Some client cases are straightforward, while others leave you scratching your head and unsure where to begin. If you have ever had a client with a myriad of symptoms, you might worry that you are giving them too many herbs, formulas, or are altogether overwhelming them.
Just because your client’s case is complicated does not mean your protocol needs to be. Through learning techniques for working through complex cases, you can make your herbal protocols as simple and effective as possible.
In today’s blog post, you’ll learn:
- Different approaches to formulating
- How many formulas to give someone at the same time
- 3 methods for simplifying complex herbal cases
- Methods for including your client in the process to increase compliance
Have you ever been approached by a client with a complex case history, multitude of conditions, and overlapping symptoms and thought, “How on earth am I going to formulate for this client?”
While your instinct may be to design many different formulas, this begs the question, “Is it possible to take too many remedies at the same time?”
Although there may not be negative health consequences to taking a multitude of herbs, there can be other issues with this approach, such as poor client compliance, burnout, and financial limitations.
Instead of defaulting to this approach, you can learn about key techniques to simplify complicated cases and make herbal formulas that are incredibly effective – even if they are made with just a few herbs.
How Many Herbs Should You Put In Your Formula?
More is More vs Less is More
Some herbalists make large and complex formulas featuring a dozen herbs, an approach popular in Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda. With this approach, your client can easily take up to thirty herbs or more daily with as few as two formulas.
On the other end of the spectrum, you’ll find herbalists who favor taking one remedy at a time. There are some advantages to this approach that complex formulaic blends don’t always offer- such as being able to pinpoint which herbs are working and achieving your goals and which ones are not.
You don’t need to use dozens of herbs to see excellent results in your practice, and you should in no way feel pressured to do so. Designing complex formulas with many herbs does not make you a more advanced herbalist than one who creates simple but effective triplets. What matters most is that your client is seeing the results they want and are experiencing relief. If you can achieve this in a singular remedy made from a few herbs, there is no reason why you should try to overcomplicate things with more than one formula featuring dozens of herbs.
There may be times when you have a specific remedy in mind that you want to suggest but something about it doesn’t fit as well as you would like it to. In those moments, ask yourself whether you need to balance the energetics by pairing it with a warming, cooling, drying, moistening, relaxing, or tonifying herb. Once you have thought of another herb or two to pair it with, consider whether your formula requires a circulatory herb, like Ginger (Zingiber officinale), to drive the formula deeper into the body. This straightforward approach can help you make exceptionally effective formulas with minimal herbs.
How Many Formulas Should You Give Your Client?
Although some herbalists are comfortable giving dozens of remedies, others prefer to give one formula at a time to find out what’s working before adding even more herbs to their system. Others stand in the middle, choosing to give just a few remedies at a time.
Which approach is best? Honestly, I think it boils down to your client and their preferences. Other factors that will influence the number of remedies needed include their condition, its severity, and how many your client is willing to take.
Newer herbal practitioners often make the mistake of creating overly complicated protocols. These may technically hit all the marks, but they are so complex that they leave their client feeling overwhelmed and unable to take anything. Although you might have thought of the perfect protocol, telling your client to take three different tinctures throughout the day with different dosages and dietary and lifestyle changes can leave them feeling frozen in place and unable to make any positive changes moving forward.
If you want your client to see results, you are best off recommending one or two simple remedies they can easily comply with than a laundry list of herbal medicines. Once your client has seen improvements and has become comfortable taking their herbs, you can discuss adding another remedy and whether they have the bandwidth to do so.
3 Best Practices for Complex Cases
No one (well, most people) likes to receive a laundry list of herbal remedies they need to take daily. Although herbalists might navigate this with particular ease, this is often the result of their passion and knowledge in the subject matter.
If your client is feeling stressed about taking numerous remedies and prefers to take a single formula each day, you need to make sure that it covers the bases as much as possible and packs a punch.
This might not be too difficult to do if your client approaches you with a simple and straightforward issue. However, what do you do when your client has multiple overlapping symptoms and conditions, such as mental and digestive health challenges?
I have found that three of the best practices for complicated cases include “peeling the onion,” finding overlapping properties in your herbs, and including your client in the process. Read on to learn about each approach.
Peel the onion
Ask questions. Lots of them! Although your client might complain about many painful symptoms, scratch beyond the surface by asking them to walk you through their healthy history.
