I am very pleased, and so honored, to be featured as the first practitioner in Well-Scent’s series of interviews on chronic illness. Read why I think some people are not getting well, the role of environment in chronic illness, the “equation” I use to help people heal, and much more.
Here is the full interview, from February 2014.
Fran Sussman has been in holistic care since 1988 and in private practice since 1993. Apart from one-on-one consulting, Fran is sought after as a speaker, workshop leader and meditation teacher. She writes a column on Holistic Health for The Times Herald Record, and has been featured frequently in Natural Awakenings magazine.
Resources being equal, why aren’t some people getting better?
Well, first I want to say that I see a lot of people getting better! Let’s keep that in mind, too.
When people come to me with chronic Lyme and they haven’t been able to get better, I see 3 major categories of problems, broadly speaking. Some, usually coming from a more conventional medical approach and have only tried to kill bacteria without addressing viruses, parasites, fungi and mold, let alone detoxification and immune support, EMFs, enough good quality sleep, or the essential foundation of nutrition. You have to have all of those in place. It can’t just be killing bugs. And there is a kind of rhythmic modulation among all those issues I find works best; an ongoing re-balancing that allows the body to work and then recover in a sort of natural rhythm. You have to work with and in that rhythm as well. Is that a lot to address? Yeah, but it’s what works, in my experience. And nothing is so reinforcing as starting to feel better.
The second issue I see is people who search online and try to construct their own programs, based on chat rooms, blogs, and protocols they find. Perhaps there are also people doing this successfully, but they don’t come to me. I see a lot of people who try to figure it out on their own, often to save money, but in the long run, it costs you not only money, but your hope, your time and your health. With any complex, chronic issue, you need someone to look at the larger picture and oversee it for you. It’s what I do with my own health, and it’s what I recommend to others.
Lastly, and related to the first two issues, communicate with your practitioner! I get frustrated when someone sees me once and then disappears for 6 months, returning only when they are in despair again. I don’t want to do crisis intervention. I want us to be able to build on your progress, which means tweaking it as we go along. Usually that means a session once a month. I try to provide clients with the information they need to deal with issues as they come up, and make suggestions about how and when to follow up with me, but if something goes awry, I want to know. ART has helped me be so much more accurate, but no one can ever predict perfectly 100% of the time. If things are not proceeding the way we expected, I want to know, so we can deal with it sooner rather than later.
Who are your mentors? Why?
I have been fortunate to learn from so many brilliant, generous people, mostly MDs, but not exclusively. For the past 5 years, I have trained with the phenomenal Dr Klinghardt. I had used muscle testing for 20 years before that, and I thought I had developed a pretty sophisticated, subtle, comprehensive and accurate approach. I had read some of his work and so finally decided to go to my first Klinghardt seminar, saw him do a demo, and was blown away by his Autonomic Response Testing. I knew I had to learn it, and it has made me so much more accurate and effective with my clients, as has everything else I have learned from him. I just came back from a Klinghardt Protocol Seminar, and there was such a richness of ideas and resources, not only from the presenters, but from the other participants- clinicians on the front lines, like me. It’s a very exciting environment. I have also trained with endocrinologist (and best selling author) Dr Diana Schwarzbein. She taught me about how to support the body in healing the gut and balancing hormones naturally, using nutrition and lifestyle. I have known JJ Virgin, PhD and best selling author (look for her new cookbook in February!) for over 15 years. JJ not only generously shares her own vast knowledge about nutrition, but has many times pointed me in the right direction for additional training, saying “You have to study with this person”, and I always do, and she is always right. Further back, I trained with Carolyn Myss, PhD, Norm Shealey, MD, and many others. There are a couple of other MDs with different approaches who I can call on when I have questions or need help, and I’m very grateful for that. Oh and I can’t end this list without mentioning Brent Davis, the plant genius behind PRL and FlorAlive, who was the first one to teach me about biofilm in Lyme, probably 15 years ago.
