236: Group Health, with Dr. Michelle Peris
In this episode, we are joined by Dr. Michelle Peris. Michelle is a naturopathic doctor with a clinical focus on women’s health, pediatrics, digestive and hormone health, and fertility optimization. Michelle joins us today to speak with us about The Wild Collective and a group health approach, including some shared experiences and their focus on female empowerment. Michelle is a health advocate passionate about helping women of all ages tune into their bodies. She shares with us a bit about her background and how she now supports her patients through body literacy.
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SP: COVID has affected us all and with all the negativity surrounding it, it’s often hard to find the positive, but one of the blessings it has given us is the opportunity to build an avenue for creating change. Starting right here in our community discussing topics that affect us most such as racism and health care, maintaining a positive mindset, creating change the importance of advocacy, and the many lessons we have all learned from COVID. If you or your organization are interested in speaking engagements, send a message to [email protected], reach out on Facebook at kwadcast or online at drkwadwo.ca.
KK: Welcome to Solving Healthcare. I’m Kwadwo Kyeremanteng. I’m an ICU and palliative care physician here in Ottawa and the founder of resource optimization network. We are on a mission to transform healthcare in Canada. We’re going to talk with physicians, nurses, administrators, patients and their families because inefficiencies, overwork and overcrowding affects us all. I believe it’s time for a better health care system that’s more cost effective, dignified, and just for everyone involved.
KK: Kwadcast nation. Welcome back, we have another exciting episode with Michelle Peris from ‘The Wild Collective’. Why is she on the show? Number one, she’s amazing human being naturopathic physician that’s changing the bogey. How she’s changing the bogey? by introducing group health, looking at ways that you as a patient or client, being in a group setting, to be able to learn off each other, have that shared experience, talk about ways of getting collectively healthier, almost being a cheering section for each other. Just makes so much sense, especially when we have so many shortages and issues in healthcare right now. So really excited about this, you’re going to enjoy this episode. Before jumping on though, I want you to go to kwadcast.substack.com. That’s our new newsletter. That’s where all our information is. I’m talking podcasts, videos of our episodes, vlogs, blogs, the latest and the greatest on healthcare solutions, right on one spot. So, you got to jump on the train baby, jump on the train. Alright, so without further ado, Michelle Peris.
Kwadcast nation – as usual, we got an exciting guest. I’m going to go ahead and even call Michelle, a friend. We met at the EPIC live event, and was very kind in terms of her messaging, but also reached out and expressed some of the amazing stuff she is doing with ‘The Wild Collective’ and I think, honestly, can transform how we approach medicine. Really, as we like to say, ‘changing the boogey’. So, without further ado, Michelle Peris, welcome to the podcast.
MP: Thanks so much for having me. I am really excited to connect with you and grateful to call you friend, you’ve been so inspiring to me. It’s a wonderful opportunity to be here.
KK: Oh, that’s very kind and but I mean, this is all about you. So, you started ‘The Wild Collective’ your background in naturopathic medicine. Yeah. So, maybe tell us just a bit of your background and how you landed in producing this amazing initiative.
