of the challenges are personal. Working with people can be stressful in any profession, but working with people who are unwell has its own challenges. It can be emotionally draining to guide people through their sicknesses and stress, especially when releasing these involves a lot of tears or anger on their part. And occasionally you have to watch in frustration as someone does not improve or respond to treatment. It is easy when this happens, to give in to feelings of inadequacy or guilt. It’s important to remember that it is the client’s body that does the work, not the practitioner. We do not cure or heal anyone, rather we help remove stress that is holding the body back from healing itself.

No day of working with clients is ever boring. People will constantly challenge you. Your heart will swell as they improve and falter when they do. You will see people grow and change. It is demanding, rewarding and the best way I could ever imagine living my life.