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Special to the Integrator: AIHM "Crone & Sage School" Creates Sacred, Interprofessional Space PDF Print E-mail
Written by John Weeks   

Special to the Integrator: AIHM "Crone & Sage School" Seeks to Create Sacred, Interprofessional Space for Integrative Practitioners

Kelsey Misbrener: guest writer
In some recent correspondence with an integrative medical doctor in her mid-30s, we e-wondered at the kind of wisdom she will have in 2040. In that year she will have approximately the number of years certain crusty old-timers, such as the present writer, have had in the integrative health and medicine field. One would hope that simply staying involved brings something like wisdom, if through osmosis alone.

The Academy of Integrative Health and Medicine (AIHM) - one of my present learning environments - has an emerging structure through which to impart such wisdom of the field's elders. So when I was contacted by AIHM writer and staffer Kelsey Misbrener about publishing an article from on her experience with AIHM's "Crone and Sage School," I didn't need much persuasion. Certainly a part of optimal "integrative health and medicine" involves leveraging the best of learned experience to shape what one of my own mentors, futurist Clem Bezold, taught me to call our "preferred future." 

Hosting Crone & Sage school
Some background. The Academy of Integrative Health & Medicine (AIHM) is "an interprofessional membership and education organization committed to the transformation of health care on a global level."
The Crone and Sage School are ceremonies that are part of the Academy's annual conference, to be held October 25-29, 2015 in San Diego, California, with the theme People, Planet, Purpose.  These ceremonies seek to create a sacred space for inter-professional education and community. They are, as Misbrener shares, "a special tradition, part of the Academy's legacy from one of its two predecessor organizations." She adds: "During these events, the wisdom of the elders is honored as they lead a group of healers to share in reflection and come together to celebrate our shared humanity and holistic heritage."

Misbrener is the AIHM Membership Manager. She completed internships at Cleveland Magazine, Anthony Thomas Advertising and The News Outlet and has been published in the Akron Beacon Journal, Cleveland Magazine and other publications. Here is Misbrener's article.


AIHM Crone & Sage School

Two sacred ceremonies to unite and inspire interdisciplinary practitioners of all ages
- Kelsey Misbrener

The origin of Crone School

In 1970, women made up just 9.7 percent of the nation's MDs and DOs, according to census data. Female physicians who practiced holistic, integrative medicine were even more rare. Inter-professional support was limited.

In 1978, the American Holistic Medical Association (AHMA) formed to unite holistic practitioners. The female practitioners who were part of the group needed more support, so they formed what they called Crone School.

Gladys McGarey, MD: godmother of holistic medicine
Crone School began as informal gatherings over a few long dinners and eventually became a scheduled ceremony at each AHMA meeting where the women sat in circle and shared stories. All women at the conference were invited, including attendees, faculty and exhibitors.

"The need for Crone School was brought to us at a point in time when the hearts of many young women were hurt and even broken by the broken medical system," said Dr. Gladys McGarey, widely known as the "Mother of Holistic Medicine," and the founder of the Foundation for Living Medicine.

The word "crone" might conjure negative connotations, but the women chose it to reclaim the beauty and strength of aging, said Gladys. "We thought it was time to change the picture of the old woman from being an ugly, withered, wicked person and reclaim her as a crony or friend who may have wrinkles and not be young and beautiful, but has wisdom and loving life experiences which need to be shared."

Once a woman reached "cronehood," she was done with child rearing, usually done with usual "work" and able to be a source of wisdom, solace and inspiration to others in the clan, according to Dr. Wendy Warner, a longtime member of the Academy's predecessor organizations and 2015 AIHM Conference Co-Chair. "Those of us who have been on this planet for many years have our own scars," Gladys said, "but also have lived through the pain and can share our own healing tools."

Though the number of female physicians and surgeons has increased by 22.7 percent from 1970 to 2010, female practitioners are still the minority.

"The system is still broken and the hearts of healers are in need of love, support and understanding," Gladys said. "We women know that we all need each other and Crone School is a wonderful place for this need to be met."

The AHMA has since merged with the American Board of Integrative Holistic Medicine to form the Academy of Integrative Health & Medicine, a membership and educational organization working to unite integrative practitioners of all modalities under a common goal: to transform health care globally. The Academy is developing an advocacy arm to support integrative healthcare expansion, offers E-Learning for continuing education, publishes at least two articles in the AIHM Journal Club per week, has more than 10 regional chapters and continues to grow.

The AIHM is committed to self-care and inter-professional collaboration. The tradition of Crone School will continue at AIHM's October 2015 conference-People, Planet, Purpose: Global Practitioners United in Health & Healing, a five-day experience for healthcare providers in San Diego, California.

Wendy has attended Crone School for many years. She said her most profound experience was when she split with her conventional OBGYN practice 10 days before the annual Crone School gathering.

"I was feeling cast adrift, unsure of the next step, totally alone and raw," Wendy said.

Even at the time she was splitting from her conventional practice, she was comforted by the fact that she would be with "her people" soon.

