Whole Health Natural Family Medicine


The naturopathic physicians of Whole Health Natural Family Medicine are used to being misunderstood. They’ve been called “witches” and a “cult.” Some MDs seem to think “we’re going to wave sage in front of … and tell them to go off all their drugs,” Matthew Fisel says, eliciting a knowing chuckle from his colleague Joshua Levitt. “That’s not what we’re doing,” Fisel continues. “We’re complementing what are doing.”

Still, it seems more and more medical doctors are at least entertaining the idea of natural medicine. Levitt and Fisel and their colleagues Robin Ritterman and Amanda Levitt are ready to collaborate. “ understand that… you have one knowledge base, we have another knowledge base, there’s a lot of overlap, but none of us know everything, right? So, why not put all of our smart minds together and help this patient?” Amanda Levitt asks.

If there’s one core distinction Whole Health makes between the kind of care it offers and the kind of care offered by the “medical industry,” it’s their view of the patient. “Time to listen to a person and to relate to them like a human is a big part of the medicine that we practice,” Joshua Levitt says. This attitude is evident from the moment you open the door to Whole Health’s practice on Old Dixwell Avenue in the center of Hamden. The waiting room has cozy touches: a water cooler with a selection of herbal teas, soothing music, a warm and friendly receptionist. Amanda Levitt’s consultation room includes a toy table for preschoolers who might be accompanying a parent or sibling. No one is wearing a white lab coat.

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You won’t get a pharmaceutical prescription here. Laws vary from state to state, but in Connecticut, naturopaths can’t prescribe medication. Instead, Whole Health’s dispensary is filled with “vitamins, minerals, herbal extracts and nutritional supplements,” as its website explains. The practice doesn’t do hospital calls or surgery, but you can get primary care as well as referrals to specialists.

Despite continued skepticism on some fronts, referrals are starting to come back the other way. “We get a lot of referrals by MDs because, number 1, they realize there’s a lot of things they can’t treat,” Ritterman says, “and because their patients are asking for it, and they would rather refer to people who they know and they trust and they think are going to be integrative and respect them.” Another indication of increasing collaboration is the fact that Yale Medical School residents often choose to include a full day at Whole Health in their combined internal medicine/pediatrics rotation. Meanwhile, Amanda Levitt is a supervising doctor in Middlesex Hospital’s integrative family medicine residency.

Joshua Levitt attributes the rise in naturopathic medicine to patient demand. “So many people are dissatisfied with conventional care, and it’s not that their doctors are bad,” he says. Patients are “just feeling like the docs are just prescription pads and they just point them towards drugs and surgery. I feel like there’s this cultural shift or a pendulum swinging away from that. People are just like, ‘Isn’t there something else that I can do, like change my diet or take an herb or a supplement or meditate or something?’”

What seems new, Levitt says, is actually very old. He points out that even after antibiotics were first mass-produced in the 1940s, natural medicine was common. But in the late 1970s, “biochemistry really in, and now we’re… synthesizing medicines.” This isn’t a bad thing, he says. “It’s just that there’s, often times, other things that can be done before resorting to those high-force interventions.”

The Levitts, Ritterman and Fisel all come from families with doctors. Ritterman admits to getting “a lot of flak” from her family when she made the shift from conventional to naturopathic studies—a result, she says, of the women’s movement, which “colored the way I viewed the world and the way that the world of medicine treated women.” Fisel, studying in Indiana, happened to work with a doctor who served an Amish community and therefore was “pretty much practicing natural medicine.” That experience helped him decide to pursue a naturopathic degree.

For Joshua Levitt, there was an actual epiphany. While on a backpacking trip, he stumbled into a Swiss pharmacy to pick up a prescription his father had called in to treat a seriously infected blister. The antibiotics cured him. But as he stood waiting for that prescription to be filled, he found himself gazing —“I was just maybe a little bit hallucinating from my fever”—at a wall of “herbals, nutritionals, everything.” He was “infatuated.” He continued his backpacking tour, “but this time going to naturopathic colleges and naturopathic doctors’ offices all around the country.”

The four Whole Health practitioners all have pre-med undergraduate degrees and a four-year graduate medical degree that gives them the credential ND, or Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine. In addition, Ritterman is a licensed acupuncturist. In 2006 the Levitts and Ritterman left another practice to band together, and Fisel joined them in 2017. There are only about 5,000 naturopathic doctors in the country, according to Joshua Levitt, and the greater New Haven area has about a dozen naturopathic practices. According to the Association of Accredited Naturopathic Medical Colleges, 20 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands license and regulate NDs. Bills are pending in four more states, and there’s a “push for regulation in 2018/19” in 12 others.

Naturopathy is on the move, but it doesn’t have to be opposed to conventional medicine, as Whole Health is trying to prove. “My vision of it is one foot in the conventional medical world and one foot in the alternative medicine world,” Joshua Levitt says. “I’m trying to draw those two worlds together.”

Whole Health Natural Family Medicine
2838 Old Dixwell Ave, Hamden (map)
(203) 288-8283

Written and photographed by Kathy Leonard Czepiel.

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