In the first half of this two-part interview, Dr. Karen Becker talks with Dr. Allen Schoen, a preeminent teacher and author in the realm of holistic healing and integrative veterinary medicine.
By Dr. Becker
Today I'm interviewing a very special guest via Skype, Dr. Allen Schoen.
Dr. Schoen has been a mentor and holistic guru in the veterinary community for as long as I can remember.
I had the honor of meeting him in 2008, and we've been friends ever since.
A Little about Allen Schoen
Dr. Schoen established the Department of Acupuncture at the Animal Medical Center in New York City in 1982.
He was one of the first veterinarians certified in both acupuncture and chiropractic.
Dr. Schoen was also the former president of the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society and is currently an instructor at the Chi Institute.
He is the founder and director of the Center of Integrative Animal Health, which focuses on exploring non-toxic options and approaches to environmental health, as well as the mind-body connection for all species.
Dr. Schoen has dedicated his life to enhancing wellness non-toxically, and to the study of the mind-body connection.
How I Came to Know Dr. Schoen
I was introduced to Dr. Schoen through his veterinary textbooks while I was in vet school. He has written hundreds of scientific papers as well as two defining textbooks all holistic veterinarians use: Veterinary Acupuncture: Ancient Art to Modern Medicine and Complementary and Alternative Veterinary Medicine: Principles and Practice (which he co-edited). (It's interesting that back when I was in vet school 20 years ago, holistic and other non-traditional therapies were called 'alternative medicine.' We don't hear that term much anymore.)
Those two texts are to this day the references vet students and veterinarians use to learn about combining conventional veterinary medicine with holistic veterinary medicine.
Dr. Schoen's writing and vision served as a guide for me coming out of veterinary school.
I knew I wanted to be an integrative vet, and mentors like Dr. Schoen, through his work and sharing his knowledge, laid the groundwork for young veterinarians like me who wanted to start practicing integrative medicine right out of vet school.
I didn't want to take the usual route of practicing conventional vet medicine first, then eventually transitioning into the integrative realm. Thanks to Dr. Schoen and a few others like him, I was able to practice integrative veterinary medicine immediately, which was a huge blessing for me.
Dr. Schoen's Beginnings in Conventional Veterinary Medicine
Dr. Schoen's start as a veterinarian wasn't as smooth.
He graduated from vet school and set up practicing conventional veterinary medicine, all the while realizing things weren't quite what they should be, or all they could be. He wasn't practicing holistically in terms of treating the body, mind and spirit. So halfway through his career, he switched gears.
Dr. Schoen explains there are certain turning points in life -- and certain animals if one is a veterinarian – that serve as teachers. They cause us to take a step back and look at things differently. And there's also a gradual evolution of knowledge and insight that occurs throughout life.
Dr. Schoen says he started out his career as an idealistic, James Herriot-type, practicing on all creatures great and small, in New England. He worked in a five-veterinarian practice that served all of southern New Hampshire, plus parts of Vermont and Massachusetts.
The practice saw all kinds of animals. From moment to moment Dr. Schoen didn't know if he'd be delivering a calf, working on a lame horse, back at the clinic treating a dog hit by a car, delivering a litter of kittens by C-section, or treating a sheep, a goat, and so forth.
He did it all, and it gave him a great foundation in the use of Western veterinary medicine to treat animals.
But in the midst of it all, Dr. Schoen felt frustrated, thinking, "Gee, I wish we could've done more." But the tools of his trade were conventional drugs and surgery.
Interestingly, there was a senior veterinarian in the practice who was in his late 70's, and he had a background in the use of herbs and other natural therapies, because when he started out, there wasn't anything else available to treat animals.
Many times in his first two years of practice, Dr. Schoen would go to the senior vet and say, "Well, I've done all I can for this animal with Western medicine. What tricks do you have up your sleeve?"
Dr. Schoen remembers a cow with a slipped patella that couldn't bear weight on its hind leg. There was nothing conventional medicine could do, the cow wasn't worth much money to the farmer, and the decision was made to put the animal down.
Dr. Schoen called the older vet back at the clinic, who told him to inject a little iodine into three points around the hip. Now, the older vet didn't know he was prescribing an acupuncture treatment – he just suggested it as a practical matter.
And it worked!
