The School and Students
- What PSHM Students are Doing
- Class Size
- Leadership in Community Health
- Working While in School
- PSHM Drug Policy
- Spirituality and Religion at the School
- Working After You Complete Your Studies
Eighty-six percent of the students who have completed clinic are working as practitioners. Some combine herbal medicine with other alternative modalities such as massage, and acupuncture, many do herbal work in public health and community healthcare settings. Of the remaining fourteen percent some work making medicines, some work in herb stores, some I've lost touch with. Of those who've finished pre-clinic or Clinical Case Study two-thirds are in practice, and many of the other third are doing herb work in some way.
Classes are kept small. Preclinical classes are limited to fifteen students (except Physiology for the Herbalist.) Clinical classes including Clinical Case Study are limited to eight students. This assures the student plenty of focused individual attention, and support for their growth as an herbalist.
We do not offer a certificate because lay herbalism is not licensable, and a certificate has no real meaning or use unless printed on toilet paper.
Leadership in Community Health
The Pacific School of Herbal Medicine has a long history of bringing herbal medicine back into community and public health services. The School's director has been working with community clinics since 1984. Dedicated students from the School, herbalists, medics, lab technicians, nurses, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, doctors, outreach workers, therapists, social workers, acupuncturists, community organizers and elders continue and further this work through practicing and educating in clinics, hospitals, and community health and education programs in the Bay area, through out the United States, and on five continents around the globe. The School continues to work with harm reduction, and needle exchange programs. The school and its students have also been active in bringing herbal medicine into community gardening and education-often working with the San Francisco League of Urban Gardeners, and East Bay Urban Gardeners.
Many of our students have become leaders in the field of herbal education, working as directors, faculty teachers, and frequent guest teachers at schools of herbal medicine including the Sweetgrass School of Herbalism in Montana, the Rocky Mountain Center for Botanical Studies in Colorado, Southwest School of Botanical Medicine in Arizona, and the California School of Herbal Studies, the Shasta School of Herbs and Apprenticeship Program, Ohlone Center of Herbal Studies, and the Northwest School of Botanical Studies in California .
Some of the work that current and former students are or have been involved in through out the greater San Francisco Bay Area include:
- California School of Traditional Hispanic Herbalism
- In Richmond run by Charles Garcia.
- Living Awareness Institute
- In Vacaville run by Kami McBride.
- Charlotte Maxwell Complementary Clinic
- In Oakland
- Sage Clinic
- A multi-service center providing care for sex workers in San Francisco where Lena Ford works.
- Ohlone Center of Herbal Studies
- In Walnut Creek run by Pam Fischer with many other Pacific school students on staff.
- Casa Segura
- A harm reduction clinic staffed by Jeff Del Bosque, Tara Rado, and Bonniebrook Bullock, and Antonio Abolafia
- Renaissance Woman Midwifery
- In Oakland in which Lucinda Chiszar is a partner.
- Herbal Highway
- A radio program Thursdays on KPFA hosted by Sarah Holmes and her girlfriend Karyn Sanders.
- Occidental Arts and Ecology Center
- In Occidental where midwife Kalanete Baruch teaches horticultural therapy and herbal medicine.
- Scarlet Sage Herb Company
- In San Francisco owned by Dino Lucas and her partner Lisa Kellman and knowledgeable staff.
- Berkeley Free Clinic
- Harm Reduction and Needle Exchange
- Spiral Gardens
- Community education gardens in Oakland founded by Dan Miller and Christopher Shein who also runs Wild Heart Gardening (a good source for medicinal plants).
- Bay Area Clinical Herbalist Association
- Founded by Pacific School students Cindy Belew, Gail Julian, and Pam Fischer
- San Francisco Community Clinic Consortium
Working While in School
Most students work while studying at the Pacific School of Herbal Medicine. The school's class schedule is intended to suit the needs of working adults.
Two types of work both, volunteer and paid are especially helpful to students of herbal medicine. Work in a botanically related field, and healthcare support services.
The San Francisco Bay area has many opportunities to work in plant nurseries, propagating plants in botanical gardens, both native and general, and to do docent work at botanical gardens. There are also opportunities to work gathering seeds and doing habitat restoration. Much of this is volunteer work and often leads to paying work.
Health Service work: a lot is volunteer often leading to paid work. The Berkeley Free Clinic provides training to become a medic with a general focus or specializing in women's health, queer men's health, and peer counseling. Many women's clinics and abortion clinics, as well as Planned Parenthood train volunteers to provide health information, and counseling. The same is true of suicide prevention, parental stress, and sex education telephone hotlines. Most hospices depend on trained volunteers. The public health field has many paying jobs in education and outreach. Some basic trained volunteer work is often all that you need to get these jobs
Some of the best work is attendant work for disabled people. The work is hard, the pay is low, and the learning is great. This is especially good work for those with no healthcare background, as well as doctors seeking to evaluate and refresh their understanding of the caring relationship.
