The new healers; Respect and acceptance for alternative medicine grows in the Lehigh Valley.

Marisa McFadden helps heal the hurting. An alternative medicine practitioner, she employs a combination of psychic intuition, energy-work and shaman-like exercises at Creative Spirit, her Easton-based therapy practice, to bring forth each client’s fullest human potential.

“Essentially, my work is a process of “reading” a person’s energy and working to transform it,” she said.

Not too long ago, many of us would have shaken our heads with skepticism at a practice like McFadden’s, but times have changed.  The global alternative medicine market was valued at $82.3 billion in 2020, according to a 2021 report by Grand View Research, a California-based market research firm. And that number is expected to grow by 22% over the next 10

Jen Sinclair, program director at the Cancer Support Community of the Lehigh Valley, an Allentown-based nonprofit, has seen this growth firsthand. Respect for complementary therapies has risen in both patients and traditional physicians in recent years, she said.

“Doctors are referring their patients to alternative therapies now,” Sinclair said, “and patients are more inclined than ever to discuss these options with their doctor.”

Both Lehigh Valley Health Network and St. Luke’s University Health Network often refer cancer patients for alternative therapies at the CSCLV, Sinclair said. The organization offers workshops in meditation, art therapy, nutrition, and gentle movement that can complement traditional oncology treatment.

“It’s integrative more than alternative,” Sinclair said. “It’s not either/or. Patients are employing both in their healing journey.”

In fact, she has seen patients with stage 4 cancer recover with the help of alternative therapy. “Their physicians have said, ‘I’m not sure what you are doing right, but keep doing it,” she said.

Creative Spirit’s McFadden doesn’t try to manage those who doubt the scientific validity of her practice. “I don’t and I can’t” she said. “Ultimately, the only proof I can offer is the testimony of my clients whose lives I’m proud to have helped in profound ways. “

One of her clients, a young man who struggled to connect with his family, found a new peace with himself and his parents and siblings after several sessions, she said. “We were able to transform his family from a quiet one who lost the ability and will to interact, into one that spent time digging into their genealogy, traveling together and creating a future that is loving and harmonious.”

McFadden credits her clients with doing the work of collaborating with her on their own inner journey. ‘I’m so honored to have been a conduit for the healing energy that transpires within them,” she said.

Stephani-lila Murdoch is an Easton-based alternative medicine practitioner who has been working as a certified Trager therapist for decades, and is now training others in the practice.

The Trager approach uses gentle, non-intrusive hands-on table work and self-care movements to relieve pain and increase mobility and inner peace, she said.

“I have seen great improvement with those who have had concussions,” she said, “as well as TMJ, migraines, hip and knee replacements, and those who may just want to go deeper into a relaxed feeling of fluidity within their bodies.”

That meditative experience is part of what draws patients to the alternative practice of Reiki, too, according to Michelle Zenie, an Allentown-based certified Reiki master. Reiki is a Japanese word meaning universal life energy. This ancient Japanese “energy work” involves a practitioner moving around the client’s body, Zenie said, and adjusting their hands’ positions as they go.  Attention is given to the seven chakras or energy centers throughout the body.

“The patient may feel nothing but many report feeling warmth, tingling or pulsing,” she said. “Some see colors during the session or feel strong emotions. Most people feel a sense of relaxation and peacefulness.”

Patients with chronic headaches, joint pain, digestive and reproductive issues, and depression and anxiety have all reported some relief after her sessions, Zenie said.

“But you truly must be open to the idea that it can work for it to work,” she said. “If that is not the case, then it is simply not the right tool for you.”

For Zenie, Murdoch, and McFadden, mainstream western medicine’s surgery, medication and acute care all have their place if needed. Complementary modalities like reiki and Trager are additional tools that can be integrated into our wellness regime, they say.

Too often people look to alternative medicine when all else fails, McFadden said. When a cancer patient has run out of options or a mother is at a loss for how to help her child, they will find their way to an alternative medicine practitioner.

“What they very often find though is that healing is not just about restoring our bodies to their prime conditions and keeping illness at bay,” she said. “Instead, it is about helping the mind and the spirit thrive in the face of fear and uncertainty.”

“Healing,” she said, “is about the restoration of hope and possibility.”