Healing the Natural Way
July 3, 2008 · Updated 5:09 PM
"Call it alternative, holistic, natural, Eastern or complementary medicine. Call it metaphysical or mind-body healing.Whatever you call it, the business of providing new methods of healing - from acupuncture to herbal medicine to hypnotherapy - is large, diverse and growing on Whidbey Island.Long established on South Whidbey, practitioners say the business of providing alternative healing is moving northward into Central and North Whidbey.I really believe Whidbey Island is going to be the hub for alternative medicine in western states, said Louise Mueller-Wright, a licensed massage therapist. She started Madrona Massage on her beautiful hobby farm overlooking Penn Cove two years ago. She also provides classroom space for a variety of alternative healers who hold workshops at her Cove Retreat Center.This month, a massage therapist from Edmonds is holding a workshop on Chakra and intuitive energy therapy. Later, Coupeville resident Igene Engell will teach about the Feldenkrais method, which helps people improve their health through movement.Her success, Mueller-Wright said, is due to a growing acceptance of alternative methods of healing by both physicians and the general public. And this acceptance, she said, is due to the fact that the methods work, especially as a complement to traditional medicine.Deborah Houseworth, a licensed acupuncturist, agrees. She runs the Island Center for Complementary Medicine on Highway 20 in Oak Harbor with hypnotherapist Salvadore Barba and massage therapist Trudy Sanders.Houseworth said an important victory for alternative medicine was a 1996 state law that required health insurance providers to cover some types of alternative medicine. Premera Blue Cross, for example, lists acupuncturists, massage therapists, chiropractors and hypnotherapists as preferred providers.Barba, who has a doctorate in psychology, said he employs newer alternative methods in his therapy, including hypnotherapy and focusing. The latter method, he said, is based on teaching people to listen to their bodies in a different way.Even though he's not your traditional therapist, Barba has been widely accepted by the local medical community. He was originally invited to the island by Group Health. Since his methods are effective in treating addiction, he also works with the juvenile court system and the Recovery Center.The growing acceptance of alternative medicine has also affected established businesses on Whidbey. Island Drug in Oak Harbor has added a Wellness Center - with herbs, aromatherapy and homeopathic medicines - to its traditional pharmacy.Terry Zwetsloot, owner of Pioneer Natural Foods in Oak Harbor, said business is good. She said a wide range of people - from seniors looking for the magic bullet to teenagers wanting preventative medicine - come in to shop for herbal supplements, as well as vitamins, organic foods and skin care.She said some doctors are starting to suggest herbs to their patients.Zwetsloot attributes the new popularity of herbal alternatives to scientific research. Every time a study comes out, she said, the information is printed everywhere and people come looking for it.While alternative medicine is a nationwide trend, it's popularity on Whidbey seems to be out-of-the-ordinary. The reason? Greenbank hypnotherapist Jane Klassen said a large number of alternative healers and those looking for different ways of healing are drawn to the island because of its beauty, peace and isolation.It has a growing reputation, she said. There is a tremendous amount of different kinds of healers, body workers and spiritual workers. Some of the businesses are run out of homes, others are in more traditional offices, and some are even mobile. Some of the practitioners have learned their craft through workshops or personal experienced, some are licensed by the state and a few are physicians who believe in alternative medicine.Klassen runs her therapy business out of her home and even works over the phone, but also gives group classes at Whidbey General Hospital. She specializes in working with the chronically ill - people suffering from such things as chronic back pain, attention deficit disorder, chemical sensitivity - using visualization and hypnotherapy.People are becoming more aware of chronic illness and the limitations of traditional medicine, she said. As the awareness grows, she said more and more people will be looking to alternative healers and to places like Whidbey Island."