How important is diet in each individual’s treatment plan and is there one diet you recommend more than others?
Nutrition is always the foundation for health and healing. It has to be, never more so than in Lyme, where the bugs help themselves to your nutritional resources. You have to ensure you are nourishing you, not them. Checking food sensitivities and providing guidance on how and what to eat is always part of my work. I truly don’t know how it could be otherwise. I don’t like to generalize, as everything I do for each client is customized, but… For those with chronic illness, I generally recommend moderate amounts of protein from healthy animals only, lots of healthy fat, and low starch/low sugar. How low depends on what they’re dealing with. Virtually everyone needs to be gluten free, corn free, and soy free. You can’t rebuild and repair without protein. If you have too many starchy carbs the bugs will party, so I generally recommend replacing them with lots of non-starchy carbs, and lots of healthy fats. Some people need to eliminate dairy, or foods like garlic and onions. It’s individual. Inflammation is a huge issue, and I find a surprising amount of pain and discomfort can be quickly eliminated by changing what and how you eat.
The other part of it is that you have to heal the gut. You are not what you eat. You are what you can digest, utilize, absorb. The idea that you are what you eat comes from a dumbed-down, mechanistic view of the body. We are so much more dynamic and complex than that. If your gut is healthy, and you are eating well and right for you, you can get nourishment from good quality food. If your gut is unhealthy, it doesn’t matter how many pills you take; your body can’t utilize what’s in them. For instance, we’re told we need to take calcium to avoid bone loss. But if you could utilize calcium and other minerals effectively, you wouldn’t lose bone. If you can’t, it really doesn’t matter how many capsules you swallow. It won’t help unless you address the underlying problem. I have seen women in their 70s with severe osteoporosis build back so much bone their doctors look at their scans and say it’s impossible. It’s not. We are designed to heal. All we need is the right guidance, information and support.
Do you test for food allergies/sensitivities and if so, how? There seems to be a lot of controversy around blood testing for food allergies. Do you feel that these blood tests to detect food allergies are accurate? If so, why?
Once upon a time I did lab tests, but I haven’t for a long time now. I find that my muscle testing is a lot more reliable, and by that I mean it makes a dramatic difference to the client’s health and healing, and the results of the blood tests too often didn’t. I vividly remember a rep trying to sell me on them by saying how much clients like colorful charts and graphs to take home. Well, I have more respect for my clients than that. I think what they want to take home are the tools to get themselves better. I’ve seen too many people pay for tests and and end up with useless information, and I don’t want to be responsible for that. I would rather they use the money on supplements that will make a significant difference, or a follow up session. So I’ll stick with muscle testing, thank you very much! On the other hand, I love to look at standard blood work, because I can get so much information from that.
What diagnostic tools/tests, besides ART, do you use?
I take a very extensive history in conversation, not a written form, in our initial session. I want to understand my clients, get a picture of who they are, what’s important to them. I look at blood work, as I mentioned. Nothing obscure, just your basic lab tests, but it’s not just about whether you’re in or out of the reference range. There is so much information in there, if you know how to read it. I never know how the dots are going to connect, so I like to gather a lot of information. As a homeopath, I was taught that everything is information. I think it’s important to have an attitude of curiosity, rather than to think that I already know. That allows me to find new connections, new ideas, on a regular basis. And I like having a lot of tools to do that, so I don’t have to fit someone into a limited paradigm. Of course every paradigm is limited, but I try to keep mine more open and expanding. For instance, I would never want to be without the option of homeopathy, but I wouldn’t want it to be the only tool I have. If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. I like to have a big, varied toolbox! And it works for me because I am passionate about continuing to learn; to continue to expand the depth and breadth of my knowledge and understanding. It’s one of my great pleasures in life, along with seeing my clients get well.
How do you diagnose when working with someone long distance only?