MP: I often say our mess is our message. So, you know, it goes as far back as really struggling as a young girl of feeling that, you know, magical experience of belongingness always having a difficult time as a young girl to belong, and to feel like I fit in somewhere. That really, I guess, primed what the natural evolution of this was but I fell into naturopathic medicine largely through learning the power of food and nutrition. For the first time at that point, really learned what it meant to belong with a bunch of people who are like minded and suddenly, I felt very capable and very happy and satisfied with life. That was something that stuck with me those moments and seven years into clinical practice as a naturopathic doctor loved a very successful practice loving who I was serving. But feeling really dissatisfied with the consistency of results. At the same time, there was like this growing body of information of all of these, you know, health ramifications of social isolation and loneliness. It being the leading cause of mortality, and all these things, and I really felt like I was failing my patients. First, I didn’t really have a screening process for loneliness and then I didn’t have support for them on the other side of that, and I think it was really, all these moments that culminated this motivation in for me to solve this problem for my patients. Through that, we created this closed group experience where there’s enough time created to not only empower and teach women about body literacy, and how to prioritize their health and why they need to think critically and be the CO creators of their health with their health care providers but also give them the benefits of community medicine and all of the beautiful consequences or side effects that happen when you engage in a community. What started to happen, what started as a very small project, it turned into a global mission, because I really do think this is how we can impact healthcare in a meaningful way how we can alleviate a lot of the burden on the system, is if we are able to disseminate health information that we know is important if people knew how important it was to prioritize their health or create metabolic flexibility or understand nutrition, then they could start to take radical responsibility for the health and start to co create that with their one on one providers and really start to alleviate the system. There are many studies that have demonstrated that that’s possible that there are, you know, clinics in the US that are you leveraging this, that you have to go through a group program first. Then Dr. Mark Hyman is a great example, 80% of those cohorts that go through that group program don’t require his care at the end of it. So, so much of what we do, we can really empower people to do on their own, and they don’t necessarily require a one-on-one care. For me, this was exciting. I think the other things too, is that we spent a lot of time and educating ourselves on all these obstacles, secure the things that get in our way. I don’t think we have enough time in one-on-one care to unpack what those could possibly be. Maybe it’s not feeling connected in our relationships are unfulfilled in our work, we don’t necessarily have mission and purpose that drive our day. These are huge drivers to overall well being. They need to be understood, and we need to take responsibility for them to be, like transformed in that healthcare experience. I think I think group health does that beautifully. So that was a lot. But that’s what I’m doing.
KK: No, that’s good. That’s good. It paints a beautiful picture. Michelle, so maybe give us a sense of what a common topics that come up or common ailments that you see like, who what’s the typical person that comes to see you?
MP: I know this, everyone always wants us to define this. I really want to reach every woman, but I would say women come to us typically because they’re interested in learning more. Most women who are interested in something like this have been told by someone that everything looks fine, but they don’t feel fine. So usually, there’s some kind of overwhelm, anxiety, stress, burnout, maybe a hormonal symptom as a result, or insomnia. Or they’re aware that there’s a, you know, low thyroid situation happening. That’s what’s really prompted them to explore naturopathic medicine and get more curious about that root cause piece. Then I think what ultimately gets them interested and what has created a whole access to a different type of, of health education is once they understand what we’re doing in a group health setting, so not only are we helping them understand optimal ranges for bloodwork results, or other areas to explore, I think you do a good job of highlighting this but for many people who are just learning this it’s never just one symptom or one pot. It’s like one system of the body that is going on, right, like they they’re all They’re all interconnected. So, I think when we’re looking at things in a very condensed way, and we’re not expanding and helping people widen the lens on what could be going on. I think health information helps individuals do that. So, We can talk about maybe the reason they came in is that they had hot flashes. But if we can educate them on, you know how their nutrition might be impacting that, or how their stress levels might be contributing to that, I think that’s what really creates a lot of interest for women to want to learn that. I think the people that we tend to attract is they want to know this information, and they feel so overwhelmed by the content on Google, I think what keeps them fascinated and why they stay in this type of work, is that we like to expand the conversation and take it one step further, and really start to unpack those other obstacles that might be getting in the way are where they’re feeling like, mystified, there’s so many women out there, ‘I don’t know why I keep gaining weight, it’s not making sense’ when we start to really go a little bit deeper and look at different concepts of like speaking our truth, and trusting our intuition and just digging a little bit deeper. How our relationships are actually affecting our physical health, I think we start to make it a bit richer and more interesting for them. Now they start to see all the ways that they may have ended up in this dysfunctional health state. I think there is this growing curiosity to want to understand that I think we serve a lot of people if we’re being super honest. It’s probably not the thing that they come forward with, but they feel like they’ve checked all the boxes, and they still feel quite unfulfilled or dissatisfied. That probably comes from being lonely, or not actually being purpose driven. So, I think we tried to create a health information. So, we’ve done tried to do so many things, but we attract people by educating them on their health and their body. And then we take it one step further, and really get them to step into that space of also taking radical responsibility for those day-to-day things that are negatively impacting their health.
