Learn about complementary medicine from alumni practitioners.

Whether it’s our growing dissatisfaction with the U.S. health care system, our increased openness to non-Western practices, or a little bit of both, one thing is true: More and more Americans are looking beyond conventional Western medicine to heal what ails us. According to the National Institutes of Health, it’s estimated that more than one-third of adults in this country use some form of what’s known as alternative or complementary medicine — think yoga, acupuncture, naturopathy, qigong — and three-quarters say they’ve tried such an approach at least once. 

For a small number of practitioners, the benefits of a particular modality can be so persuasive they decide to make it their life’s work. These five alumni have made such a professional pivot. Having embraced and then mastered a non-mainstream healing practice, they are now deploying their skills and knowledge to treat a wide range of ills, from allergies to anxiety. While they work in different modes, they all have one thing in common: a passion for making people feel better.

Positive Energy

JoAnn Inserra ’82 Duncan, MS, Reiki master teacher

In the 1990s, JoAnn Inserra ’82 Duncan had a busy career as a genetic counselor in a Connecticut hospital. She also had a newborn son with colic, allergies, and asthma. Rather than follow the pediatrician’s recommendation to put the infant on daily steroids, Inserra, who was nursing, sought the help of a naturopath and eliminated certain foods from her diet. Her baby’s symptoms improved within days. 

Inserra heals the seventh crown chakra — the most spiritual of all the chakras — where our divine essence is housed. Photography by Bob Handelman

Inserra’s second son was also born with severe sensitivities and asthma. One day, she invited her Episcopal priest, who was also a Reiki master, to practice on him. Reiki is an energy-based method that brings about deep relaxation. “It didn’t cure his asthma,” she says, “but it stopped the asthma attack in its tracks.” When the priest practiced on Inserra, her own stress level dropped.

Soon Inserra was studying Reiki so she could practice it herself. By 2000 she had reached the third and highest level of certification, that of master teacher, and began treating clients in her home. In 2014 she opened Turning Point Healing Arts & Education Center, where she teaches Reiki and offers different forms of energy healing, treating people going through cancer, back pain, Lyme disease, and even grief. 

She also worked with doctors, nurses, and social workers at Norwalk Hospital to establish a Reiki program there and remains committed to helping Reiki be part of any integrative medicine practice. 

Inserra doesn’t see her work as being antithetical to traditional medical care. To her clients undergoing surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation for cancer, she says, Let’s work together to keep filling you with positive energy while you’re going through treatments. If you don’t get depleted, if I can help you be less fearful and anxious; it will help your body heal.

Photography by Bob Handelman

“I’m a unique Reiki master teacher because I walk the line between Western and Eastern medicine,” says Inserra, who majored in biology at Colgate and went on to earn a master’s in human genetics. “I believe there’s a place for both. We should be working together more because the goal is to help people heal.”

More on this ancient practice with Indian roots and a Japanese name:

“Think of the positive energy that’s out there in the universe. Reiki, which means ‘spiritually guided life force energy,’ is a way to harness it.”

“Reiki primarily works on the chakras, or energy centers. There are seven chakras up the midline of the body. Each one brings energy to different parts of the body and helps with different physical, mental, or emotional issues.”

“If there’s stagnant or blocked energy in the body, the goal of the Reiki session is to release it, to get the energy moving in harmony and balance so that the person receiving Reiki is able to heal their own body, mind, and spirit.”

“The session entails a laying on of hands. There’s no massage. There’s no manipulation. I’m just resting my hands on, or above, the person’s fully clothed body. Most people get very relaxed during the session and feel warmth, tingling, or vibration. I’m in their energy field, so in that hour that they’re on the table, it’s like we’re connected spirit to spirit.”

