Dillard Offers Unique View of Healing
James N. Dillard, MD, DC, CAc is the only person
in the United States who is a certified acupuncturist, and a chiropractor,
and an MD. This unusual combination of skills has given him a unique
view of the healing process.
Dillard was doing research on the molecular biology of cancer cell lines at
UCLA when a friend gave him an acupressure treatment. "I was amazed," he
recalls. "I experienced significant relaxation and pain relief. I was
startled by the power of this method." He decided to go to California
Acupuncture College and train as an acupuncturist. At the same time, he studied
chiropractic; after three-and-a-half years he was licensed in both modalities. "Once
I began practice, as I heard about the medications my patients were taking,
and the surgeries they'd experienced, I wanted to learn more about those aspects
of care. Why did I go to medical school? You can just say I'm terminally curious." He
got his MD at Rush Medical School in Chicago, and then trained in Internal
Medicine, followed by Rehabilitation Medicine and Pain Medicine.
Today, Dillard relies primarily on his conventional medical training for diagnosis,
since it's so important to rule out life-threatening conditions. "You
always have to be on the lookout for signs of hidden disease others may not
have recognized," he says. Next, he uses a mixture of methods, including
conventional medications, botanicals, acupuncture and Chinese medicine, structural
training from chiropractic, mind/body methods, psychology, body energetics,
and psychosocial factors. "It's a stew," he says. "I use so
many ways of looking at health issues it has literally taken me years to feel
that I'm starting to get a handle on this process. At the same time, we always
have to acknowledge the mystery of the human condition, human illness, and
the power of healing."
It's very difficult to predict which methods will be most effective for a new
patient, he says. "I continue to have abiding respect for other practitioners.
I've learned that no matter how much training I get, I still won't have all
the answers. In order to help my patients, I must continually think outside
my own training, my own ideas and theories about how everything works. Both
alternative practitioners and conventional physicians tend to have certain
pet theories. The longer I practice, the more I see that willingness to think
outside these prejudices can make a huge difference for the patient sitting
in front of me."
Patient As Healer
Because there are so many different treatment methods, and it's so hard to
predict what will work best in any specific situation, patients play a key
role in determining their own treatment, Dillard says. The Nei Jing, The
Yellow Emperor's Canon of Internal Medicine, written in 350 BC, says each
patient must also be their first doctor. "When I talk with a new patient,
I acknowledge their own intuitions about their situation. I ask, 'what do
you think is going to help you?'"
In complex chronic illnesses, treatment is a pragmatic process of trying one
thing and then another, to see what works. Even "far-out" unconventional
treatments may turn out to be effective in certain situations. Dillard recalls
a pain patient "nobody could fix." She'd seen the top conventional
specialists in New York, and had tried acupuncture, massage, mind/body methods
and diet. Nothing helped. "I was talking with her, and I just got a hunch,
a feeling. I sent her to a really good Reiki master, someone who trains other
Reiki masters. And she started to get better! It was just astounding to me,
because after trying so many different modalities, this one was successful."
Each patient with a complex chronic illness needs to put together their own
clinical team. It should include a good MD to ensure that the diagnosis is
correct and no one has missed a serious illness. After that, it's a matter
of giving different methods an open-minded try, and seeing which ones seem
to help. Each time you try a new method, ask how long it usually takes to see
results. Many CAM modalities do take longer than pharmaceuticals to have an
effect, because they impact the whole body, not just one symptom. On the other
hand, you don't want to continue indefinitely with a treatment that doesn't
seem to be working.
"Depending on your circumstances, you may want to seek out a well-trained
herbalist, a mind/body practitioner, a Reiki master, a Chinese medicine practitioner,
an osteopath, a chiropractor, a massage therapist," Dillard says. "Ultimately
the integration is done by the patient. Ultimately, each patient has to trust
their own sense of what works for them."
As Dillard reflects on the special responsibility of helping others to heal,
he says, "So many of us, in both complementary and conventional medicine,
tend to get a bit serious and self-important. But this work requires us to
be quiet and humble, to get ourselves out of the way. Especially if you work
in pain medicine, you have to have some quietness inside yourself. Also, we
need to lighten up, and find the humor in each situation. A good laugh is healing."
Dillard sees patients at Columbia-Presbyterian Eastside in Manhattan (212–326–8501).
For those of us who don't live near New York, he's written a book, The
Chronic Pain Solution: Your Personal Path to Pain Relief (Bantam). This
is a wonderful resource for anyone dealing with health issues, not just for
those experiencing chronic pain. See especially the section called "Take
Control of Your Treatment." One key point, on page 61: set measured, step-by-step
goals for yourself. We can learn to rejoice when our health improves, even
if some problems continue.
Dillard also co-directs an annual Course in Integrative Pain Medicine at Columbia
University Medical Center. This year it included evidence-based discussions
of nutrition, mindfulness-based stress reduction, bioenergetic therapies, acupuncture,
and many other topics. "We cover a lot of technical material, but we try
to keep the presentations lively," Dillard says. The course is open to
all healthcare providers, including acupuncturists, chiropractors, psychologists,
physicians and nurse practitioners. For more information about the course,
which is offered in April each year, go to http://cpmcnet.columbia.edu/dept/cme/PH-34–04/PH34–04.html
To find out about next year's course, call 212–305–3334 or e-mail email@example.com
It may also be possible for consumers with a special interest in pain management
to attend this course; for more information, email Dillard directly at: <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Elaine Zablocki is the editor of CHRF
News Files, a bimonthly emailed newsletter about the emerging
integrative medicine industry, published by the Collaboration for
Healthcare Renewal Foundation.