The doctor as teacher
By Therese Wood/Montana Health Journal
One of the six principles of Naturopathic medicine is “doctor as teacher.”
Dr. Chip Halverson is the embodiment of this principle. Early in his career, he was a high school history and science teacher. Growing up in Glasgow, Mont., Halverson always wanted to be a teacher and went on to get a teaching degree from Concordia College. After graduation he traveled for one year with the group Up With People before teaching high school for 14 years before he made a decision to pursue a career in medicine.
Halverson admits he was a workaholic during his early teaching years; teaching all day, coaching sports after school, and then returning to his classroom to do paperwork at the end of the day along with the requirements to obtain a masters degree. Little did he know that the classroom he was spending so much time in day after day, for years, was infected with mold and a faulty ventilation system. During his fourth year of teaching, he began suffering from a myriad of symptoms that became debilitating and were a mystery to one doctor after another.
He became sensitive to anything in the environment, and once, while on an overnight trip with his family, his body had such an adverse reaction to the hotel air fragrance that he had to sleep in the car. He lost his voice and had extreme drainage in his throat. Doctors tried treatments of antibiotics and other medications that didn’t help but instead had bad side effects, and eventually a throat surgery led to further complications.
A few years before his illness, while preparing for a trip to Russia with a group of students, he went to a naturopathic physician and became intrigued with this kind of medicine. Halverson went on to invest in eight years of additional education, including a pre-med program and medical school for his second career as a naturopathic physician. “If you optimize the body’s organs of elimination, it will support the body’s natural ability to heal itself,” he said. He specializes in acute and chronic health conditions and uses many naturopathic modalities with an emphasis on a European form of medicine called biotherapeutic drainage, a treatment that detoxifies the organs of elimination by optimizing your body’s physiology.
These organs include the kidney, liver, lungs, digestive tract, skin — and also the emotions. “If a patient is having pain,” says Dr. Halverson, “it means there is inflammation, and the body is not getting rid of toxins properly, usually the organs of elimination have been neglected,” he said. “That often leads to medical interventions that further congest the extra-cellular matrix at the cellular level which in turn often leads to further suppression of the illness and other health consequences.” The naturopathic approach is to start treating a person before the disease or illness gets worse. Using tests like blood labs and heart rate variability, a patient’s profile reveals where their body is stressed, and what therapies can detoxify and stabilize their systems.
“The goal of naturopathic medicine is not to be palliative,” Halverson said. “It is to get to the root of the problem. We don’t want to force physiology too fast. “A gentle approach is more appropriate for those with chronic problems otherwise our bodies will speak to us in uncomfortable ways if we force physiology.” He looks at balancing diet with the temperament of the patient. “Each person’s best diet is individual,” he said. “Our medicine is very personalized. Naturopaths are specialists in chronic illness. We have so many things in our toolbox to offer patients based on our training, though much of the credit we get is really a reflection of what patients do to overcome health obstacles.
“I often tell patients its not what I’m going to do but what you are going to do that makes the difference on your journey to wellness.” Halverson maintains a part-time practice in Polson, and travels from his main practice in Portland, Oregon, about every six weeks to see patients. He has recently opened availability to see local and traveling patients at a clinic in Kalispell.
As the president of the Healthy Schools Network in New York, Halverson volunteers on causes like changing laws promoting healthy indoor environmental quality in schools, including how pesticides and chemical applications can be used and applied in schools. The Healthy Schools Network has won awards for its work in improving the safety of indoor school environments, including the Green Seal Outstanding Partner award in 2014.
“It is a big issue, being addressed at high levels of government,” Halverson says. “There is still a lot of work to be done and I really enjoy giving back in this way.”
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Dr. Halverson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and the healthy schools network is at healthyschools.org