KK: I would imagine in a group setting, people learn off each other? I’m curious, Does the group specifically have common complaints? Or it’s a random number of women? Six women, you put them in one group? Or is it a common issue that they want to address? How do you determine this?
MP: I think you can do it several ways. I think this is being successfully done in both of those fashions. So, for us, we’ve been more about how we’re a very fundamental foundational program for women. So, there’s a nonspecific attraction to it. Not, we’re not like, oh, here we are for autoimmunity, those groups do happen and they’re fabulous, because it gives you that opportunity to really niche down in the types of conversations you want to have. I think what I’ve learned for doing this for the last seven years is that there always is that unifying universal normalization of the human experience that happens in any group that you’re in. I think this can work in either capacity, is there are a specific condition that one is drawn to this group for or are you there, because you want to become more empowered in your health, and you want to take that radical responsibility to that next step and be in this space. If you know, we all here you become the five people you spend most of your time with. If you start to go into that like minded, health-conscious community, how do we use things that will naturally make those habits easier to embody?
KK: Mhm, it’s like you get a team. When you’re in a group, you want to encourage each other don’t want to let each other down. So, you’ve got that automatic cheering squad, telling you like, Let’s go!
MP: My two frustrations and one on one practice where lack of support for my patients and lack of really understanding what we were doing what why we were doing their treatment plan. That’s exactly it’s there’s that let’s go energy that’s happening in that group. I remember so many patients would leave my office and they’d be like, ‘I’m so excited like you’ve made you’ve given me so much hope I see why this is important. I really want to execute on this plan’ and then they’d come back for their six week follow up. They’ll say ‘My husband wasn’t in full support. I don’t want to cook all these different meals that that that that that that like all the excuses’ It becomes really difficult to adhere to any plan as brilliant as it is if we lack the social support in order to override the discomfort of change and transformation. It’s incredibly difficult. So, when we provide the community, that has that ‘go go rah rah rah’ support. Not only that, but the safe space also to say ‘I’m really struggling today, I don’t really love this ketogenic approach, I’m here today, I’m hungry, I’m missing cookies’ whatever, you have this group that’s like, I understand, I see you, I am you, and you’ve got this, you can make this one more day. Suddenly, it doesn’t feel so hard to learn these new habits, because you’re in a space that supports and understands you. It becomes a lot less scary or overwhelming when you’re in that kind of health inspired space.
KK: I mean, you’re selling it, you’re definitely selling it, I want a stage where we got to think about healthcare delivery, you know, and in ways that they can outside the box here, because our current models and system aren’t serving enough for the public. What you’re proposing is ways of addressing more patients in a group setting that maybe, as you said, it’s more effective because of all the things you stated. So, I think that to me is what’s exciting about is that this could be a model that we should be doing at scale. I guess one of my questions for you is, do you feel like the women that see you, do they wish they would start utilizing this technique before they have problems? Do you know what I mean? Is it fair to say that when they see you there’s already some significant issues that they want to address?
