Integrative medicine evaluates a person’s many facets

By Marcia Travelstead Marcia Travelstead | Career Move | Winter 2017


Practicelink molly roberts sf 037

Through probing questions and integrative medicine, Molly Roberts, M.D., aims to get to the root of patients’ issues. “If more attention was placed on dealing with the underlying problem, then we’d have fewer people dealing with the serious health issues they have now,” she says. · Photo by Drew Bird Photography, LLC

Name: Molly Roberts, M.D., MS

Work: CEO and president of LightHearted Medicine, San Francisco

Undergraduate: St. John Fisher College, Rochester, N.Y.

Med School: University of Arizona, Tucson

Residency: University of Arizona

Molly Roberts, M.D., known as “Dr. Molly,” is on the board of directors for the Academy of Integrative Health and Medicine and is chairman of the Academy’s Association Leadership Counsel. She is past president of the American Holistic Medical Association and the past chairman of the Board for the Integrative Medicine Consortium. She is a psychotherapist with a master’s in rehabilitation counseling and vocational evaluation with Ph.D. work in rehabilitation psychology. Dr. Molly has published a number of books and has contributed to numerous articles and publications. She has been a volunteer faculty member at the University of Arizona College of Medicine and continues to serve as a mentor. Her business partner and husband Bruce Roberts, M.D., brings his vast experience and expertise to LightHearted Medicine as well.

What do you like best about practicing integrative medicine? I get to spend time with my patients. I think it’s important to get to the root cause of their symptoms. Instead of treating one symptom after another, you can delve into all of the clues of what’s going on physically, emotionally and spiritually. We can look at it together to figure out what is the next step in their life journey.

I tell my patients that “I follow the energy.” So, if they’re talking about their physical symptoms, we head in that direction. If they’re talking about their relationship with their spouse or how much they hate their job, we head in those directions. I was a psychotherapist for 15 years before I became a medical doctor, so we can cover both the physical and emotional aspects of their life and health.

Is there anything you don’t like about your work? What I don’t like is that the current health care system doesn’t do enough to address prevention and proactive health care. It’s really focused on crisis management. For example, it doesn’t work on nutrition until the person has diabetes. If more attention was placed on dealing with the underlying problem, then we’d have fewer people dealing with the serious health issues they have now.

Was there anything that surprised you about practicing integrative medicine? It was when I really started looking at the spiritual aspect of my patients’ health and well-being. I first started probing into spiritual health when I had my own personal injury. That’s when I realized how important it was to ask those big-picture questions: What am I doing here? Where do I want to go? What’s my meaning and purpose in life? To what and whom do I feel connected?

I thought that if I asked those questions of my patients, I would be put on the sidelines with my medical colleagues.

However, my medical colleagues instead said they knew these questions were important, they just didn’t have the time to explore them with their patients. What happened was those doctors started referring to me instead of isolating me. I think it’s important to say that I don’t have a religion I am pushing on anyone. It’s more about asking those big questions in order to discover what patients feel connected to.

What advice would you give a physician who wants to practice integrative medicine? I would suggest reaching out to physicians who are already practicing it. I think that’s really helpful. Integrative medicine has actually been around a long time (it used to be called holistic medicine), and now there are formal fellowship training programs in integrative medicine.

Physicians who practice integrative medicine are doing different things. For example, there may be an integrative medicine specialist who added acupuncture to the list of tools in their toolbox. Another practitioner might have added nutritional or herbal remedies. Someone else might be using bodywork, health coaching, sophisticated biochemical testing and treatment, or some other modality to help their patients.

The other thing is to have an open mind regarding science and research. We know so much more than we did five years ago, but what we know now was a mystery back then. I think it’s helpful to stay humble about how you think health and medicine work, as the research will inevitably shift your understanding as time goes on.

Anything else you’d like to add? Integrative medicine is a mixture of what you bring to the world and what you explore about yourself. If a physician is looking to make a difference in their patients’ health while at the same time honoring the quest for their own best life path, this is the type of medicine he or she would want to work in. Most of us go into medicine to help others on a deeper level, and this is a great opportunity to do just that.


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