Working in a botanical or public health field adds immeasurably to the scope of understanding of an herbalist. Students who work in at least one of these fields learn more both quantitatively and qualitatively from their herbal studies. They become better herbalists, and have stronger supportive relationships in healthcare and other professional communities. They are more likely to get jobs where they can put their skills as herbalists to good use helping people.
Many students of herbal medicine focus exclusively on herbalism. Like an ecosystem, perspective is healthier when diverse. As you study herbal medicine find work, either volunteer or paid, that expands your perspective on healthcare and the plant world. Doing so may enrich your life and the lives of those you offer care to.
The Pacific School of Herbal Medicine has no policies on truly recreational drug or alcohol use, except that students will not use drugs or alcohol on field trips nor be under their influence in class. We understand that many people mistake their habits and addictions for recreational or spiritual substance use. Some students of alternative medicine dealing with substance abuse and dependency choose to study for personal healing: a valid and important choice. This choice needs to be distinguished from the choice to practice health care for others. Some level of recovery is necessary for the substance abusing herbalist to be able to help others. In fact, some of the best herbalists are well-channeled druggies.
The Pacific School has a long history of working in harm reduction, and supporting this approach for its students. Substance users, whether in recovery or not, are welcome in all classes without prerequisites. Students who use drugs or alcohol abusively and are not in recovery are allowed into case review only at the director's discretion because excessive drug or alcohol use, and the reasons for their abuse, can cloud the intellectual and emotional clarity demanded by this class. Students not well into recovery are not eligible to work in the student clinic, as it is not fair to the clients.
Students with substance abuse problems that are seriously affecting their work at the school will be asked to take leaves of absence to start or continue recovery work before they resume their clinical studies. We feel this is fair and compassionate to the student, their classmates, and most importantly, their future clients.
Spirituality and Religion at the School
"And probably the reader will want to know if we propose to teach theology as well as medicine, and if so, why? As Bret Harte would put it, 'we don't go very much on theology.' Ye editor is not likely to die of piety, and he belongs to a queer persuasion, all of which must be taken into account." John Scudder,herbalist, doctor, Darwinist, pioneer of the Eclectic Medical Movement quoted from Eclectic Medical Journal, 1873.
Some prospective students like to ask us, " What's up with spirituality at the Pacific School of Herbal Medicine? Are you, you know, spiritual?" Well, this is California, so even though that question is kind of personal, in some ways presumptuous and bordering on being impolite, here's an answer: The Pacific School of Herbal Medicine is a healthcare training program specializing in herbal medicine, not a theological seminary. The staff doesn't spend much time discussing spirituality in class. We are busy discussing public health issues and working on developing healthcare tools to serve people in need. Sometimes we discuss how the politics of healthcare impact people's lives. Some students may never understand the spiritual import of these discussions.
Offering support, care and ease to those suffering is valuable, and may be a part some people's humanitarian, spiritual or religious commitments. The work of becoming someone who provides care can be a path of personal, cultural, intellectual, emotional and spiritual or human growth.
The Pacific School is open to those of all or no religious and spiritual persuasions. The School has no religious or spiritual affiliation or inclination other than this: to relieve suffering and to bring ease. We only expect students to be committed to offering care to those in need, and to meeting the demands for personal reflection, intellectual clarity, and emotional growth this entails. The school program and teachers are here to support this. If you as a student find that studying healthcare is part of your religious orientation, that's fine. If it has nothing to do with religious understanding or expression for you, that's fine, too.
Many herbal education programs in the United States (probably most) have stated or unstated religious and spiritual inclinations. These are usually new age, vaguely neopagan or hippiesque. They often parade as being cross-culturally Native American inspired or globally "indigenous." The dedicatedly Christian programs are very open about their religious orientation. We feel that stated and especially unstated religious and spiritual affiliation makes for an uncomfortable learning environment for those who do not share these affiliations. This is especially true when teachers presume that their general new age or supposedly cross-cultural rainbow style spiritualities are universal truths rather than religious and cultural affiliations left unacknowledged.
The Pacific School of Herbal Medicine welcomes and has had students who have been Mormons, neopagans, Baptists, Sikhs, Muslims, Protestants, Jews, practitioners of Santeria, Voudun, born again Christianity and Candomble, Catholics, as well as Native American traditionalists from many Nations, Agnostics, Atheists, Buddhists, new agers, Hindus and secular humanists.
We encourage students to respect those of all faiths and of no faith. You will not here find classes on crop circles (a new age hoax, and a hoax played on the new age) or the Medicine Wheel (an important astronomical, calendrical, spiritual, and medical way of understanding amongst some Native American cultures, which is rapidly being misappropriated by profiteering new agers).
We encourage students to study, appreciate and respect all life through all their faculties, intellectual, intuitive and sensual. We discourage students from confusing spiritualism (the study of energy fields, auras, etc.) for spirituality. Intuitive perception is valued here as one part of many ways of understanding. Ungrounded intuition to the exclusion of intellectual discernment is dangerous, and makes for poor healthcare.
Dabbling in religions and spiritual systems without proper coherent cultural training is disrespectful and often harmful to the culture and people of those practices' origins. This dabbling distracts the student of healing and medicine from doing real work and can be harmful and spiritually dangerous to the student and his or her future clients.
