People’s Medicine Project aids recovery through alternative medicine

Recorder Staff
Last modified: 2/22/2016 5:22:15 PM
GREENFIELD — Recovering from an addiction to alcohol or drugs is by no means a comfortable process. Just ask Kaitlyn John, a staff member at the RECOVER Project on Federal Street, which offers peer support for people recovering from substance abuse problems.

When she began her own journey toward recovery three and a half years ago, her body was in revolt. Coming off of an addiction to pain pills, she had problems with digestion, with sleeping, and many other symptoms — physically, mentally and spiritually.

“I wanted to have a comfort in my body, to just feel at one with my body,” John said. “It took me so long to get into recovery, to find recovery, and then to have all these internal things going on and to not feel comfortable in my own skin ... that wasn’t OK with me.”

Through her involvement with the RECOVER Project, she was able to meet Leslie Chaison, a local herbalist who runs the People’s Medicine Project, a free alternative medicine clinic held on Mondays from noon to 4 p.m. in the RECOVER Project’s large back room.

The project offers alternative medicine in the form of herbalism, acupuncture, massage, homeopathy, craniosacral therapy and energy healing sessions, and John said taking part in it made all the difference in her recovery process.

“I started trying the herbal teas and it started to make everything line up,” John said. “I just ... felt better. Now, I feel like I’m more balanced than I ever was before.”

John said she’s been told it can take years, even decades, after stopping drug use for a person’s brain to begin functioning properly again, but she feels like the therapies she’s received from Chaison and the other providers that work with the project has expedited that process.

“They say in recovery, that first it’s hard, then it gets better, then it gets hard, and then it gets different,” she said. “Sometimes it takes 10 to 15 years to get to different, but I feel like this has helped me skyrocket and I’m at different now after three and a half years.”

Recently, she’s even begun learning herbalism herself, and hopes to be able to share what she learns with others in recovery.

“There was just that curiosity, having someone give me what I needed for herbs, and then wanting to do it myself so that I can offer it to others,” she said. “It’s just like coming into recovery — here’s this gift I received that I didn’t know was there before.”

Chaison said the project started in 2013 as an effort among herself and two other herbalists to address socioeconomic disparities in access to wellness, health and medicine in Franklin County seen between those with the resources and ability to access them regularly and those who may not have that capability due to their health, gender, age, race, disabilities or other factors.

“We started the project because what we saw in our area was this rich resource base of health-promoting offerings; all the organic farms, lots of herbalists, alternative health practitioners, yoga classes and all these things,” she said. “But we saw most of those offerings going to people who already had resources, who could afford that.”

The project first started with the People’s Medicine Garden at Just Roots Farm in Greenfield, Chaison said. There, the three herbalists grew and distributed herbs and medicinal teas and hosted community workshops.

“That was the starting point, and we tried to make it really accessible,” she said.

After about a year, Chaison began offering herbs and consultation periodically at the RECOVER Project. That’s where she and her herbalism mentor, Bonnie Bloom, got the idea to begin holding regular clinics in the organization’s large back room in 2014. Over the course of two years, the other alternative medicine practitioners began to sign on and it grew from there, she said.

The clinic is free, which Chaison said takes care of the economic barriers people may experience when seeking health care.

She said the project engages in targeted marketing and outreach to families and people who may not otherwise learn about or come in contact with the project through social service organizations like Community Action.

“We specifically try to bring it to the people,” she said. “If they think ‘Well, it’s not my norm, it’s not in my family,’ where it wouldn’t occur to people, we flier in the community agencies that work with folks in various ways. We feel that having access to these health promoting offerings will close that disparity, that gap, a little bit,” she said.

On March 7, the Hope & Olive will hold a soup and games night to benefit the project.

You can reach Tom Relihan at:

or 413-772-0261, ext. 264

On Twitter, follow @RecorderTom


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