First of all, let me clarify that I am not an M.D., and can not officially diagnose. Moving on. I have been using muscle testing for long distance sessions for my entire career, now over 20 years. ART adds a level of confidence and reliability, but I have always done it. I developed it initially to work with young ADHD boys coming to my office. There was no way they were going to stay still on my table, so I had to figure out how to test them while they ran around the office and wreaked havoc. I learned I could reliably use it for phone sessions and then webcam as well, and feel very comfortable doing this. If we are working by phone, I like to have a photo, but it’s not essential. I can check issues, supplements; almost anything I can do in the office, I can do long distance. I’ve taught simple muscle testing to many people. Any one can learn it as a basic skill, and everyone should. Then there are degrees of both proficiency and subtlety that some people can get and some can’t. For whatever reason, this is just something that always came very easily to me and I’m grateful.
Do you feel that environment plays a role in an individual’s ability to heal?
This is a tricky one. Yes, I do. However, many people are not willing or not able to make the changes to their environment that would be ideal. Most people will not turn off fuses at night. I at least try to get them to turn off wifi, and take electronics out of the bedroom. Most people can’t or won’t move if they have mold in their home, but they may be willing to use a propolis vaporizer. We’re all exposed to environmental toxins. So here’s how I look at it: At any given time, we have a certain amount of energy available to us, and a certain number of stressors that use up that energy. If our use exceeds the amount we have available, we break down and become more symptomatic. Some stressors are within our control, and some are not. For example, you can control getting to bed at a reasonable hour, the food you put in your mouth, getting some movement and meditation in each day. You can’t control someone sneezing on you, or your best friend having a crisis. Each of these effects the equation one way or the other. But the available amount of energy is not static. We can increase it by managing or eliminating stressors within our control, as well as by supporting our system to better tolerate the rest. If someone sneezes on your when you are eating poorly and fatigued, you are much more likely to get sick than if that same sneeze landed when you are rested and well-nourished. That’s kind of my framework. Do I think EMF exposure is a huge issue? Sure, and I can educate people on ways to reduce it. But separating people from their laptops and smart phones is more than I can do, so I have to find other ways to work with them so they can still heal, even with exposure.
What is your strategy for treating hormonal imbalance?
I find that 85-90% of the time, clients are able to re-balance their hormones using nutrition and lifestyle alone. My approach involves 5 steps:
- Optimizing nutrition, including identifying and eliminating food sensitivities, and balancing macro-nutrients
- Lowering toxic burden
- Stress management
- Managing sleep issues, both quantity and quality
- Hormonally correct exercise (hint – don’t do steady state cardio!).
When I take people through these 5 steps, they feel balanced, their libido is better, their skin clears, etc. Many women in their 50s get their periods back after not having them, which really is a good thing! I don’t like messing with hormones. I think we don’t really have a clue what we are doing yet, and I don’t want to be a guinea pig, either personally or professionally. As I mentioned, I trained with endocrinologist Diana Schwarzbein, one of the queens of BHRT, but we parted ways on this one. I would rather have the innate intelligence of the body do the hormone rebalancing. And wonder of wonder, it does!
For your patients who are struggling financially and must be selective about where they spend their resources, what are the top three things that you recommend they do for their health?
I have worked with many people with limited resources. It takes longer, but you can still do it. Remember that more, faster, stronger, isn’t always better. Ideally, find a practitioner who is willing to scale things down for you and work slowly and steadily, as well as economically.
One thing I’ve been very excited about in the past year or so is finding some new therapeutic lines that are very effective, very clean, easier for clients to tolerate, and less expensive. I would include Well-Scent in here, by the way, so thank you very much!
Here are three things I would recommend if you have limited resources.
- Nutrition. Heal your gut. Get on a strict anti-inflammatory diet, get off all sugars, all refined carbs, all alcohol, as well as all potential food sensitivities, increase healthy fats, eat only healthy animals, and make sure you address underlying infections like H. Pylori, fungal/yeast overgrowth, C. Diff, etc.