"Imagine a room of women, mostly healers, many of whom had similar stories to mine," Wendy said. "I was in such good hands! I regained my feet and my heart there that night."

Sages Follow

A few years after Crone School began, several of the men of the AHMA observed the great benefit the women were reaping from their ceremony and determined to create their own special evening, said Dr. Bob Anderson, a founder of the AHMA and ABIHM.

Bob Anderson, MD: founded key holistic orgs
Though the word "sage" implies hubris, Bob said nothing could be further from the truth. They used the term to convey that older physicians have more hindsight and life experience, and can pass along what they've learned to physicians new to integrative health. The dictionary defines the term as "someone venerated for the possession of wisdom, judgment and experience."

Though the elders are called upon to share knowledge, the sages "have no monopoly on the truth." There appears to be no hierarchy in the Sage School circle.

According to Bob, "All need for pretense fades away. Judgment and competition, so embedded in the practice of medicine, are suspended in the Sage circle."

Sage School is similar to Crone School: men form a circle and share the struggles and joys of being an integrative practitioner and a human.

"Unrestrained sharing of sometimes-intimate information met with unconditional acceptance was very helpful as I moved along my path of becoming a better and more caring healer, and a more fully alive person," Bob said.

Bob especially enjoyed Sage School because it was a break from the usual brain-centered approach to medicine. Though the brain is a necessary part, putting the heart first is an integral part of holistic, whole-person care.

"The joy of finding and mingling with fellow physicians whose path is consonant or parallel to my own has been a great encouragement in dealing with the bumps in the road of life," Bob said. "And the number of ‘ah-ha' experiences emerging from the deep sharing in the circle at Sage School is legendary."

Crone School Firsthand

I went to my first Crone School at AHMA's final conference in 2014 in Minneapolis.

I walked up to the two long lines of women, peering over heads to see what we were all waiting for. I heard the sound of Tibetan tingshaws and singing bowls, then saw the gatekeepers of the room moving the instruments around those waiting, sending them into the room with a cleansing blessing.

The door opened just a sliver as each new person walked into the room. I tried to get a glimpse of what was behind that door, but all I could do was listen. I heard a woman's voice say, "She calls herself Jane." Then an echo of many others responded, "Welcome, Jane!"

This was Crone School.

When it was my turn at the front of the line, my heart was beating fast and my palms were sweating. I was given the blessing, then guided into the room.

"What do you call yourself?" the gatekeeper asked. "Kelsey," I whispered.

"She calls herself Kelsey," she said in a booming voice.

Anderson (R) with Warner and Scott Shannon: evolving generations of elders
"Welcome, Kelsey!" the room echoed back to me. She gently pushed me forward where I found a seat in the large circle of chairs. Only a few were left.

The energy in the room overtook me immediately, wrapping me in a swath of safety and warmth. I looked around the room and exchanged nervous smiles with some other people I knew, and some whom I didn't.

Others filled in the circle until there were no seats left and we welcomed each with the same greeting. When everyone was seated, the women in the four corners of the room played a song with various wind and drum instruments.

Next, we were encouraged to bring our spiritual tokens to the center of the circle. Some brought rings, some brought rocks. I wasn't sure what to put in the middle, until I felt the weight of my most beloved necklace hanging around my neck. It was my late Ota's (grandfather's) gold chain with a wrapped crystal adornment from my boyfriend. I unclasped the back and walked forward to add to the collection of prized possessions.

We began the ceremony by passing around a heart-shaped healing rock that Gladys, widely known as the mother of holistic medicine, brought with her. I watched as each person held on to the rock, reluctant to let go and pass it to the next person. I was nervous to get ahold of it and planned to pass it quickly. But when my neighbor passed it to me and I felt the heat and loving energy of so many people inside that rock, I understood. It couldn't have weighed more than one pound, yet it felt like a ton. It brought my entire body down to the earth and into a meditative state. Just as hesitantly as the others, I passed it to the next person.

When I returned to my hotel room after the ceremony, I felt a new energy coursing through me. I felt relief after sharing experiences in a room with so many like-minded individuals. And I felt a renewed sense of pride in my womanhood.

: Much of the early work in vitalizing and re-vitalizing the professions and industries that would constitute the movement for integrative health and medicine was led by individuals who worked without, or with very few, mentors. Who was to provide guidance for the pioneering holistic doctors and nurses, and the integrative MDs who came later? In the revitalization of the field of naturopathic medicine with which I was first involved, many of us were not significantly guided by those few elders who remained. Instead, we invented things. We taught each other. We practiced a good deal of peer-mentoring or co-mentoring.
Basically, across these fields, there was not a generation that came before us.

Now we are two generations down the line from those beginnings for integrative health and medicine in the late 1970s. So it is particularly good to see this ritual reaching out to facilitate the formation of mentor-mentee relationships such as the AIHM is doing, and Misbrener recording. Given an apparently constitutional shortness of resources in the field, husbanding what resources we have through making the most of the songs of experience from present elders is specially important. Check out
the conference.

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