An Interview with Reverend Cheryl Caruso

The type of person who gets every side effect for every prescription medication she ever took, Cheryl Caruso decided to explore nutritional and holistic healthcare approaches as a way to take responsibility for her own health. She reflects that she has lived a life based on the principles she teaches.

She holds a master's degree in holistic nutrition of Clayton College of Natural Health and is working on her dissertation for completion of her Ph.D. in Holistic Nutrition from Clayton. A nutrition/lifestyles consultant offering holistic health counseling and spiritual guidance counseling, she has counseled patients since 1999 at her practice at The Joyce Center in New York [see link at end of story]. She is a board certified holistic health practitioner, Certified Nutritional Consultant (CNC) by the American Association of Nutrition Consultants (AANC), and is also a Polarity Therapist (APP). She is also an Ordained Interfaith Minister, a graduate of The New Seminary in New York (a non-academic professional training program for interfaith ministry).

"The different specialties that I offer come together very naturally in my practice. Whether someone seeks an alternative means for mental, emotional, physical or spiritual pain, it's about getting to the energy behind its source. Being able to look at things from a nutritional, philosophical, structural, and mental viewpoint are simply different ways to get to the same end," Rev. Caruso says.

In addition to her practice, Rev. Caruso is a member of numerous professional associations, including: AANC, American Polarity Therapy Association (APTA), American Association of Drugless Practitioners (AADP), Society for Nutrition Education (SNE), American College of Nutrition (ACN), International and American Association of Clinical Nutritionists (IAACN), American Society for Parenteral/Enteral Nutrition (ASPEN), American Association of Holistic Health (AHHA), Coalition for Natural Health (CNH), National Institute of Business and Industrial Chaplains (NIBIC.), and the Association of Interfaith Ministers (AIM).

Reverend Caruso & Her Career

Tell us about your career as a nutrition/lifestyles consultant offering holistic health counseling and spiritual guidance counseling.

I've been working professionally in the field of holistic nutrition since 1999. I went on to become certified as a Polarity Therapist and in addition, was ordained as an Interfaith Minister, offering spiritual counseling services as well. As I say to all my clients, it's all spiritual counseling in the end. No matter why you believe you're coming to see me, it comes down to loving yourself enough to change. The work I do is gentle but deliberate. I think you have to bust comfort zones in order to make change.

So if you choose to seek my counsel, the question becomes, "Do you really want to make that change? Are you willing to re-orientate yourself around your current thoughts and lifestyle? Are you ready to re-interpret the past events so you can start living in the now and not bring pain and suffering into your future?" It all has to do with your thoughts and how willing you are to let things go so something new can come in.

What inspired you to seek to provide healthcare opportunities beyond traditional western medicine?

During the course of my life, I never felt satisfied with the approach shown to me through allopathic physicians as different health challenges arose. I was the type of person that got every side effect listed on prescription medications. In addition to that, I had been incorrectly medicated for a few years of my life, polluting my liver unnecessarily.

I started treating myself in my early twenties through alternative methods and personal research, which began with me eliminating all prescription medications and looking at foods and herbs to not only enhance my immunity, but to change my biochemistry. I found prevention and maintenance of a healthy host far superior to the treatment of disease. Soon I started to become an advocate for taking personal responsibility for the shape of our minds, emotions and body's, rather than relinquishing it to a physician. I believe in working towards a cooperative with the medical community rather than being a victim to it.

You are a member of numerous professional groups. What drives your involvement?

I think it is necessary to align yourself with those organizations that take the same philosophical stance that you do so that you have a resource of like-minded individuals, when necessary. Keeping up with these organizations not only benefits you as the practitioner but your clients as well, as they generally make you aware of the latest advancements in your field and are able to assist you when aspects of your profession are being challenged. Just recently I contacted one of my professional affiliations to help me challenge the New York State Assembly. By being able to mass e-mail all members of their organization, we were successful in achieving our short-term goals.

What are some of your professional goals for the future?

My professional goals for the future are to create awareness about individual health. One goal is to get everyone on a customized supplement, one test at a time. It's the single easiest thing you can do to help your body and mind work efficiently and it takes the guesswork out of supplementing. With science behind your testing, you end up targeting your nutritional needs, therefore, not over-supplementing or under-supplementing. It's easy, it's affordable and my feeling is if everyone is spending $5 plus a day on designer coffees, they can spend $1.30 a day on a customized supplement that is 95% bioavailable (most over the counter supplements are about 35% bioavailable, which equals expensive urine).

The Actual Work

What is a typical day of work like for you?.

No day is typical and that's the gift of what I do. Everyday is different and each day is an adventure. Some more challenging than others, it's true, however those are the days I learn the most.

On a basic level, what skills does your job demand?