- Coffee enemas. These help with so much: intestinal health, liver support, pain management. Some clients won’t consider it because of the yuck factor, but those who do usually love the results. I find that coffee processed specifically for this use is less harsh. I also love using oils, either on their own in water first, or with the coffee. Well-Scent’s Balance often tests well for this.
- Lymphatics. The lymphatics have no pump, and getting them moving is very helpful. Often people who are chronically ill have stopped being active. Yoga and rebounding are cheap and effective ways to move lymph, and you can start slowly. Even 5 minutes of daily sun salutations will help, and if you can build from there, great. The yogis I know seem to deal better with health stressors than others. Sometimes I’m amazed at how much of a load their bodies deal with, with minimal symptoms, and I attribute it substantially to a committed long term yoga practice. There’s an inherent wisdom in a good traditional practice. And of course, it helps with breathing, circulation, calming, inflammation, and so much more, as well. As for rebounders, you can usually find one that someone’s not using any more, but be careful of the really cheap ones. Here too, just a few minutes to start, a few times a week, can be wonderful. You can just bounce gently; it doesn’t have to be aerobic. The Whole Body Vibration Plate is the premium way to do this, and I love mine! But you’re not going to find those given away on Craigslist.
And since each of these is detoxifying, make sure you hydrate and rest after, and build up slowly.
I read on your website you recovered from Lyme Disease. Will you talk about your diagnosis and treatment?
I live in the lower Hudson Valley of NY, so Lyme has been on my radar screen for a very long time- pretty much the whole 20 years of my practice. Because I have always used muscle testing and had test vials for Lyme, I picked it up regularly in my clients and in myself right from the start. I had what I assumed was acute Lyme quite a few times in my 40s and early 50s. I wasn’t particularly alarmed. I never went to a doctor; never used antibiotics. I treated myself with my own methods: kinesiological detoxes, herbs from Brent Davis, who was way ahead of his time, some other supplements, my constitutional homeopathic remedy, and additional acute homeopathic remedies. Every once in a while I would get tired, foggy, achey and stiff, and think, “oh there it is again” and I’d do the same stuff and feel better. It wasn’t until I started training with Dr Klinghardt that I realized just how serious it was. In fact, I realized that I’d been dealing with chronic Lyme for almost 40 years, since I’d been in college in Vermont and got my first cherry angiomas. I remember running to the school nurse and asking in terror what it was and being told it was nothing. I have had to work so very, very hard, my whole life, to manage my health. Finally, I understood why. I had Borellia, Bartonella and Babesia, and Dr Klinghardt also felt I had very serious levels of lead. I was in great shape, plenty of energy, doing fine, and he said “I know you feel good now. You’re not going to feel so good for a while.” Man, he wasn’t kidding. He put me on a version of his Lyme cocktail, DMPS injections, and a number of other supportive therapies. I think now he doesn’t recommend doing so much so quickly, but at that point in time he did. I got so sick I could barely function. I have always been a single mom with a family, home and animals to take care of, as well as my practice, so it was not easy. It’s the reason I prioritize helping my clients stay functional as they heal. I stayed on the cocktail for a year and a half. Some of the other stuff I had to modulate in order to function, since I really didn’t have a choice. I took a lot of naps, did a lot of infrared sauna time, coffee enemas, all the things I recommend, and some I don’t.
Clients often ask if you can completely heal from Lyme. If you mean can you get rid of every single microbe, well, no. I don’t think so. But you don’t have to. You just have to restore the balance so that the bugs aren’t running the show any more. If you mean can you recover, have a clear mind, a pain-free body, and feel great, yes, absolutely. I do. I turned 60 last month and I feel fantastic. In fact better than I can ever remember, which kind of amazes me. I sleep well, awake rested and am excited to start each day. I have lots of energy and my mind and memory are sharp. I am still rebuilding my strength, and that’s not easy for a woman of my age, but it’s happening. As I tell my clients every day: Healing is possible.