Tea with an ND July 2016 – Featuring: Dr. Chris Pickrell, ND
Teas consumed: Three mint for Dr. P and a green tea for me
The interview was not audio recorded, but rather I typed as we spoke, so the below is not verbatim but rather summaries of what we discussed.
During my third year at CCNM I had the pleasure of taking botanical medicine and asian medicine classes taught by Dr. Pickrell, ND, or Chris has he more commonly goes by, at CCNM. He was one of those teachers who leaves you feeling empowered, inspired and full of great knowledge. He’s also funny, kind, professional yet down to earth and an all around great human being. I think I can speak for my entire class when I say that we all looked forward to learning at his lectures. He taught information in a way that was so relatable, which makes it so much easier to remember! Chris graduated from CCNM in 2008. In addition to teaching at CCNM he also works at the Herbal Clinic and Dispensary in Roncesvalles, Toronto, and co-owns a wholesale herbal dispensary called Perfect Herbs. In his private practice he is part of a community acupuncture clinic, which uses a pay-what-you-can model. For his one-on-one appointments he offers a sliding scale and is committed to accessible, affordable and quality naturopathic medicine. He is someone I greatly admire and I am so excited to share our interview with you today!
Me: Let’s begin with a common but important question: why did you choose naturopathic medicine?
CP: My feelings as to why I wanted work in naturopathic medicine were summarized in a banner that I saw many years ago at CCNM: I wanted to be part of the solution. For me personally, I felt that this profession was the best place that I could contribute my skills towards helping people. I had at one time considered pursuing conventional medicine, but naturopathic medicine just felt like a better fit for me.
Me: Tell me about your background….I know you have done many different things thus far in your life and career. I think people really value seeing an ND who is well-rounded, can you share some of your history?
CP: I grew up in New Brunswick and after high school moved to Calgary, Alberta to train as a short track speed skater. I then did my undergraduate degree there in Human Physiology at the University of Calgary. At that time I knew I wanted to get into the health care in some way, I just hadn’t figured out exactly how yet. I spent some time teaching pre-school in Calgary before moving to Korea for a year where I taught English. After Korea, I lived in Botswana, Africa for 8 months where I worked on community development for HIV/AIDS through sport.
The sister of a friend of mine was seeing a CCNM intern, which is how I found out about Naturopathic Medicine. I decided that this was the path for me, so after working in Botswana I spent some time in Ottawa and then made my way to Toronto to study at CCNM.
During my time at CCNM, I spent a month doing an internship in Hanoi, Vietnam at the WHO Hospital of Traditional Medicine. Upon graduating at CCNM, I was accepted into the two-year residency there, where I got to take on a number of roles, including being a supervisor for a year at Sherbourne Health Centre. During those two years I also studied Herbalism on evenings and weekends and became a Certified Herbalist.
After my residency I chose a date where I gathered all of my friends together for a party at midnight and gave away almost all my earthly possessions and decided to spend a year focusing on meditation and really getting to know myself deeply. I spent three months at a Vipassana retreat in Massachusetts, two months at the Gampo Abbey in Cape Breton Nova Scotia (which he spent with Pema Chödrön!!), one month at a Vipassana in California, a solo retreat at a cabin in British Columbia, and then slowly made my way back east while visiting friends along the way. During that year I also spent a month at an Ashram where I studied yoga and became a yoga instructor. For that year I really set everything in my life down and then chose to pick it back up once the year was done.
Me: Wow. That is an impressive list.
CP: It was a conscious decision for me to try and do a lot of things. Being young is a precious time in life and I wanted to experience a lot in my youth.
Me: What is your philosophy, as it relates to the healthcare you provide?
CP: In my practice and as a teacher my aim is to create an environment of supported independence. I do what is required, no more, and no less, in order to help someone reach their goals. I try to hold space for my patients, and once they gain the skills they are seeking they then become empowered to use those skills for their own health and life management.
Me: Aside from your philosophy, how do you approach patient care? As in, what is your practical approach to getting to know a case and coming up with treatment?
CP: I treat the individual, as a whole person, and look for the root cause of their concerns. These are the tenants of naturopathic medicine, and I practice true to them. I love practicing this way and being an ND because sometimes the cause is something very physical, and it can be treated as such. However, what I find these days is that the majority of the work I do is counseling as often the cause lies in working with someone’s psychology. I treat the cause, wherever it may lie.
Me: Since you started working in 2008, has your approach to patient care changed or evolved?
CP: To be honest, it hasn’t changed that much. When I first started practicing I put a lot of time into really trying to figure out what my approach would be: what made the most sense for me as an individual. I invested a lot of time and energy into the front-end of my career in order to figure out who I was as a practitioner so that I could be authentic, practice with integrity, and shape my career in a way that fit for me. I always maintained that I wanted my underlying approach to be providing affordable and accessible care, and that hasn’t changed. I knew I wanted to treat the root cause, and that also hasn’t changed. My goal was to create a practice model that was sustainable, realistic and practical for my patients in their own life. You could say that I approach each case from a harm reduction perspective…or you could call it health optimization.
Me: What are your preferred modalities?
CP: More than half of my practice is clinical counseling. This actually happened without it being my intention, but I’m really happy with how it all landed. It’s just where I receive the highest number of referrals from my patients. Next would be botanical medicine and traditional Chinese medicine (tied for second). My third most used modality would be physical medicine.
Me: That’s really interesting, have you taken specific courses in counseling, outside of our training at CCNM?
CP: Yes and no. The year I spent doing meditation retreats was also a time when I learned a great deal about Buddhist psychology, which in a lot of ways is a non-secular form of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). I intentionally devoted a lot of my time to time learning these theories of psychology, in my personal meditation practice and through Buddhist teachers and books, which highlight my tenants of practice:
1) you can only work with someone as far as you’ve gotten yourself, and
2) you have to meet people where they are at.
Me: I totally agree and think that’s a really important point. Now on to a somewhat unrelated question, more for the students out there: have you taken any courses that you really enjoyed?
CP: Yes! Most people will probably be surprised to hear this answer. I really enjoyed the recent prescribing course that I took. Additionally, in my fourth year at CCNM I took at Botanical Medicine course with John Redden which I really enjoyed.
Me: Awesome! Okay, for my last question, what do you think makes the naturopathic medicine community special?
CP: I believe as Naturopathic Doctors we truly are specialists in preventative medicine. We really do help people not get sick and stay well. I resonate with that.
There you have it folks. A speed skating, herbalist, meditation guru, yoga instructor, harm reduction, TCM, counseling Naturopathic Doctor. Sounds like a good option for health care to me!
Thank you so much to Dr. Pickrell, ND for taking the time to meet with me and sharing some of your life experiences and knowledge about naturopathic medicine.
Stay tuned for the next Tea with an ND coming in August!