MP: Yeah, yeah, I agree. Where are we perfectly fit in is in that preventative phase. That’s what we were well trained to talk about, and educate and empower on it’s like, where we’re very well suited in healthcare. Unfortunately, as it stands still because we’re fighting against a system, and everyone is so primed in that way. We all think a certain way with respect to how healthcare delivery happens, and how we navigate through the system, that this is still quite a disruptive thought. So even when they’re ending up in our one-on-one practice, typically there is something going on, and it’s well progressed, it’s well beyond the preventative phase. What I’m seeing now we’ve created teen programs, Mother/Daughter programs, because we to see the potential, like what if you had this information from the start? I really do believe, and I’ve said this to not be so bold, I would love to support in any way, I do think this is a very viable solution that fits the gaps that are currently missing. If we’re talking about disparity in health care, access to health information, a lot of the criticism with extended health care. Visits, not everyone can access and afford that. Well, Group Health really helps to solve that problem as well. So how do we get this fabulous information that we now know in terms of education, nutrition, lifestyle, or dementia, stress reduction, all these tools that will be disseminated in a very affordable fashion in a large group setting. When people have access to the information, they desire to take radical responsibility for their health, they feel supported by the collective and therefore now they can alleviate a system that is on the brink of collapse that is struggling to keep up with the pace. People are co creating their own health and they are under they understand the role that they play. That’s not currently the paradigm we exist in and that was a frustration of mine. Even as a naturopathic doctor, we were still often, you know, viewed as green aloe pass like they still wanted the supplement. I still met that resistance at the very end of my one-on-one practice, you know, there are people like ‘Michelle, I just came to you for the supplement. I didn’t want you to talk to me about all the things’ it’s like, well, I’m sorry, I can’t unsee what I know now.
KK: Absolutely. In terms of the nitty gritty of the programs, because you alluded to the idea that you have like mother daughter programs, for example. Two questions: What are the programs available? What’s the structure like? Is it all naturopathic physician, doctors that will run the program or do you have facilitators? Walk me through how you navigate through this?
MP: Yeah, so we have a 10-module foundational program that everyone goes through. That is delivered by anyone who is educated enough to articulate the fundamentals of health. So, under a good healthy understanding of physiology, symptom expression, how that shows up in our body testing options, and then natural interventions. So, we have collaborated with mostly naturopathic doctors, we have functional medicine doctors, we have MDs in the US who are teaching and educating the ‘Wild Collective’ we have very well-educated holistic nutritionist that are capable, we have pelvic floor physios that we’ve partnered up with, and they teach it as their whole clinic delivers certain modules. So, their naturopath delivers a thyroid module, you know, right. So, we we’ve seen all ways in which this program could be used. And it runs as a closed group. Because for me, that connection piece, like once that piece was well established in my mind that that was what we really needed. I didn’t want it to be open, I really wanted them to create a very strong social group that was going to support them through that. So, they these sessions occur either once a month or twice a month or every week. They’re two hours in duration, we spend 50% In of the time in connection. So, we ask very curated questions that are going to stimulate a very high-level health-conscious conversation that will also normalize their own human experience, just through the absorption of like, ‘oh, my gosh, I’m not alone, her story is so similar to mine’ there’s just this wonderful thing that happens when people start to share and open up. That part to me is so fascinating, that has always ended up being my favorite part is that we spend so much time talking about the big T trauma, little T trauma, all these things that get in the way, you know, we can be really accelerated through a lot of those and freed up with a lot of the things that we carry, when we hear someone’s story, it’s so similar to our own and they overcame it, and they didn’t have to hold on to it. There’s just so much power and value in the story sharing part. Then we spend the other 50% in curriculum and health education. At the end of that, then they can move to other levels should they want to continue on, but that is the part that we’re now making available globally, because we just want to help as many women as possible. We know that what we have is valuable. We know that it’s responsible for consistent health transformation. Man, just like really helping women step up in their own life and leading others that we just wanted to make sure that whoever was capable was it was in the hands of those people and they were teaching it.
KK: Beautiful, beautiful. I’m curious, in one of these sessions when you say you ask one of these standardized questions to be able to get people to open up, do you have an example of that? Not to put you on the spot but do you have an example?