It demands my undivided attention. It demands being a good listener not only to people's words but their body language. It demands being a witness to others experience and pain. It demands me being clear that my issues are not being tapped into and affecting my response, and that it's always about the client. It demands mostly that my energetic intention is at it's highest in order to be effective in assisting others to heal themselves. The impetus of that healing may take place by reviewing their nutritional needs, by counseling their emotions, by somatic bodywork, or by speaking to their spiritual disconnect. Whatever it might be, I have to be a clear, safe space in order to go there with them.

Can you share a patient care anecdote that exemplifies your practice focus?

My office is in a prosthetic center, so I not only see patients from the outside but naturally I see many amputees. One woman came to the center with a below the knee amputation after she had been hit by a bus in New York City. Naturally, her mind and body were not in a place that was fertile for healing. The mind was closed due to the shock, pain, and loss of faith in the accident and in the months that followed, which required 14 surgeries prior to amputation. At that time, she was not necessarily a proponent of alternative modalities.

She came to seek my services after being at the center getting fitted for her prosthesis for a few weeks and feeling that the medical community was overmedicating her. She had major skin grafting making her nerves rebel in the way of constant and severe itching. We spent many hours together talking, tweaking her diet, getting her on customized supplements, utilizing bodywork, and speaking of spiritual principles. Her itching is greatly reduced, her body is recovering better than what you would believe possible with the amount of skin grafting she has undergone, and her mind is a beacon of light to others. She understands that she is not her body, that that is the smallest part of her and the least creative, and that her mind will create her experience. She has re-interpreted so many aspects life and experience and she is grateful. The gift of empowering others is a gift to oneself always. With more beacons of light out there, it makes my job easier.

What unique challenges and rewards come from working with your clients?

The challenge is to not burn out. You have to have personal boundaries in order to not allow others to drain your energy. You can give so much of yourself but you also can't do the work that others have to do for themselves. Also, you cannot attach to an outcome for any one client. Not everyone is ready to change. You have to have a real understanding about that and not judge your clients or yourself. If you do, you become entirely ineffective because energetically the space is no longer safe for them to be who and what they are in the present moment.

What are the tools of the trade that you use the most? Favorite gadget?

The only outside tool I like to use during a bodywork session is tuning forks. It is proven that the body responds and realigns to sound and vibration. I find the tuning forks to be one of the best and simplest ways to calm anxiety, lower blood pressure, regulate cerebral spinal fluid and even lessen joint pain. There is simply no one who would not benefit from them.

Education Information & Advice

How did you choose Clayton College of Natural Health for your master's degree and PhD program?

Clayton College appealed to me for a few reasons. Because I have always been self-supporting and have worked full-time, it afforded me the luxury of taking the courses at my own pace rather than a classroom format. The cost was reasonable in relation to other colleges due to Clayton not having a campus. All other nutrition schools in my area focused on clinical nutrition, of which I have no interest. I do not operate from a clinical perspective in any area of my life. I also liked the curriculum, which tapped into many different aspects of holistic healing. It didn't just focus on one area and this diversity was appealing to me.

How did your studies at Clayton start your education process, including as an Ordained Interfaith Minister and graduate of The New Seminary, and as an Associate Polarity Practitioner through The Yoga and Polarity Center?

What I will say is that Clayton started my education process and I have since gone on to become an interfaith minister and a Polarity Therapist. My education at Clayton became very much a stepping stone for me, honing in on my direction of continued educational interest, which I then pursued.

How did you become a Certified Nutrition Consultant through the American Association of Nutrition Consultants? Is there a training/certification program or a licensing procedure?

I became a CNC after receiving my Masters in Holistic Nutrition. There is a testing process to earn this title, as well as necessary schooling. To work in the State of New York as a Nutrition Consultant, there is no licensing at the present time. If you want to become a Registered Dietician (RD), Licensed Dietician (LD), or Clinical Nutritionist (CN), there is very specific regionally accredited education that has to be obtained and then you can test for state licensure. I therefore choose to follow a holistic path, as my feeling is the clinical model has failed so many.

You are currently pursuing your Ph.D. in Holistic Nutrition. What led you to pursue further training?

I am currently writing my dissertation for my Ph.D. in Holistic Nutrition from Clayton College, basing it in Polarity Therapy. All course work has been completed. I moved forward in my educational pursuit to be as qualified a practitioner as I felt was possible for me.

What factors should prospective students consider when choosing a school?

I think what school you choose or education you pursue is completely individual. I've seen many who have state licensure who are not working in the field, as well as those who took a certification program in a specialty of their liking (for instance herbs, flower essence, etc.) and are actively making a career for themselves. It has to do with what's right for you at the time, when all things are considered. Be aware, that most alternative programs will now allow you to sit for licensure. So if this is your goal, do your homework and choose your school wisely.

What can students do to increase their chances of succeeding in naturopathic or alternative healthcare colleges and programs?

