AH: Tell us about your beginnings.
Ohanian: I was born in Los Angeles, back when it was a lot quieter. Kids could safely play in the streets, and I walked to elementary school. It was about a mile-I loved having that time to myself, to think and dream. Besides walking, I spent time riding my bicycle and reading. I was interested in what made people tick, their relationships, I spent a fair amount of time, even as a child, helping people find ways through their problems.
AH: What was your family life like?
Ohanian: My father was a clinical psychologist, my mother was a stay-at-home mom -it was the 1950’s. I have a younger brother, who has turned out to be a widely respected economist. Family life was stable. The focus was working, getting ahead in life. I remember being impatient to grow up-I couldn’t wait to get out and explore life.
AH: Did you have an early interest in medicine?
Ohanian: Yes, I had decided at age five that I was going to be a doctor. I come from a family of physicians. My father’s family was from Armenia. The oldest son from each generation got to go to France to study medicine at the Sorbonne. My grandfather really wanted to do that but he was a second son so didn’t get the opportunity. My father also wanted to study medicine but decided to become a psychologist instead. He went to college in the post World War II era, when there was some urgency to get through school quickly, and get out in the working world.
At some point I got the feeling that the study of medicine was not really about the study of people and, while I was interested in the sciences, I was even more interested in people and what made them tick. I got into journalism doing feature stories for the junior high school paper. I wrote personality profiles mostly about what made this person interesting and that one unique. I got caught up in the idea that journalism could be a strong political tool. I went through college in the Vietnam era and was very involved in the college newspaper, as editor, from 1969 through 1973.
I graduated at about the time when Woodward and Bernstein glamorized journalism with their Watergate stories. There were thousands of graduates in journalism and I was one of the lucky few to get a full time job writing at a newspaper, and, I was a “girl” -this was 1973, so this experience taught me some of the harsh realities of life…For example, a peer from college, who was a male, got a job on the same newspaper I did. He was assigned to cover local government and sports, while I was assigned to cover weddings and religion. Because I had come so highly recommended, the editor gave me a crack at political reporting. I had to do this work on my own time though. “Pre-affirmative action” I guess you would say. Anyway, I did it and dug my way out of the society pages but it was a difficult initiation to the world. I worked hard enough to make myself really sick and decided this is not how I was going to advance in journalism. I decided to go to a high-powered journalism school and get a graduate degree as a way of advancing.
I relocated to Minnesota but I just go sicker. Within a week of arriving at the University of Minnesota a classmate of my roommate, a pre-med student named Michael Carlston, told me to read a particular book. It was Harris Coulter’s book, the little red one on homeopathy. I found out later Richard Hruby and John Roos (who are now both well-respected homeopaths) were in the same class. So I learned more and went to a study group meeting with Michael, and immediately decided that homeopathy was pure gibberish with all its little bottles and Latin words and peculiar principles. And I got sicker, and still no one was able to help me. The allopaths said it was all in my head, psychotherapists said I was fine -just a little depressed because I was sick, that kind of thinking. Then I saw an oriental medicine specialist who was able to help a little but she said she thought the only thing that was going to cure me was homeopathy. So I went to see the only homeopath in town for treatment and in a month, after being ill for years, I felt a much better.
I became very interested in homeopathy and then I took a first aid class with Rudy Ballantine from the Himalayan Institute -he was very influential in spreading homeopathy to the midwest and eastern seaboard. So I completed the first class with him and then asked what the next step was. “Go to Millersville” he replied, so I signed up to take a week-long lay practitioner course scheduled to be taught by some older National Center for Homeopathy members who were prepared to teach a slightly longer version of a weekend first aid course. Unfortunately for them, they got in a car accident two days before the class started so Hal Williams got on the phone and called Bill Gray in California and said “you owe me one, we need someone qualified to teach this course starting in two days.” So Bill sent a practitioner from his office who had just completed the now famous “doctors course” taught by George Vithoulkas in California. The man was a naturopath who was really excited by this experience. The first agenda of the course was a lecture on the definition of health, as described by Vithoulkas. From that moment on, I knew I would study homeopathy in an in-depth way and somehow become a practitioner. He spent the week teaching about classical homeopathy with acute and chronic case presentations. That fall I went to San Francisco, to attend the IFH conference. I went out to hear George, knowing the presentations were going to be way over my head but I knowing I just had to go.