MP: Yeah, so I’ll walk you through a little bit of it. So, we start off with our hormone module, which tends to be the most popular where we teach women about cyclical living and how we’re different, we’re fundamentally different at our different phases of our menstrual cycle. We will open up the circle talking ‘what has your experience been like? If you could define it in a couple of words? open up the circle, very open-ended questions, we then move to the detoxification module. We talk all about our body’s natural capacity to detoxify all the systems of detoxification, and we start to get the questions and it starts to get a little more interesting so that we open up the floor with ‘What are some other things that you need to detox from?’ and I always say you can say very simple things, if you’re aware of alcohol consumption, or gluten. You could also be very aware that there are certain relationships, that are no longer serving you, or there are certain parts of your life or habits that are getting in the way of you living your most aligned life. What you’re really trying to do is just open up that safe space. I think where we’ve been very successful as, as facilitators, we see ourselves as equal, so we’re equally sharing and we’re setting the tone of what’s safe in that space. Then leaving it totally open for them to make their own connections. Because what’s really beautiful is you never really know how profound the transformation is on the inside from what they’re hearing and receiving and what’s going on as a result of that information sharing and it’s usually quite profound. So, we really try and tie in concepts of intuition and divine feminine with that question asking period. So, the next one is my thyroid, and we have a beautiful thyroid module, but we also start talking about do you speak your truth? Where maybe is a situation where you were unsuccessful and what was the consequence or what was the situation where you were successful? And what was the consequence? And we really start to open up these concepts of ‘oh my gosh, if I’m holding all this in, how is this impacting my health?’ and we really start to tie these pieces together for them so that they realize that they’re holding on to things that are no longer serving them. There must be some safe space for that to move through them, so that they can really get to the real obstacles that are getting in their way of their health.
KK: Wow. Certainly, you highlight the mind body connection in terms of how we need to heal, which is grand. It makes sense when you hear similar experiences from you, how that can validate and could make the experience that much more real. This sounds good. In terms of the other programs, you have a mother daughter program. Is there any other kind of unique programs that you have?
MP: We have mother/daughter, we have teen, we have perimenopause, and menopause.
KK: What’s your most popular one?
MP: Our fundamental one is our most established. So, I’d say that is the most popular and now we’re stepping into like, and I’ll say in my mind, I have this everybody just like gets along. I really thought that this would just attract women, no matter what diversity of age diversity of background. That necessarily wasn’t the case. That’s why we now are targeting certain audiences to help bring them in. Age is a big one for women, so we had to create the perimenopause, menopause, there’s slightly different content, of course, that needs to be delivered. But more the real obstacle is that aging women don’t necessarily feel celebrated or safe to join where there are younger women. It was a real obstacle for me, if it’s going to be a barrier then we must find a different way to reach them.
KK: The answer came from them.
MP: Yeah, the answers definitely came from them.
KK: Interesting. What’s the big picture vision? You’ve alluded to the scaling up of such and the globalization of, ‘The Wild Collective’ and I must say the idea that it could be affordable, scalable, all these things make it very attractive. Where would you love to see this goal?
MP: Yeah, if I were the queen for a day, I there would be a shift, there would be a paradigm shift in our thinking that everyone understood that we took this responsibility on and I’m happy to take this on. That we were advocating and articulating the value of where group health fits in, in the health care system. That every person understood that the health, the health care experience, included community. That it was like the first step that it was concurrent with our one-on-one care, because there were other frustrations, as a clinician, that this alleviates our discomforts, too, I was exhausted at the end of my day, because I was saying the same things over and over. I was trained for strategy, and really building all these beautiful plans and I spent most of my day talking about hydration and protein. It’s inefficient, we are way too educated to be hanging out in that space in that capacity. So, let’s innovate the whole model. I want to disrupt the model. I want every person to understand the value that group has in their health but also in their life. I think we would see a totally different system and a different health outcome if that were the articulation and so my mission not only moving, what we’re bringing forward, but really is to stand for Group Health. The thing that’s most difficult, I coach and mentor other clinicians now and building their own group programs. So, I’ve seen autoimmunity and Lyme and all these other group programs do amazing. We all held up against the same resistance, which is that we as a population as a as a global population, we don’t understand the value of it. It’s not the articulation of health care, therefore we’re naturally resistant to it until we’ve experienced it. So, I would love to, I would love to create a lot of clarity there, so that everyone understood the value and they just prioritize that as part of the house strategy. That that for me, I think we would change a whole lot with respect to public health. It would be advantageous for everybody, I think it would care for the doctors, I think it would care for public health at a greater scale. That is what I’m set out to do and I want to be of service in that capacity. However, that rolls out. I think my biggest obstacle is trying to articulate the value to people who have only seen one on one care as the only option for health delivery.