The Joy of Clean Cooking

Evey Schweig ’82, health coach and anti-inflammatory specialist 

Evey Schweig ’82 always considered herself healthy. She swam, practiced yoga, and worked out. She ate well, too — or so she thought. In her 40s, hip pain landed her on the table of a chiropractor, who told her, “I can adjust you over and over again, but if you don’t change the way you eat, it’s not going to stick.” The practitioner introduced her to the concept of an anti-inflammatory diet. That, Schweig says, was her light-bulb moment. 

Photography by Jorge Garzon

Cutting out her inflammation triggers (gluten and dairy), eschewing processed and sugary foods, and radically upping her fruit and vegetable intake eliminated her hip pain. Not only that, but it “basically slowed down the aging process,” she says: It improved her skin, left her feeling less bloated, and gave her the energy to become active again.

I encourage mindful eating.

Evey Schweig ’82

That energy is palpable. For the past 10 years, the summa cum laude biology major has been eagerly sharing her expertise as a certified holistic health coach in a range of settings, from public speaking to private clients, from her Facebook groups to her blog, from health retreats to the nearly 150 videos on her YouTube channel, Cooking with Evey.

Here Schweig serves up some healthy info:

“Chronic inflammation is at the root of so much illness in the body. Inflammation is the body’s way of healing itself, but if something goes askew, it doesn’t turn off. Chronic inflammation is insidious because it can have such a slow progression that we don’t even realize it’s occurring. By that point, the damage is done. It accelerates the aging process.” 

“Rest and digest, not fight or flight. It’s not just what you eat, it’s how you eat it. I encourage mindful eating. If your body’s not prepared to take in the nutrients, you could be eating the healthiest diet but not getting the full benefit of it. Focus, pay attention, and tell your body, Stop, I don’t need to run. I need to focus on eating right now.

“This year I launched my Joint Pain Protocol. It’s a self-guided, online program geared toward active women suffering from joint pain and fatigue who want to relieve their symptoms naturally, without relying on more medication, and get back to living their best lives. Each member goes through the 12 modules on her own, but the program also features weekly group coaching sessions via Zoom, so members can encourage each other and share their challenges and insights to keep them moving forward. If a hill seems insurmountable, you might not even try to climb it. But when that slope becomes a bunch of small steps, you arrive at the top without even realizing you were taking the journey.”

Food Culture Critic

Liz Brown ’95 Morgan, MA, FNTP, RWP, JD, functional nutritionist and food culture consultant   

For Liz Brown ’95 Morgan, it’s always been about food and the planet. 

Photography by Sean Boggs
Photography by Sean Boggs

As an anthropology major at Colgate, she was fascinated by what ancient cultures ate. As an attorney, she enforced environmental policies for the state of Ohio. As an eco-entrepreneur, she created a green online shopping site.

Along the way, Morgan says, she developed an awareness of just how toxic and overprocessed our mainstream “food culture” is. She also felt called to teach others about good nutrition and health — Earth’s, as well as their own. So she set out to become certified in functional nutrition, learning how systems in the body work, what causes them to go wrong, and how to adjust one’s diet to avoid foods that trigger adverse reactions.

“Functional medicine takes up where mainstream medicine leaves off,” she says. 

Further study in restorative health equipped her to offer testing in blood chemistry, food sensitivity, digestion, autoimmune conditions, and more. 

In the process of helping others, Morgan became her own patient, making changes to her diet and lifestyle. “I used to have bad ankle joints and couldn’t hike. I can go backpacking now,” she says. “I turned 50 last year, and my memory is way better than ever.”

Today Morgan offers a step-by-step, food-based, health-improvement program to private clients through her tele-wellness business, People + Planet Nutrition. She also consults with organizations to help their members become aware of — and say “no” to — America’s noxious food system, and has taught local high school students to recognize the physical symptoms of poor nutrition. As the new executive director of the Buena Vista Chamber of Commerce in Colorado, she hopes to raise “food culture awareness” among her colleagues and local businesses.  

“I don’t think a proper food culture should be one that we have to battle just to eat real food and be healthy,” she says. “I believe in transforming the food culture into one that is delicious, wholesome, and deeply healing for people and planet.”

