The Vital Conversation – Nutrition and Self-Healing: Part 1
JAMES SENSENIG, ND
CHARLEY CROPLEY, ND
This column is transcribed from a weekly live conversation produced by the Naturopathic Medical Institute (NMI). The goal of NMI is to preserve and promote the principles of naturopathic philosophy through clinical application, in your offices and in your communities, every day. This lightly edited transcript (by Judith Boice, ND, LAc, FABNO) is the first part of a 3-part conversation between Drs Jim Sensenig and Charley Cropley, which took place on May 3, 2017.
The Early Days
Dr Sensenig: In his 39 years of practice, Dr Cropley has worked with people with health problems of all kinds. He mostly works with teaching people how to be healthy by working with food and nutrition, fasting, strengthening exercises, rest, thinking, and relationships. Dr Cropley has practiced in Boulder, Colorado ever since graduating from National College in 1979, which makes him the first naturopathic physician in Colorado in the modern era. I also learned the last time I visited Boulder that he has been named Best Alternative Health Practitioner in Boulder for 4 out of the last 5 years. How did you get interested in naturopathic medicine?
Dr Cropley: I was ski bumming in Aspen, Colorado in 1969 and a buddy of mine there was doing a juice fast in the dead of winter. He said that he just read a book that I really needed to read, Rational Fasting by Arnold Ehret. I read that book, and it changed my life! For the first time, I saw that illness was not something foreign that just happens to us. Our eating predispose us to illness, meaning that we then have control over illness, and I didn’t have to develop arthritis like my grandmother. I thought, this is perhaps the most profound thing I have ever read, and everybody’s going to want to know about this. I began a fast the next day that lasted 12 hours. I broke it with a can of beef stew over a campfire. It’s gone on since then.
Dr Sensenig: So, how did you find your way to naturopathic medicine?
Dr Cropley: I began to embrace these teachings, which were simply nutrition at that point. I began to do the best I could with the books that I was reading. One day I was in a chiropractor’s office. I was lying on his table after an adjustment, and he looked down at me and said, “Charley, did you ever think about becoming a doctor?”
In that exact instant, I was a doctor. This was the voice of God! My destiny had claimed me. I went home and stayed up the entire night. I went out on the San Clemente pier at 3:00 in the morning. I remember standing on the end of the pier with my arms open to the sky and praying, “You make me a doctor, and I promise you, I will teach this wisdom that you have given me.”
From there I started looking for a way to learn what I wanted to learn. I went and saw Dr Henry Bieler, who became my mentor. I recommend everyone read his book, Food Is Your Best Medicine. I asked him if he would mentor me and train me. He said that I needed to go to medical school first. He said, “They’ll brainwash you. If you survive that, come back and see me.” I looked all over, and somehow a catalog came to me in the mail from NCNM. I read that over and thought, I think this is what I want to do. So, I hitchhiked from California to Wichita to check out the school. That’s how I got there.
Dr Sensenig: That’s an incredible story! For those out there who were not born in the last century, back then, there was no internet and very few computers, and for Dr Cropley to get that catalog is quite remarkable. It was probably in the mid-1970s.
Dr Cropley: Yes, around 1974.
Dr Sensenig: Right, there were no personal computers at that time and no internet. There was no way to Google “alternative medicine” or “naturopathy,” even if you wanted to. You may not have even known those words.
Dr Cropley: I did not know those words. I’d never heard of naturopathy before.
Dr Sensenig: What’s so remarkable to me about your story is that somehow that catalog from National College [of Naturopathic Medicine], such as it was at that time, found its way to you. Did you ever find out how you got on the mailing list?
Dr Cropley: No. My suspicion is that it involved this one place that I found where I could get books on nutrition and spirituality. I wrote to them, telling them that I wanted to be a doctor who practices according to these particular principles I had been reading about, and that I didn’t know where to go. I asked them if they could help me out. I believe they forwarded my letter to NCNM in Wichita. I’m not sure, but that’s what I think may have happened.
Dr Sensenig: In any case, that’s really incredible! Then you ended up in Boulder. You moved to Boulder after school. In those early days, you and one of my classmates had a run-in with the law, right? Didn’t the attorney general come looking for you?
Dr Cropley: Yes, that’s right. Actually, I had several run-ins. It was very different back then. In those days, when I said I was a naturopathic doctor, nobody knew what that was. There were times when I got tired of explaining it, and I would say, “I’m a carpenter.” There were no health food stores. Herbs were completely unknown. Homeopathic medicine was completely unknown. That’s why we had our own pharmacy because that was the only way these things could be available to patients.