We will not attempt to teach you how to pray, do ritual or ceremony. Our teachers have not appointed themselves your religious or spiritual leaders. They will not lead you in "cross-cultural earth centered rituals" or "pan-indigenous inspired ceremonies." We won't even hire teachers who teach that stuff elsewhere. Nor will our teachers attempt to offer you spiritual guidance based on brief studies with some unnamed indigenous traditional healers from some unnamed tribe or a weekend spirituality workshop.
There has been enough of that already - too much. At the Pacific School of Herbal Medicine, we do not appropriate others' cultural or spiritual traditions as if they could be easily imported or quickly downloaded like an MP3 file on a DSL line. We will not insult the religious traditions of our students by subjecting them to spiritual hodgepodge.
All our teachers are qualified to help guide you into a greater appreciation and understanding of healing and health care. You may understand this as career training, emotional support, psychological growth and/or spiritual support in relationship to the spiritual-religious culture of your own heritage or choosing if you will. We will offer you tools for healthcare, and encourage you to develop clinical excellence as a tool and expression of compassion.
Once again: The staff at the Pacific School of Herbal Medicine will not demand or even request that you partake of religious or 'spiritual' activities. You don't even have to meditate or hold hands in a circle with strangers to study here.
Our ethnically diverse staff will occasionally speak to the role of religion or lack there of in their own individual lives in healthcare. One of our teachers, who is a Taoist priest from Taiwan, does teach Chinese Medicine from a Taoist perspective. He is qualified and culturally empowered to do so.
We are not your priests
We are not your priestesses
We are not your medicine man or woman
We do not play at being your medicine man or woman
We will not try to help you unleash your inner shaman or your inner Catholic priest
We might suggest that you unleash your dog in a proper dog park
We will offer you tools for healthcare.
We do expect and will help you to become more involved in studying and listening to people and land, beauty, pain and suffering. We are committed to helping you approach pain and suffering with articulate tools, professional skill, compassion, clarity and respect for all life.
Working After You Complete Your Studies
After completing your coursework at the Pacific School of Herbal Medicine you should be ready to work with clients on your own. Making a living as a Clinical Herbalist takes work, commitment, and perseverance. Students already working in healthcare usually incorporate herbal medicine into what they already do. Other students should not quit their day jobs. While training at the Pacific School should make you more employable (students from the Pacific School have a very high rate of making a living either as practitioners or in the herbal field), building a practice takes time. If your goal is to become a full time practitioner, expect it to take about five years to build a practice. Consider working in the plant, healthcare and health education fields while you build your practice. Do community work. Develop close professional alliances with other health care providers. You will learn a lot.
Some students hope to make money working as herbal educators- teaching about herbs directly after their training. This is a poor idea based on misunderstanding the teaching relationship, its purpose, and responsibilities. Teaching carries more responsibility than practicing alone, not only because it affects more people, but also because those people have less access to supervision, guidance and help with their health issues after the class is over than would a client. They are on their own. Teaching medicine with a broad and superficial approach will not have a useful impact. You can, however, teach herbal medicine with detailed specificity that meets the individual needs and experiences of many. To do so requires years of solid experience using herbs in diverse settings. Teach with the same conservative care you would offer your clients, the responsibility is similar in kind but much greater in scope. You should only teach from within your experience as a practitioner. After finishing here, if you do not also have previous training from elsewhere you should be able to teach introductory workshops on salve making, basic first aid and treating colds and flu's, if and only if you have worked hard during school applying what you have learned to taking care of friends, family, and acquaintances. This is true even if you practice another form of healthcare and have been applying what you have learned here with your clients.
Don't rush into teaching anything beyond brief introductory classes until you have at least five years of solid clinical experience with herbs. Hold off on teaching until you really have something to teach. Your students and clients will thank you for this. Remember that even in an introductory class, attendees will ask complex questions, and they deserve a well considered answer grounded in your clinical experience. Teach what you know, not what you have heard about-even if you trust the source. In the meanwhile channel your enthusiasm into you work as a practitioner. Learning your craft takes years of practice after training.
Students who teach prematurely, lacking clinical experience and breadth of comprehension, can only parrot their teachers' notes, sounding enthusiastic yet inauthentic. They seldom succeed as teachers, practitioners, or herbal educators. They don't often succeed as "lifestyle leaders". This lifestyle career path is seldom satisfying for those who desire to offer compassionate care. The market is already saturated with herbal lifestyle gurus. Yet so many go with out access to healthcare, much less good healthcare. Take the time to learn how to serve these people one at a time before teaching groups.
Don't quit your day job. There is a need for clinical herbalists, and a market. Discover where you want to work. Discover where your skills and talents are needed and can help people. Get busy. There is no shortage of people and communities in need of healthcare. The field is growing and there are many related jobs to work in while you build your practice. Although the Pacific School does not offer job placement we often receive notice of job openings in the herb field and are happy to recommend qualified students. The School provides individual career counseling on request.