The Journey from Conventional to Integrative
Dr. Schoen labored on awhile longer doing his all-creatures-great-and-small work, and he also treated wildlife. But the sense that something was missing stayed with him.
Then one day he attended an introductory lecture on veterinary acupuncture in New York.
I asked Dr. Schoen if that lecture sparked something inside him – a passion that made him want to learn more.
Dr. Schoen explains that when we remain open to ideas and feelings, there's a small inner voice inside each of us that whispers to us, or sometimes screams at us, or even pounds us on the head at times. An hour into that introductory lecture, Dr. Schoen's small inner voice told him, "This is your journey. Your journey is to take acupuncture and natural medicine and get it accepted and integrated into Western medicine."
Dr. Schoen goes on to explain that he also had a professor in equine surgery at Cornell who was one of the first veterinarians to go to China when access was re-opened in the 1970's. He couldn't practice what he learned in China at Cornell, but in the evenings he would teach Dr. Schoen little acupuncture techniques he had learned.
And so the light bulbs continued to come on inside his head, showing him there was indeed more to learn and more he could do to help treat sick animals.
Dr. Schoen became certified in veterinary acupuncture when there were only 30 certified DVM's in the entire U.S.
He also trained at Downstate Medical School (SUNY Downstate College of Medicine) in human acupuncture, and went on to Columbia University Medical School to learn human herbal medicine because there weren't any courses available in animal herbal medicine.
Dr. Schoen took all this training and applied it to the animals in his veterinary practice. Once he realized acupuncture worked and herbs worked, his entire practice became about seeing animals for which Western medicine didn't work.
Soon he was practicing integrative veterinary medicine in his animal hospitals before the term was even known.
Eventually Dr. Schoen got so busy with his integrative patients he sold his conventional vet practices to his business partner so he could be free to dedicate his life to exploring the world of healing options.
Dr. Schoen's integrative vet practice filled up with patients who could not be helped by Western medicine. The situation continued to evolve and he found himself continually nudged in the direction of finding answers for animals for which there seemed no help available.
Love, Miracles and Animal Healing
In 1995, Dr. Schoen wrote his first book for a general audience, called Love, Miracles and Animal Healing.
I asked him if the book was written from inspiration he derived from his experiences as a veterinarian, or whether perhaps it was more a personal journey he wanted to share with the world.
Dr. Schoen responds that it's actually a combination of the two. He remembers clearly his first year as a veterinarian, and he shares the story at the beginning of Love, Miracles and Animal Healing. He shared it again in his next book, Kindred Spirits, as well as the story of his dog Megan, a stray with heartworm he rescued.
One night he and Megan were going over Temple Mountain to help deliver the calf of a Jersey cow. Megan ran up to the cow, which was in distress, and began licking her. She licked the farmer's daughter, because she was so concerned about the delivery. She licked the calf as it was born.
Dr. Schoen realized in those moments that he needed to write a book to share how Megan was helping just as he was. Another light bulb went off in his head as he recognized there are many levels of healing.
His golden retriever, Megan, knew how to heal with love. He was healing with medicine and she was doing her doctoring with love. And Dr. Schoen found himself wanting to inform readers about how much more there is to healing beyond drugs and surgery.
Animals know intuitively how to heal. They know how to encourage healing because their love is natural, automatic and unconditional, which is a beautiful role model for all of us.
Dr. Schoen was able to capture all that in words, and Love, Miracles and Animal Healing is a wonderful book.
I asked him to talk to a little about his follow-up book, Kindred Spirits.
Dr. Schoen feels his journey in life is a quest to find the answer to the question, "What is ultimate healing?"
He explains that most veterinarians start out with Western vet school training, and realize medicine and surgery is great. It has a solid foundation. When you have a broken leg, you want it operated on by the best surgeon. So Western medicine is useful, but there's more – acupuncture, herbs, homeopathy, and on and on. And there's also the human-animal bond.
Kindred Spirits is a natural evolution in Dr. Schoen's quest to discover the meaning of ultimate healing. And more recently, his new interactive website is a continuation of that journey.
I don't know how Dr. Schoen fits in all the things he's involved with in his life. He researches, writes and is passionate about teaching others.
Next week, in the conclusion of my two-part interview with Dr. Schoen, we'll discuss his newest project, which I know you'll find as exciting and invigorating as I do.