Thursday, December 13, 2012


Our local newspaper published a story this week about the Sierra Family Medical Clinic, located in the wilds of San Juan Ridge, fifteen miles outside already-rural Nevada City. The clinic, which has provided cutting-edge care for a quarter-century under the direction of its founder, Dr. Peter Van Houten, recently added an in-house psychotherapist to its services.

Certain lifestyles predictably lead to illness. Examples are poor self-image, addictions, unskilled stress management, and acceptance of toxic relationships. When I practiced standard medicine, I was vexed to find I frequently operated a high-tech turnstile, patching folks up only to return them to the same miseries that corroded them in the first place.

Counselling can interrupt that cycle. Dr. Van Houten reported that when his clinic referred patients to outside therapists, forty percent of them kept their return appointments, but if they saw the clinic’s own therapist that very day, eighty percent returned. Since hardly anyone makes significant lifestyle changes after only a single exposure, this is a major advance.

One wonders why this should be such a revelation. Don’t we all feel that the body and the mind are connected in some way? If so, why shouldn’t a psychotherapist be a natural component of a medical clinic? The way we practice now, we may as well hang a sign over our doorway reading, “We treat only your body; for the way you feel, think, believe, and thus lead your life, shop elsewhere.” Thanks, Dr. Van Houten, for showing the way.

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