After this conference, I started the life-process of becoming a homeopath. The first step was to give up my career in journalism. I went to the doctor who had treated me and told him I wanted to come work in his clinic and learn everything he could teach me. He invited me to come in and run his clinic for him and learn from him. Then I took the professional course at Millersville. That’s where I met Catherine Coulter and got reacquainted with Julian Winston and Hall Williams. Catherine was the principal teacher in materia medica. She presented lectures that became the basis for her books of homeopathic portraits. I arrived back home with four weeks of training and people lining up to be treated. That’s how I started my practice. I would never recommend to a student today to start practicing with such a minute amount of training. At the time, I didn’t feel I had much other choice. I worked carefully, and worked under supervision, but it was a fairly intense beginning. At that time I also began teaching an acute prescribing course and an MD who took that course made me an offer to join her practice. We talked and decided that we had very similar values related to health care, and so we went into practice together. It has remained a very fine alliance. This was in 1981. Our practice grew very quickly, and has expanded over the years.
AH: What training did you take next?
Ohanian: I applied to take the IFH professional course. This program was only open to licensed practitioners. I applied on the basis that I worked in a setting with licensed practitioners and that my practice was not illegal. At that time, the teachers included Nancy Herrick, Bill Gray, and some others. Nancy and Bill and Roger were very supportive of me taking the course, but not all were, and the vote needed to be unanimous, so I wasn’t able to attend. The next year I flew to Seattle to petition to attend a version of the IFH course that would be taught by Bill Gray in Minneapolis. I was told I couldn’t attend, but perhaps I could “take care of the coffee” for the course, and attend some lectures that way. As it turned out, Bill told me to just come to the classes. I did and I got the training, but it is not “official.” Michael Carlston took that same course. I later took the Hahnemann College (Berkeley) course (1987) because I wanted more training. That was a great experience.
AH: It is a great school, what were the highlights of the Hahnemann College of Homeopathy for you?
Ohanian: Having an in-depth integrated curriculum that had been well thought-out with experienced faculty who were dedicated to teaching that curriculum was very valuable. My partner at work now, Eric Sommerman, was a member of my Hahnemann class, and I developed many other lasting friendships and associations as a result of my experience there. My understanding and practice of homeopathy greatly expanded as a result of the course.
AH: What’s happened, since Hahnemann College, with your practice and education?
Ohanian: My practice has expanded significantly. Even with the addition of Eric Sommerman and Dolfy Frenquel to the practice, we have many more people wanting consultations than we have practitioner-hours available. Eric and I have started a three-year training program in Minnesota, which will include clinical training next year. We are both in process of meeting with health maintenance and hospital organizations interested in including homeopathy as part of alternative medicine programs. We are in process of creating a state homeopathic association, to have a forum to speak with the state medical associations and governmental agencies about how homeopathy fits within the health care delivery system.
Lou, Eric and I also started NASH during this period of time, as a way to set consistent standards of certification and practice for professional homeopaths as well as to provide a professional organization for non-medical homeopaths. In addition, we joined the International Council of Classical Homeopathy in its infancy to help shape other policy.
AH: Lets back up a bit, what was young Bill Gray like back in those early days?
Ohanian: Young Bill Gray was extremely dynamic and energetic, running twenty-fours a day doing everything he could for homeopathy. His mark is indelible.
AH: What was Catherine Coulter like?
Ohanian: Catherine was absolutely compelling as a lecturer in materia medica. I could never write as quickly as she could weave her portraits. She was a very strong influence.
The worse thing about being a homeopath is having to sit all the time so now, when I am not practicing, I bicycle and hike and stretch my legs however I can. I’ve backpacked across Europe, Nepal and the US. I am a traveler; I always have the next two trips planned before I return from the current one. I’ve just gone to Israel and am planning a travel itinerary there for a scuba diving trip. I have plans to go to New Zealand for bicycling then hopefully to Turkey then to Ireland.
AH: What kind of bike do you have, is it a hot rod?
Ohanian: (laughs) No, just a regular road bike, or two…
AH: What is your practice like?
Ohanian: I have quite a busy practice. We are looking for another full-time homeopath who wants a full practice. If you know anybody who wants to get busy fast and work hard have them contact me. They have to be grounded in the basics with some experience.
I work 4.5 days per week and manage two thousand patients. I see them when they need to come in, usually not more often than every two months. I have a six- month waiting list which bothers me because people need help now. Our clinic is large and busy and we have a good reputation in the area.
AH: What is Minneapolis like?
Ohanian: People say the population would be four times its size if it weren’t for the weather. There is lots of creative theater and tremendous activity. Lots of full-time colleges and educational opportunities. I live in a good residential area in town on a lake with 50 miles of bike paths immediately accessible. I’m able to commute to work by bicycle, weather permitting. Schools are good, the corporate mind-set is better than average, with a fair amount of support going to the arts, socially disadvantaged people, community development. There is a big emphasis on a healthy life-style, people are always out of doors in Minneapolis, even during the cold winters.
AH: What tools do you use in your practice?