Here are five things Morgan wants you to think about when you think about food.

1. Learn your body’s language. 

“People don’t know what a well-functioning body feels like. Understand the language your body speaks to you in — the language of symptoms. Figure out what your body’s trying to tell you.”

2. Decadence, not deprivation. 

“People think to be healthy or to save the planet you have to deprive yourself. It’s just the opposite. To be healthy, you have to eat the wonderful, nourishing food that you’re meant to eat and that you’re going to love. Food that actually makes you feel good. That’s decadence.”

3. Structure, not willpower. 

“People think they have to be in battle with their body, with their food. When you build structures into your life — for example, preparing your breakfasts for the week in advance on Sunday night — eating well becomes easy
and fun.”

4. Clean house.

“Upgrade your bath and body products. There are now so many high-tech, natural products that are nontoxic, that aren’t putting poison on your skin. Same goes for home-cleaning products.”

5. Find your food flow.

“My clients have very different health concerns — digestion, hives, blood sugar issues, chronic pain, insomnia. I created Nourish + Flow, a step-by-step program to teach people how their body works, why it’s breaking down, and what they can do about it — from food and lifestyle upgrades to precision clinical support. It’s a framework to help them reset their health.”

Handy Tools

Christine Pan ’96, EdM, DC, chiropractic physician and acupuncturist 

The daughter of a nurse and an OB-GYN, Dr. Christine Pan ’96 assumed she’d head to medical school after Colgate. Instead, to her bachelor’s degree in psychology she added a master of education in school counseling and worked for five years as a middle school counselor. She enjoyed helping the kids, Pan says, “but I always felt there was a piece missing. I wanted to heal physically as well as mentally.” 

Pan knew she had good hands — friends had complimented her on her massages for years — and thought chiropractic medicine might be a good fit. When she enrolled in a doctor of chiropractic program, “that first day of classes, I was like, ‘This is it. This is where I’m supposed to be,’” she recalls. In addition to earning a DC, she became certified in acupuncture and clinical nutrition.

Photography by Dev Photography

Today Pan offers chiropractic, acupuncture, and soft-tissue manipulation in a three-person practice in Chicago that takes a comprehensive, primary-care approach to health. “We’re a one-stop shop treating musculoskeletal conditions through chiropractic and acupuncture,” she says, “but we also use functional medicine — blood testing, nutrition, supplements, and lifestyle.” 

How do chiropractic medicine and acupuncture work?

Our joints are meant to move. The body’s very smart, and when a joint isn’t moving well, there’s another joint that’s compensating. This creates dysfunctional patterns in your muscles, joints, and nerves, which are all tied together. A chiropractic adjustment restores movement to the joint, so the muscle and nerves it’s connected to calm down. It’s like a reset button for the nervous system. 

Acupuncture is based on the balance between the opposing principles of yin and yang, and uses the meridians, which are pathways for qi, or life force. Meridians correspond to different organs. When health is out of balance, needles can help unblock energy in a given meridian so it can flow. 

Both of these approaches are designed
to help the body regain its innate ability to heal itself.

Who’s your clientele?

We treat anyone, from infants to the elderly. I work a lot with children. We also focus on women’s health, including helping them get pregnant, then following them through their pregnancy and the postpartum period. This is where acupuncture is a nice adjunct, because you can use it for joint and muscle pain, stress, and sleep, but also for things like fertility assistance and labor induction. When we assist our patients with getting pregnant, we work hand in hand with their allopathic doctors. They might be getting IVF or doing another procedure, and we can support that through acupuncture. 

How would you describe the vibe of your practice?

We always want people to feel heard, and we want their experience to feel nurturing. So many times I’ve heard people say, “I hate going to the doctor” or “Hospitals creep me out,” whereas my patients say, “I couldn’t wait to come and get my treatment today!” That’s because they come onto our tables and leave feeling better.

