By Dr. Becker
Today I have the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Susan Wagner, an integrative veterinarian practicing in central Ohio. Her journey from vet school to an integrative practice is absolutely fascinating.
When she graduated from veterinary school, Dr. Wagner went into private practice for a few years, and then decided to return to school to complete a residency in veterinary neurology. However, right before she began her residency, she was diagnosed with fibromyalgia.
"I had this very left-brained, 'this is the way it is, black and white, nothing alternative' approach to medicine," says Dr. Wagner. "But chronic pain has a way of opening your mind."
In her journey toward effectively managing her fibromyalgia, she realized the things she was learning, for example, energy medicine, could also benefit her veterinary patients.
Through a Dog's Ear: Music and Sound Therapies for Pet Anxiety
Today Dr. Wagner practices integrative veterinary medicine at MedVet Medical & Cancer Centers for Pets in Worthington, Ohio.
She's also adjunct faculty at Ohio State, teaching integrative medicine to students. Plus over the last few years, she has worked on the Through a Dog's Ear project, which uses sound and music to help animals with anxiety heal. I asked Dr. Wagner to talk a little about the music project.
"It was serendipitous," she says. "I got a call from an undergraduate at Ohio State. She wasn't a veterinary student, but she wanted to get into vet school and she heard that I thought outside the box.
She wanted to do a project on music and epilepsy and could I help her? I said sure. I'm a musician but I'm not a music therapist, so I reached out and found Joshua Leeds and Lisa Spector in California. They were kind enough to say 'Oh yes, we'll help.'"
As it turns out, the pair was already working on a project to create calming music for dogs. Joshua said to Dr. Wagner, "Lisa's a brilliant concert pianist. She realized that when she played the piano, her dog would relax." He asked Dr. Wagner if she would like to help them with their project as well. Serendipity!
The Spark That Lit Dr. Wagner's Interest in Integrative Medicine
My experience with veterinary neurologists, and I have professional relationships with a few, is they don't understand my integrative approach, and I'm not sure they have much respect for it. It's a quite conventional-minded specialty. I asked Dr. Wagner how she broke the mold and became an integrative neurologist.
"For me," she explained, "once I took that first Healing Touch for Animals course, I knew. This is what I have to bring in, and then learning more about nutrition. Your book, 'Real Food for Healthy Dogs & Cats,' has helped."
"When I brought in this whole tool chest, everything just opened wide," she says. "I can't imagine going back to practicing any other way. I just can't fathom it."
Through her teaching at Ohio State, Dr. Wagner has seen a growing interest in veterinary students to learn about integrative medicine, and she's encouraged by the increased participation in Ohio State's integrative medicine club.
Energy Medicine: The Opposite of Voodoo
I asked Dr. Wagner to talk about energy medicine. She's lecturing here at the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association (AHVMA) conference on the subject.
"You can see from my smile it's my passion," she replied. "Energy medicine is really a set of disciplines, different modalities that work with the electromagnetic field that comes off of animals and people. Many folks think it's unusual, it's unscientific and frankly it's impossible."
I've even heard it called "voodoo!"
"I always laugh at that," said Dr. Wagner. "I tell people, 'If you can understand Einstein's theory of relativity, if you can understand Tesla's concept of magnetic resonance, if you can understand quantum physics, then you get what I do.' It's very scientific. It really is."
In other words, it's the opposite of voodoo!
"The best way to think of it is by using the metaphor of a pebble in a pond," says Dr. Wagner. "Think of each of us and our patients, our pets, as the pebble, the solid part. We know from quantum physics and advanced physics that at a subatomic level, the pebbles are actually vibrating.
We can't see it, but we know it. Just as when you throw a pebble in a pond and it creates those ripples, each of us is giving off an electromagnetic field all the time. Everybody experiences this. They just don't think about it. For example, what happens when we walk into a room where there's an argument going on.
What do we say? 'Man, that tension was so thick you could cut it with a knife.' How do we feel someone else's tension if we're not touching them? What we're feeling is the electromagnetic fields of everyone in the room that isn't so happy at the moment.