KK: Well said, I reflect back, we did a episode, the names gonna escape me all of a sudden put on the spot. It was an episode on social prescribing, and the impact that has had on many patients. You’re gonna go to cooking class or a yoga class and prescribing that. I remember leaving that interview saying like, ‘Yes! this is where we need to go’ and a lot of the patients that would be referred, unfortunately, are deep into their ailments. I think twofold, 1. leaning on the preventative side that’s at scale in a group setting, I think is grand. 2. Then also just having here in a group session, can be so powerful for the reasons you’ve mentioned. The reason I’m sloppy is because I’m thinking at the same time, I’m thinking even for our project with metabolic health we should make sure I think I might be in the grant, but we should emphasize the idea of having group sessions. Adding this as part of the care package that they’ll receive. There’s too much upside, it’s more efficient. It’s just as glorious.
MP: I agree
KK: You’ve convinced me now. I love it. So, anything else that you want to give love to with ‘The Wild Collective’, I just want to make sure that we’re catching all the magic that you guys are doing. As we say, many times on the show ‘y’all are changing the bogey’. We want to make sure that that bogey gets amplified, so any other initiatives or, or things that you want to highlight Michelle
MP: I just I just want to emphasize the importance of social connection for everybody who’s listening. I think there’s just been so much impact and impair from the last few years of being strongly encouraged to, to socially distance and fully understand why that happened. There’s been a lot of impact and our brains are socially wired to connect and this this needs to be a must have, it ought to be prioritized. Certainly, we’d love to serve you we are always here in the ‘Wild Collective’ to direct you wherever is the best fit or to welcome you into our community. Social connection, the power of that with respect to overall health, well being and longevity in terms of even living eight years longer. I mean, it’s just like such a no brainer. It can be successfully done with one other person in your life. So, for me, what was so exciting is this was a free tool that everyone had access to with respect to health that had a massive impact in overall health, well being longevity, anti inflammation, increased satisfaction, decreased risk of anxiety and depression. It is such a powerful tool. I love the work that we’re doing, and you can check out our website. I’ll give that to you for the show notes. We have facilitators all over the world. We just want to be of service and ensure everyone who wants access to this type of healthcare support can have it I really do think it is the future of medicine. The more that we stand for that and create we normalize the conversation around that I think the easier buy in we’re going to have and the more people we’re going to be able to help so that’s really all I have to say and if I can contribute in any way. I’m happy to because this really is my life’s work now. I’m super grateful to know this information now and to have actually stuck with it long enough to see the power of it. To be brave enough to stand for it and continue to scream at the mountaintops for it.
KK: This is great. You’ve you found your purpose, we are certainly glad you, you found your purpose. To reinforced, the lack of connection and the lack of community in the last couple of years has been significant. I could not agree more. So, thank you, Dr. Michelle Peris for coming on the Kwadcast and please let everybody know where we can get a hold of you.
MP: Yeah, thank you so much for having me. I’m most social on Instagram. So, you can follow me over @drmichelleperis. I love to personally connect, like I said, and like you said the consequences over the last few years. If you’re if you’re looking for resources, please don’t hesitate to reach out. I’m happy to give support and we are global site is www.the-wild-collective.com. I also have a podcast called ‘Wild Medicine’ and I think we do a really good job not only explaining the benefits of the wild collective but community medicine at large.
KK: Beautiful, beautiful. Thank you so much for joining us. This was awesome. I’m feeling inspired.
MP: Thank you so much for having me
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