We’re all pretty upbeat. When you bring positivity to your patients, that is also a healing factor. 

What’s the coolest thing about your work?

I love that I can heal with my hands. They’re tools that are right at my disposal. Recently my family was hiking in the Smoky Mountains, and my daughter came down wrong on her foot. I worked on it for 15 minutes, and she was off and running. My other daughter was coming down with a sinus infection, so I did acupuncture on her. Her headache went away and she was able to spend the day hiking with us. It’s very empowering to have tools right here that are both effective and conservative.

What’s the most satisfying part of your work?

What always calls to me is releasing myofascial adhesions to get someone out of pain. When a patient who says they’ve been to other doctors lands on my table and I’m able to relieve them of their pain, there’s nothing more satisfying. Of course, if I have to refer out, I do. But between chiropractic, acupuncture, and functional medicine, I don’t think there’s any person I can’t help in some way.

‘Like Cures Like’

Douglas Brown ’79, CCH, FNP, RSHom(NA), homeopath 

Douglas Brown ’79 has been practicing homeopathic medicine in Portland, Ore., for almost a quarter of a century. But he started his health care career in a very different place: as a Yale-trained family nurse practitioner. 

“At first, I was thrilled to be able to help people with the antibiotics and other medications I was authorized to prescribe,” Brown says. After a decade or so, however, he became disillusioned. “I was prescribing medications, which caused side effects, which then required me to add more medications.” He felt especially stymied, he says, in his efforts to free people from chronic disease and chronic suffering. He began to explore other, less traditional healing methods, such as hypnotherapy.

Douglas Brown, a homeopathic physician at his office in Portland, Ore. Photography by Susan Seubert 

Around that time, Brown’s toddler developed a severe ear infection. One week and two different antibiotics later, the boy was no better. A friend encouraged Brown to take him to a homeopath. Skeptical, Brown nevertheless administered the remedy the homeopath prescribed: belladonna, or deadly nightshade, prepared in such a way that any toxic properties of the plant were eliminated. “It was kind of a miracle,” he says. “My son got better overnight.” 

What’s more, he notes, in his 10 years as a nurse, he had treated “hundreds, if not thousands, of kids with ear infections, and when they came back two weeks later, there was always some fluid behind the eardrums.” When Brown examined his son’s ears three days after the symptoms disappeared, they were completely clear. 

Homeopathy is based on the theory that “like cures like” — in other words, a substance that causes symptoms in a healthy person can be used (in highly diluted form) to treat a person whose illness is causing those same symptoms. It is also based on the belief that the body can heal itself: “It supports healing from the inside out,” says Brown.

But what Brown found most compelling about homeopathy was that “it acknowledges that the mind and the body are two aspects of the same experience. Each individual’s experience of their illness has many particularities, which have to do with their social, financial, and relationship difficulties, along with their spiritual approach to their own life.” Before enrolling in homeopathic school, he audited a class in which some case study videos amazed him: Not only were patients’ chief complaints cured, “they felt healed on a whole different level, beyond whatever the chief complaint was. They felt more of themselves. That interested me.”

I’m always treating the whole person.

Douglas Brown ’79

Whatever Brown is called on to treat — fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, asthma, diabetes, obesity, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, attention deficit disorder — he first asks his patients a multitude of questions, not just about their condition but about their experience of it. “I’m always treating the whole person,” he says. 

For this approach, Brown credits some role models at Colgate (all deceased since his four years on the Hill): Coleman Brown, professor of philosophy and religion and University chaplain; John Carter, professor of philosophy and religion and director of Chapel House; and Huntington “Hunt” Terrell ’46, professor of philosophy. 

“These faculty opened my eyes to the depth of integrity of each human being, to the fact that each human being has a life of the soul. Homeopathy recognizes the depth of the soul and that its suffering may impact health — it’s built into the model. That’s what makes it a better fit for who I am.”