Vol. 38, No. 18
West meets East at Center for Integrative Medicine
Art therapist Laura Kunze wants people to know something about what goes on at Ohio State's Center for Integrative Medicine. "It's not woo-woo," she said. "And you can quote me on that."
Well, that's a relief. So the fact that there are trained practitioners at the center doing acupuncture and acupressure - and exotic-sounding techniques like Ayurveda (traditional Indian medicine), shiatsu (Japanese bodywork) and Reiki (Japanese energy medicine) - should not be cause for eyebrows going up across campus?
"Everything we do here is evidence based and rigorously tested," asserted Kunze, center coordinator and a licensed chemical dependency counselor. "There are lots of misconceptions about integrative medicine. It's traditional Western medicine and alternative medicine brought together, so that the best practices of both can help put patients in charge of their own healing."
The center, located at 2000 Kenny Road, just celebrated a year of operation in March. Designed to look less like a doctor's office and more like a comfortable living room, it boasts three family medicine physicians, two chiropractors, three massage therapists, three yoga instructors, an art therapist, a psychologist and a dietitian. Ayurvedic practitioner Hari Sharma comes in one day a week to treat patients, while David Wang puts in 20 hours doing acupuncture and other traditional Chinese medicine.
Patients come to the center through referral by other physicians or on a drop-in basis, and many are surprised to find that some alternative therapies are covered by insurance. "OSU health plans have been very willing to look at the research and to offer plan members these options, because the understanding is that this type of care can reduce insurance costs and improve patient quality of life," Kunze said. "They're one of the first plans to really get on board with integrative medicine."
In addition to medical services, the center holds periodic community education classes, many of which are free. There is an open studio art therapy class once a month (see sidebar on art therapy), yoga sessions for sufferers of multiple sclerosis, nutrition classes and informational sessions about integrative medicine itself. One 10-week series explores traditional Chinese medicine in depth.
Of the center's many services, acupuncture has proven to be very popular. People with an aversion to needles, however, can try alternative forms of acupuncture, or acupressure, said Kunze. There's laser acupuncture, which uses heat to stimulate the system of acupuncture points as a way of releasing trapped energy. Magnets can be used to the same effect.
"We've had people come in with fibromyalgia and chronic conditions who've tried everything else and for whatever reason, this can really work for them," Kunze said. "Acupuncture has been around for thousands of years and in China they use it for more than 300 conditions. Here, federal research is starting to catch up - they've found it effective, for instance, with osteoarthritis of the knee."
Another effective technique used at the center is the deep muscle treatment offered by Robin Hunter, a sports chiropractor. Hunter does a lot of work with athletes, from men's and women's basketball players to cross country runners to the varsity football team. "When people think of chiropractic work, they think typically of spines. But with athletes, you get just about everything else: hips, pulled hamstrings, shin splints." Hunter said. "With the football guys, it could be anything. I'd never seen people get so beat up in my life! One guy told me that every hit they took was like a car wreck at 30 miles per hour."
Hunter works hard, and it's not uncommon to see both doctor and patient emerge from a chiropractic session sweating and gulping water. But the wiry chiropractor loves the work; and, even more, she loves being part of something new.
"We've only been here a year, and to see what it was then and what it's already become - and what it's going to be - is just extraordinary," she said. "When I first got here, I didn't know what Reiki was. I'm still learning and trying to understand what holistic medicine is all about."
Kunze, a Reiki master, offered this explanation: "Reiki is like a mother's touch. It's a person laying their hands on or over your body to feel where the energy is blocked, and then working to balance that energy."
The word "energy" may sound a lot like the "woo-woo" she mentioned initially, but to skeptics she points out how all of us can feel, just by walking into a room, when we've interrupted a fight. And here again, research backs up the practice: Recent studies of therapeutic touch show positive outcomes in conditions like wound healing and migraines. While anecdotal, the studies seem to lend credence to the idea of subtle biological energy.
Ultimately, the center's goal is not to turn doubters into devotees, but to encourage and promote health at all levels. Sometimes that entails encouraging a patient to pursue traditional medicine and drug therapies instead of - or in addition to - alternative treatments.
"Holistic medicine treats the whole person - mind, body and spirit," Kunze explained. "We offer patients safe, effective options they wouldn't otherwise know about. What we really want is for them to get and stay well."
I had to admit I was curious myself. So when Laura Kunze, certified art therapist at the Center for Integrative Medicine, offered to give me a free session, I took her up on it.
We met in a spacious room with mint julep walls and a conference table covered with art supplies. Kunze gave me a large rectangle of white paper and smiled encouragingly. "What's your impression of something you'd like to learn about yourself?" she asked. "What's something you're struggling with?"
"I can't draw," I told her.
"Everybody says that," she responded. "But here, the process is just as important as the product."
So we took out oil pastels - purple and blue for me, orange and pink for her - and began to fill our papers with color and shapes that held meaning only for us. As we worked, Kunze explained her theory of art therapy to me.
"It's a way for people to discover hidden parts of themselves, to reconnect with things they've forgotten or connect to something they've never known about themselves. Art is a way of manifesting the things you want in your life and building a roadmap toward achieving them," she said as something pale and whirling took shape on her paper.
As an example, Kunze said she often asks people who are struggling with chemical dependency to draw a picture of what their lives might look like in five years - when they are clean and sober. Not only does the exercise enlist the patients' creativity, but it also gets them to imagine a world in which the possibility exists for them actually to be sober. "Then you can work backwards," Kunze said. "You can ask them to imagine how it would be three years from now, and how it would be different from the way it is now. You help them write the last chapter in their book and they fill in where they're going."
Through the center, Kunze offers individual art therapy sessions and holds a monthly open studio art therapy class available to the public. The goal of the classes, she said, is to get the word out that this service is available.
"The kind of work I do with patients is really about empowering them to be their own healers," Kunze said. "People have an innate ability to heal themselves, and I think they need to be made more aware of it."
She looked at my completed image. "It's purple," I offered. "I like purple."
"It's also a bit like a tornado," she said. "Or a broken heart."
And with that, our time was up.