When was the first time they began experiencing symptoms, and what were they? What are the most recent developments in their conditions? By asking them to walk you through their timeline, you might discover that they drank some bad water. Resultantly, they had to take a round of antibiotics, their digestion went downhill, and eventually, their mental health took a toll. Nothing occurs in a vacuum, and symptoms and conditions are certainly not an exception to this rule.
When you peel the onion, you can either start from the center point of trauma or work outwards in by addressing the most severe of symptoms and slowly making your way to the underlying root cause. The direction you choose to work in will differ from client to client depending on the severity of their symptoms. Ideally, I think it is best to use this information to correct the initial imbalance while offering remedies that offer pain relief to the resulting symptoms.
By taking the time to understand the progression of events, you can trace the onset of illness to a specific cause and understand the medical trauma or energetic imbalance that led to their current state.
Find Overlapping Properties
One of the best ways you can simplify an herbal protocol is by selecting herbs with overlapping properties. Instead of creating two formulas, one for healthy digestion and one for mental relaxation, you can make a single formula using herbs that accomplish both goals.
To give a practical example, imagine that you have a client with stomach ulcers and anxiety. They are in a lot of pain from these ulcers, and this leads to stress and mental tension. As their anxiety rises, so do their digestive symptoms. Your first thought may be to give your client two distinct formulas. The first formula uses digestive, demulcent, and pain relieving herbs to heal the ulcer and get their digestion on track. The second formula focuses on lowering their anxiety. Although the intentions are there, it is certainly more difficult for someone to take two remedies instead of one in terms of time, emotional bandwidth, and affordability.
Instead of viewing these two systems as separate, think about the relationship between digestion and stress and herbs that affect the nervous and digestive systems. Some herbs that impact both systems include Chamomile (Matricaria recutita), Motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca), Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis), Hops (Humulus lupulus), and even Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare).
After you have identified herbs with overlapping organ affinities, the next step is to think about the actions and energetics needed to bring healing. For example, does your client need bitter tonics, carminatives, or antispasmodics in the digestive system? In terms of their nervous system, do they need nervine sedatives, nervine hypnotics, or adaptogens? From there, consider what net energetic effect you want the formula to have. Does their system need to be warmed up, cooled down, moistened, dried, relaxed, or tonified? In this case, you may need to add a demulcent herb like Slippery Elm (Ulmus fulva) even though it does not provide an action on the nervous system.
Once you have laid out all of this information, you will be able to identify a few select herbs with specific indications for your client, cover all the bases, and combine well to produce an effective formula. Although you need to know your herbs quite well to take this approach, it is incredibly effective at helping you to pinpoint remedies that will help your clients most – without an expensive price tag or a cabinet full of forgotten tincture bottles.
If you are an herbalist, you were likely drawn to this field because of your passion for plants and the healing power of nature. While your client may also be interested in natural medicine, many folks wind up with an herbalist because they feel burned out from the conventional system of medicine, being talked over by practitioners, and facing medical trauma.
With this in mind, it is critical that you include your client in the decision-making process when designing a protocol. Although you may have thought of the perfect regimen involving three tinctures a day, two infusions, and one capsule, your good intentions can lead to poor client compliance if it ignores their feelings, wishes, and motivations.
One method you can use to engage your client is stating the purpose of each herbal remedy and briefly explaining how each work. Explaining why you are suggesting them puts a sense of control into your client’s hands and can help them feel like they are an active part in their pursuit of better health. Furthermore, it can significantly increase compliance and lead to better results.
After you have explained the role of each remedy, ask your client which one(s) they are most eager to begin taking and which they feel the most hesitancy. Ask why, listen to their concerns, and think of alternative solutions that will improve compliance. This might be staggering the intake of different remedies over the course of a few weeks, so they have time to get used to taking them, developing a plan to fit medicine making (like an infusion) into their busy day, or finding a different delivery method for an herb with a taste they have an aversion to.
Understanding your clients’ health challenges holistically and determining which herbs will restore them to health is only one part of being an herbalist. The other aspect is speaking openly and honestly with your clients about how they feel about following your protocol.
By telling them that their voice is an important part of their healing process, you can troubleshoot potential issues, increase compliance, see better results, and empower them to become agents in their healing process.
Although you might have shied away from working with clients with complex cases until now, these opportunities are springboards for growth that can propel you further into your herbalism career and help you develop the confidence you need to excel on your plant path.
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