Dr. Ann Van Couvering of Hamptons Naturopathic.
By Emily J. Weitz
October 7 through the 13, was the first annual Naturopathic Medicine Week. It was voted on unanimously by the Senate to bring awareness to an important method of preventative medicine. Dr. Ann Van Couvering opened her naturopathic practice here in Sag Harbor last October, and is thrilled to see awareness about her profession on the rise.
Dr. Van Couvering had been a massage therapist for 20 years when she decided to go back to school to be a naturopathic doctor. She had seen the ways people manifest their stresses and illnesses in their bodies, and she wanted to expand her offerings as a healer. A traditional western medical school didn’t suit her, as she wanted to draw from other sources of wisdom that she had seen.
“I was a folklore major in college,” she says. “I was interested in folk healing, shamans. And I always liked herbs.”
As a mother, she had employed some of these healing techniques already, and it felt like a natural transition to go to the four year College for Natural Medicine in Oregon.
“It felt like common sense medicine,” she says, but quickly admits, “I didn’t know how intense the schooling would be.”
At school, Dr. Van Couvering studied biochemistry and lab sciences.
“Most of our medications come from herbs,” she says. “I love the way common sense medicine supports the body to heal itself. Conventional medicine is more of an attack mode.”
Dr. Van Couvering approaches healing using the Therapeutic Order. She describes it as a pyramid, where lifestyle changes and nutritional counseling are the largest chunk at the bottom: These are the methods she uses first and most frequently to help her patients heal. From there, she will recommend supplements to the diet. After that, herbs and homeopathy may be employed. Once all those methods have been tried, then a patient may need to turn to pharmaceuticals or even surgery, which is a tiny triangle at the top of the Therapeutic Order.
But she laments that the bottom three slices of the Therapeutic Order are virtually non-existent in conventional medicine. She believes that doctors don’t start with nutrition or lifestyle because they simply don’t have the time. As they move through as many patients as possible to work within a crippling framework dictated by insurance companies, they can’t sit down and spend an hour with a patient.
“I get to spend an hour or more with my patients,” says Dr. Van Couvering. “I get to hear the whole story and put it all together, and I see the connections. Maybe that skin problem is related to the hair loss and the digestive issues.”
While, in the past, the role of the doctor may have been more holistic, now, it tends to focus on treating symptoms.
“Conventional medicine is about ill care, and I’m more about well care,” she says. “It’s not just treating the symptoms but getting to the source.”
Still, Dr. Van Couvering emphasizes that her work is complementary to the work of traditional western doctors. There are things that western doctors do very well, and for those things she would send a patient that way immediately.
“Conventional medicine is great for something acute or life-threatening,” she says. “I wouldn’t go anywhere else. But I like that natural medicine integrates advances is science and traditional wisdom.”
Dr. Van Couvering is not trying to replace those doctors, and under current policies in New York State, she would not be able to. Even though her training would permit her to be a primary care doctor in Oregon, here she’s somewhat limited. For example, she can’t order blood work and she can’t perform physical exams, even though she is trained to do so.
“I’m not interested in competing with MDs,” she says. “I am a supplement. I am never going to take someone off a prescribed medication without the doctor’s permission. I see myself as complementary care.”
What this means is, basically, if someone is being treated for diabetes and is on insulin, Dr. Van Couvering will keep that patient on insulin. But she will also recommend dietary and lifestyle changes that might help to reduce the amount of insulin the patient needs. She might use herbs or homeopathy. And, of course, she will listen.
“People really like when their story is heard,” she says. “It’s healing. A lot of what I do is motivate people to change their lives. Most people need coaching, explanation, listening. I’m not here as an authority, but as a team.”
Dr. Van Couvering practices naturopathic medicine here in Sag Harbor. To learn more about her, check out her web site at hamptonsnaturopathic.com.