The passion has to be there. I do believe in the theory "do what you love and the money will come." Don't sell yourself out. If you love what you do or where your passion is taking you, and you truly have something important to say, there are those that truly need to hear it. Believe in yourself and the power of our position in the alternative and the medical community as a whole. Do not take a back seat to the importance of your work.

How available are hands-on learning experiences? How can potential students best take advantage of these opportunities?

There is only so much that school prepares you for. Until you are actually doing the work and tackling what comes up in others and yourself on a daily basis, you don't really hone your craft. I would suggest that if you can take part in any practicum's through your school or local workshops, by all means do so. Also, see if you can apprentice with someone in the field where your interests lie. If these opportunities do not present themselves, then I suggest just getting your feet wet by doing what you do and it will refine itself over time: practice, practice, practice.

How do you feel the holistic nutrition educational system could be changed to better serve students and society?

I think holistic nutrition educational systems can be changed by first making all nutrition colleges (holistic or clinical) regionally accredited so that the holistic community does not get shut down when clinicians push us out claiming we have no license. That leaves the bulk of nutrition professionals without work. More importantly, it will leave those countless clients being treated by these thousands of nutrition professionals void of the help and education they so deeply resonate with, those that were left worse by the medical and clinical nutrition models. Being regionally accredited is a different animal, more on the conservative side. The result will be that even if you get a Ph.D. from Harvard in nutrition and are not an RD in New York State (which requires simply a bachelor's degree) you will no longer be able to practice. This does not seem to be an issue of competence but a restraint of trade.

Industry Trends, Information & Advice

Do you feel that it is important for someone to be passionate about alternative healthcare specialties in order to be successful as a practitioner?

Without question you need to have a passion for what you do in order to be successful at it. Your energy is infused in everything you do. If your heart and soul are not in it, move on and find out what it is that you love, and do that. Alternative healthcare is all about honesty, being truthful with yourself and others. The truth works. If you are treating clients from a place within you that is a lie, what are you really teaching?

What are some common myths about naturopathic and alternative approaches to healthcare?

Ignorance breeds very funny stories and myths about alternative approaches. Fear has a way of putting a negative spin on many good things. I come from the perspective that nature is correct and cannot be improved upon. If you can put a negative spin on that, then sadly your life will be about forever fighting the tide.

The myth was once that we were all witch doctors or pagans of some sort, where now, if I have my facts straight, 65 percent of people see an alternative practitioner before an allopathic physician. I believe we've made a paradigm shift.

How is the job market/client demand in naturopathic fields? How do you expect demand to develop in years to come?

The demand is ever increasing and I don't see any end to that. My goal would be that medical insurance, the medical community, and our government takes the stance that would make it affordable for all who want to seek alternative healthcare professionals, just as they do medical clinicians. There should be a balance in this area. Presently, the scales are tipped on the clinical side.

How has the Internet affected the nutrition field?

What I can say about the Internet and its effect on nutrition is good and bad. There is a lot of incorrect information out there. However, at the same time, most of us have a website that attracts potential clients so we wouldn't want to live without it. I instruct my patients who are looking for answers on-line to take note of the source of the information and be clear on what philosophical position the writer is taking. You can't stop people from doing their own research and getting information, in fact, I applaud that effort. The key is to alert people of the possibility of misinformation and that in many cases, there is no truth in advertising.

What contributions do you feel a homeopathic and nutrition-based healthcare approaches can make to society?

I believe that nutrition based approaches to healthcare are of tremendous importance and should be addressed first and foremost when a client presents. If the medical community agrees that 90 percent of illness and disease is lifestyle and nutrition related, doesn't it just make sense to look there first for deficiencies? My question has always been, if this is so, why are doctors able to get their degrees without taking one nutrition course? Nutrition courses are strictly electives for the medical community. There is incongruence there.

Any other career advice for those interested in the field?

This field offers great opportunity to those who choose it as their career path. Its effects are far-reaching and widespread. Watching people become strong, mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually is an energy field unlike any other. When you assist someone in reaching his or her goal, you have succeeded in your work. Now they will spread the word when they go out into the world. It becomes an alternative and spiritual underground that is slowly becoming the norm. What we consider "normal" right now (meaning most like everyone else) is unhealthy. Our goal is to see "normal" as healthy in mind, body and spirit. Do your part. We can all contribute to the organic whole.

Closing Remarks

Is there anything else you can tell us about yourself, your career, or the naturopathic field that would be interesting or helpful to potential students?

Be clear that you are not the healer when treating clients. You are a catalyst for them to heal themselves. Many times practitioners get a sense of self-importance, which literally takes away from appropriately influencing their client. It makes the session about the practitioner, not the client. When this happens, you then start to manipulate the session to stroke your ego. When you are fully present for your client's needs, you meet their energy and can hold that space, they feel heard, and that's where the truth lies and healing begins.

Editor's note: If you would like to follow-up with Rev. Caruso personally, click here or visit her website, Rev. Cheryl Caruso, M.S., CNC, APP.

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