Dr Sensenig: Back then all naturopathic doctors had their own dispensaries because the medicines recommended by these doctors were available only from the doctors – for the reasons that Dr Cropley mentioned. There were few, if any, health food stores, especially in rural America. There may have been some in the larger cities. People didn’t have access to these things the way they do today. They also had their own labs and X-ray machines in some cases.
Dr Cropley: We were educated with a fear of reprisals – socially, medically, legally – because some people thought that we were “quacks,” so to speak. We were underdogs in everything we did. In those times, the Colorado Board of Medical Examiners was actively on the lookout for what we’ll call “quackery” or “charlatans.” I was very conscious of this. I would run ads for classes that I was giving, and they, from time-to-time, would write and say that I was inferring that I could cure something. In spite of all my precautions, they interpreted it that way. They told me that I had to stop doing that or there would be legal consequences. That was the environment.
I remember when I was opening my practice, it took me weeks before I could get up the courage to call a laboratory to see if I could arrange to have their services. I was so frightened that they would refuse me, at best, or that I would be criticized, looked down on, or forced to jump through a bunch of hoops. Finally, I called them. Two guys came to my office, and they sat down with me. They couldn’t care less about anything except making money. They didn’t care who it was that wanted to use their services. They were very courteous, which surprised me a bit. I’m giving you a feel of how it was in Colorado back in those days. I wanted to do what I was doing and to champion naturopathic medicine, to stand up for it.
There was a time when a woman came to me. She had been a client of mine for about a month or so. She developed a bladder infection. This was a woman who had a lot of deeper, chronic metabolic problems. Before the bladder infection, I put her on a juice fast, gave her herbal remedies, supplements, and sitz baths to do. I’m sure I also gave her spinal manipulation. We also did UAs, CBCs, etc. We kept good track of her. She called me after a while and said that she was really sick and that she was going to the emergency room. She had gone out and eaten pizza after doing really well on a fast for more than 2 days. This threw her into a complete crisis. She went to the ER where she was supervised by a medical doctor who hated me!
This woman reported me to the state board, who came after me. At this particular time, I was working with Dohn Kruschwitz MD, ND, who still teaches at NUNM, along with another naturopathic doctor, and we had insurance coverage. Dohn chose to leave the practice. I went through the investigation. At the end of the investigation, they gave me a slap on the hands and said that if I did this again, there’d be greater consequences.
I talked to them on the phone, and the guy told me to just be careful of what I do. I had made a point to build a relationship with the man who was the main investigator. We respected one another. So, I said to him that I hadn’t come out there to play it safe. I came out there to practice naturopathic medicine and to stand for something that I really believed in. I told him that I thought he saw that in me.
Out of that experience came another decision point in my practice, where I discovered that I had a calling to be a teacher. I was initially inspired by the fact that human beings have power over their own health. We are not victims. That was what intrigued me. Because I began with nutrition, and after being mentored by Bieler and others, I was strongly interested in what people could do for themselves. When I came to naturopathic college, I didn’t know about medicines. I got the training there and came out of school enthused about medicines as well. But what has carried me through has been teaching. It was another stage in my practice where I asked myself if doing things that looked more like medicine were more important than teaching others how to be healthy. I thought, is that important enough to me that that’s what I want to stand for, or is it more about teaching? That experience has led me to evolve to the place, where today, I really don’t use any medicines. I’m strictly interested in teaching people the art of self-healing.
This column, based on the Vital Conversations of the Naturopathic Medicine Institute, will continue in next month’s NDNR.
James Sensenig, ND, was a 1978 graduate of NCNM in Portland, OR. For over 40 years he maintained an eclectic practice in Hamden, CT. Over the years, Dr Sensenig held prominent positions in the various naturopathic colleges and the AANP. A champion of classical naturopathic medicine, Dr Sensenig received an Honorary Doctor of Naturopathic Philosophy degree from CCNM, and received numerous awards for his dedication to teaching the principles of naturopathic medicine.
Charley Cropley, ND, graduated from National College of Naturopathic Medicine in 1979. He has been a practicing naturopathic doctor, teacher, and author in the Boulder/Denver area for the last 35 years. Dr Cropley has trained hundreds of doctors in his methods of nutrition and Self-Healing. He is the author of numerous articles, several books, and courses. Dr Cropley frequently lectures at the colleges of naturopathic medicine, and is widely regarded as one of today’s leading thinkers and teachers in the philosophy and practice of Self-Healing. His methods of Self-Healing are complementary and strengthen all forms of medicine and therapy.