One of the hallmarks of functional medicine is the time practitioners spend with patients to identify individual needs. It takes a bit of detective work to find out which of the common drivers of chronic illness are in motion for an individual. After Testing, there’s the Overall Equation, of how the drivers identified interact within an individual, and then the Action Plan, which is what you and your practitioner agree upon to address immediate needs and make longer-term lifestyle adjustments.
A way to summarize these dynamics is through an overview of the Causes, Calmers, and Clearing protocols. I like to apply the 5Rs gut-healing process to the overall multi-factorial approach as a whole, to help keep it clear in my mind what the various factors are that we’re trying to influence. I call these “The 5 Elements of Success.” So, while “Causes and Calmers” are the components of a tactical protocol, the 5 Elements illustrate the areas of our lives that we attempt to influence as a whole (eating well, living clean and balanced, managing stress, adapting our lifestyle, and getting the support we need).
Lab tests, clinical observation, history, and informed interpretation of the insights gained in your detective work lead the way to how the various factors specifically apply to an individual:
The Causes, Calmers, and Clearing process summarize known common denominators or “factors” in the multi-factorial autoimmune disease process. How they affect an individual requires an individualized discovery process.
Dr. Rudy Mueller, a certified functional medicine practitioner, uses the following equation to explain what we need to learn about ourselves in relation to these factors:
Environment + Lifestyle + Mindset + Past Experience + Genetics = Your Individual Health
As you go through this detective work with your medical team, remember that you’re in charge of navigation. So, it’s you who will need to discern your best path through the choices. Trust your instincts. Meditation helps – there were times when I was so past exhaustion in trying to learn about, detect, and then identify a path forward for my son that I could hardly think clearly, and I knew that each move mattered: there was only so much one battered body and soul could endure, and I desperately needed to make the right choices for, and with, him. That is especially difficult when advisors conflict with one another. I found it’s in the quiet times – when I carved out time to allow my mind to process, rest, and clear – when a new idea can come to me. It’s my deepest hope that the information I share in this community helps spare you that bewilderment and fear: I didn’t know anything about a healing-based approach when I started out. So, these two guidelines for navigating – trusting your own voice, and allowing enough quiet to hear it – are hard-won tactics of experience.
One other piece of advice I’d share on “individualization” is that, while there are a number of experts and associated advice that you can find online – whose volume will increase as more practitioners enter this expanding space of taking a healing-based approach to chronic illness – you’re still going to want a personal and direct relationship with a qualified practitioner. Go ahead and buy and read whatever book or online class may appeal to you – being more informed will only inform your dialogue, and help accelerate your progress – but don’t try to self-diagnose or self-treat. It can spare you so much flailing about (been there, done that) to work with a certified practitioner who’s got years of experience and training ahead of you and me. They should be responsive. At the end of the day, you want what’s most on-target for your individual needs.
The team approach
So. You’re the navigator. You want other experts on your journey with you. Your team of professionals need to be trusted advisors for your process, and should be good resources for ideas, discussions, and questions that arise. Our credentialed providers, for example, include:
- a conventional medicine specialist (may be the initial diagnostician; an important relationship to keep)
- a functional medicine practitioner (lead care provider)
- a counselor — both for the caregiver(s), and a separate one for the autoimmune health seeker
- an acupuncturist (a huge part of our recovery process; you may leverage another form of natural or complementary care)
- a health coach, or coach-like community — such as an individual health coach who has specific experience with autoimmunity, or The Autoimmune Families Community
These practitioners form our core of certified practitioners, although there are other key support folks in the mix, as well, including an especially adept skincare provider who’s researched clean skincare products, the various practices we deploy at home to keep a clean environ and safe water, and resources to strengthen our on-going education on a clean, anti-inflammatory diet.
Online and remote resources
There is a widening world of online and remote resources in the area of functional medicine and healing protocols for chronic illness, as well.
- Some experts are in such high demand that they have become celebrities in the field, see few, if any, patients anymore, and moved their educational resources online. They may or may not offer individual 1:1 interpretation; sometimes they’ll offer up a support staffer as a resource (a coach? a consultation with a nutritionist? consultation with a certified practitioner allied to their philosophy?). The general information is valid; the individual application may be affected by the value of the indirect relationship. Some of these experts offer short-term, closed Facebook communities to enable conversation on a topic or track they’re educating about.
- As more practitioners step into the field, remote, self-directed learning will become less necessary, as you’ll be more able to find a practitioner near home. Yet others are moving in the direction of telemedicine, which makes practice available to people no matter where they are, rural or remote.
- Telemedicine is a slightly different model, where you will still have a direct relationship with a practitioner, but it’ll be virtually face to face, or conducted through telephone consults, once established. This method is becoming increasingly enabled with regulatory and privacy compliance methods, to enable practical population health management.
Test, don’t guess
No matter how you connect with your primary practitioner, testing is a key component of the individuation process. “Test, don’t guess” is the mantra. Your time and resiliency are too valuable to spend flailing about in the dark. And what functional medicine practitioners test is not what your conventional physician tests. You’ll get much more insight. So, test what you can, use clinical observation with the fresh eyes of your trusted practitioner for what you can’t test, and use proven experiment models, such as an elimination diet, for example, to find out what foods you or your loved one can’t tolerate, to identify what can’t be tested in a lab. These may take time, but they’ll save you cycles in the long run.