Moreover, we now know from some wonderful advanced science that there's an electromagnetic field that connects everything.
It's the idea that there's a vacuum in space- no- there's a very low frequency vibration there. I think, as science gets better at measuring these vibrational fields, it's going to break medicine wide open. Fifty years from now, it's going to be a whole different ball game."
Where to Find an Introduction to Energy Medicine for Animals
I asked Dr. Wagner if she's received any pushback from her veterinary neurologist colleagues, since she's practicing energy medicine, an alternative modality, in a field populated by conventional specialists.
She replied that there's really been minimal pushback. Her colleagues know her and respect her work as a neurologist, so most have been very open to her integrative approach. She says she's actually quite proud of her specialty, because they've always been on the leading edge.
"One of my heroes is [Dr.] Cheryl Chrisman," says Dr. Wagner. "She was a woman in the veterinary neurology field back in the day. Now she does acupuncture. I have some other colleagues that do acupuncture. It's very rewarding."
I asked Dr. Wagner where someone interested in learning about energy medicine might find more information. She recommends a program called Healing Touch for Animals®, which was developed by Carol Komitor, who was a licensed massage therapist, a registered veterinary technician and an authority on energy medicine.
"Carol knows animals," explains Dr. Wagner. "She brought the worlds of human and animal energy medicine together. I love that. Healing Touch for Animals is a great way to start. You get a very good understanding of the major energy centers in the body.
Most people know about acupuncture now, and the concept of meridians. We work with other areas called chakras. But the modality I think folks have heard the most about is Reiki. It's an ancient healing technique and very powerful. One of my favorites is called Reconnective Healing®. A lot of people haven't heard of it. It's pretty much you get into the frequencies and then get out of the way. Get your head out of the way. It's very powerful.
I often tell my students and colleagues to read Eric Pearl's book, 'The Reconnection.' Pearl, a very conventional chiropractor, was discovering these frequencies and turning his world upside down. As a professional he was guided to a different path. It's a great book."
The Energetics of the Human-Animal Bond
Dr. Wagner says she's been on an amazing journey and it has definitely changed the way she practices veterinary medicine.
"I've been doing energy medicine now for 20 years," she says. "Something I noticed along the way really brought me to understand the energetics of the human-animal bond.
We know the bond is emotional. We get that. Everybody gets that in our profession, anybody that loves a pet. But I came to see that there's an energy. There's an interspecies healing that goes on. When I first noticed it, I thought 'Okay. This is too crazy, even for me.' Then I thought, 'What is the basis of science?' It's observation.
You can't turn away from things. You have to sit and look at them, then you develop your hypothesis, then you test it. But the basis, the foundation, is observation. I started observing. What I saw over all these years is that our pets reflect us. It's not that we make them sick. There's nothing wrong.
But it's a journey we're walking together. Sometimes the connection is literal, for example, both the person and the pet have heart disease. Or it can be metaphorical. If a pet has a behavior problem, I'll ask the client 'In what way is your pet's problem like you? What can you learn from your pet?'
If we can learn that connection and help ourselves to heal, it shifts the energy for the pet. It's profound. We still have to do all the right things on the physical plane, nutrition and so forth. But where I see healing happen is when the human understands what to learn from their pet."
A Patient-Centered Integrative Approach
I asked Dr. Wagner if clients come to her specifically because she's an integrative neurologist.
"Sometimes," she replied. "We'll have the occasional client that will call and say 'My pet has a neurologic condition. I'm thinking of going more integrative than conventional.' Then they'll see me. In other situations, I'll refer them to a conventional neurologist, and if there's anything I can add to the mix, I will. It's a team effort. Veterinary medicine is always about the team. I think human medicine can learn a lot from the way that we work.
The patient is at the center, surrounded by, for example, a conventional neurologist, an integrative neurologist, an internist and a surgeon. Everybody is working together with the pet's guardian, who is also a crucial part of the team."
Dr. Wagner's work is absolutely inspirational, and it's wonderful to know that a specialty like veterinary neurology also has room for an integrative approach. Many thanks to Dr. Susan Wagner for joining us today. I look forward to hearing more about her influence on her specialty in the future!