Ohanian: I use MacRepertory with the Complete, and Reference Works. I use Morrison’s Keynotes, Boericke, Synthesis, and I use Clarke. I keep all these on my desk. I like using Hering and Allen, I’ve come to use the provings whereas I didn’t see the value of them so much early on.
AH: What is your vision for homeopathy?
Ohanian: My vision for homeopathy in general is to improve the accessibility and quality of education so we can increase the number of trained homeopaths. I think something that holds homeopathy back from being a more viable health care alternative is that there are not enough well trained practitioners. In Minnesota, the largest HMO has told us that they could send us fifty patients a day, but we simply cannot handle those numbers. We’ve had insurance companies say, “Sure, we would be glad to offer homeopathy to our insured, so where are the clinics…?” My vision is to see classical homeopaths forming alliances with allopaths, osteopaths, acupuncturists , chiropractors and other practitioners for the purpose of providing the best care to people. To see homeopaths able to practice homeopathy in hospital settings. To see homeopathic teaching institutions with competent clinical training programs.
AH: How did NASH actually get started?
Ohanian: One of my fellow students at Hahnemann College said once, early on, that “someone needed to start an organization for homeopaths because this is the wave of the future, and I think YOU should do it (this was in 1989); there are all these people out there and if they don’t get good training it won’t be good for the consumers.” So, he had a point. So I thought about it and at the NCH conference in Los Angeles in 1990 Louis Klein and Eric Sommermann and I somewhat reluctantly formed the North American Society of Homeopaths (NASH). We decided to take some very positive steps to create this identity for a profession that was already alive but wasn’t being seen as a profession -there wasn’t a place to “belong”. We also wanted to set standards which seemed to us to be lacking across the boards in all levels of homeopathy. We felt we could have some important influence in this way and also assist many people who wanted to practice who weren’t licensed for other types of medicine -the classic Catch-22 of homeopathy. We went through all of the growing pains that organizations have, we set appropriate standards of certification and ways to measure those and then it really took off! We had to resist the temptation to grandfather-in 300 people, to show we had “strength in membership”-instead we held to the standards and, as a result, have an organization of what we feel are highly competent practitioners of the art and science of homeopathy. I am very pleased with the way NASH is growing and progressing.
AH: Maybe you could talk a little about what it takes to get into NASH these days?
Ohanian: You have to be a homeopath already to get into NASH which means having a certain amount of training and experience. Training means that you have to have graduated from a school that provides training in classical homeopathy. And we require that people are in practice for at least one year after graduating. You must produce ten cured cases with adequate follow-ups -both on video and written cases. We feel this is a way to measure a persons grasp of basic homeopathy. We do have high standards for classical homeopathy. It takes a while at first to get ten cured cases so that’s why we want depth of practice. There is also an essay on ethics that is required. We need to know how the applicant stands on ethical grounds so there will not be problems in the future.
AH: What do you feel is the role of women in homeopathy?
Ohanian: All of a sudden women are becoming homeopaths in much larger numbers than they ever have before. I think it could have a positive effect on all the “turf wars” in homeopathy since women tend to not be as territorial as men. The great prescribing woman homeopaths of the past were amazing. They took many cases by mail and practiced eighteen hours a day until they were ninety years old. They made quite a difference and are the unsung heroines that really kept homeopathy alive in many ways. To go to medical school, in the past, women were routinely examined by psychiatrists to get documentation that they weren’t crazy for wanting to be doctors. Women have put up with a lot in medicine and in homeopathy. Women in the bay area recently developed a seminar where the speakers were all women and men were invited to attend but some men were threatened by it.
In some ways I think that women, as homeopaths, have an easier time than men because many patients would rather see women, certainly most women prefer women practitioners. So I am sitting down with people who are less guarded. I think that is mainly true because in our culture women are taught and expected to listen whereas men are not. Where women have a hard time in homeopathy is with our need to please, so if a patient is having a hard time with some of the questions during the intake, the woman practitioner will often back off. With many men, the instinct is to go in and probe the more sensitive area. Woman are generally strongly intuitive which can help immensely in homeopathy, especially when well grounded in the principles of homeopathy. I’ve seen some strongly intuitive men but usually I think it is an acquired trait.
AH: What advice would you give to our growing community of students of homeopathy?
Ohanian: Practice and sharpen your skills of observation. Practice understanding what makes a person individual and unique -take care just to practice this. Do whatever you can to get clinical training and supervision. Spend more time studying provings -read Hering, Allen, Hahnemann, and less time reading predigested material from modern authors. Study the Organon well enough to converse intelligently about it before spending much time on current philosophy of homeopathy. Above all, try to open yourselves enough to truly achieve “freedom from prejudice.”