Erica Matluck: At the Intersection of Health and Culture
Dr. Erica Matluck is far from your average doctor. I see her coming out of the elevator wearing a gorgeous Mexican dress, embroidered with flowers, full length. Her blonde locks fall just below her shoulders, and she smiles with a conviction and kindness that immediately invites you in. But this is not why she's far from average. At the ripe age of 18, Erica would spend her weekends learning about reiki energy and searching for meaning beyond what the eye can see. Endless curiosity and desire to solve mysteries the western world struggles to come to terms with led her to become a Naturopathic Doctor, Family Nurse Practitioner, Massage Therapist and Reiki Master. She is the only dually credentialed Naturopath / Nurse Practitioner in California to date.
Erica seems to have found the perfect balance between East and West, tradition and spirituality. Hearing her talk about her practice in such an open, dynamic way gives hope to a future where perhaps doctors will be more attuned with the needs of each individual, understanding the subtleties of our humanity and the need to sometimes leave your degree at the door and find connection as a mode to healing.
We sat down at Habitas NYC for a chat.
Tell me about your relationship with Habitas. You were part of the community for years before you became a Founding Member.
I found Habitas in the very early days when they were doing events in Southern California. It ended up being one of the best community experiences of my life. I met so many people that I still just adore. I went back to the next one, and I went alone. Which also meant a lot to me. This is a community that I trust so much that I could go as a single woman alone, and know I would have a good time.
At Habitas, people just wanted to connect. Not because there was some agenda. Particularly the men. Even though romantic connections were made, it was never in a way where I felt like that was the primary drive of the men.
Let's talk about your practice. Where did your journey begin?
I was always interested in medicine, health, healing. I was pre-med in college and studied anthropology. I was really interested in how other cultures heal. The intersection of health and culture. I spent a lot of time abroad doing things like shadowing homeopaths in India, and mid-wives in Nicaragua, and herbalists in Belize. I went to massage school and spent the first phase of my career doing massage and energy work. I did my reiki mastership at 18 years old.
At 18, how did you even know what reiki was?
I was always kind of drawn to the unseen world. I went to school in Ohio, and I heard that there was a woman in town that practiced reiki. I didn't even know what it was, but I knocked on her door as an 18-year-old girl, and I was like: “I heard that you heal people with energy and I want to learn”. So, it's funny looking back. I was definitely a social woman in college, but I was really curious.
When did you begin to transition into where you are now – combining different ways of healing into a practice that covers more than just the physical body?
I hit my plateau and realized I wanted to do more with people so I decided to go to naturopathic medical school. I felt like it really bridged my academic drive and my desire to understand the science behind the medicine. With this open-minded lens of being inclusive of other modalities and being inclusive of the fact that there are a lot of different ways to heal, though the western model is just one. People in other cultures around the world have been doing other things for thousands of years, and it seems to work.
Was it hard to bring this perspective to the west?
Not really. I went to naturopathic school and in the midst of that decided to get a dual degree in nursing. I came out of school with a solid integrative medicine foundation. I went to San Francisco and joined a start-up that was revolutionizing primary care. In the DNA of that start-up was this philosophy that the conventional approach to medicine is not the only way. The One Medical Group, where I worked, had a ton of venture capital and a progressive CEO who wanted to bring in this world of integrative medicine. To weave it into conventional practice. That was exciting to me.
The longer I was there, the more it became evident that our conventional external model is not doing a great job of helping people with chronic conditions. There's a need for a lifestyle and behavior change component. So even in that environment where I only had 30 to 45 minutes with people, I felt limited. I still have a big energetic component of my work that I couldn't bring in. I was doing a lot of work and learning at Esalen, and seeing the power of group connection and group work.
You start to realize that this human journey is everyone's journey, and we're just expressing different pieces of it at different times. You know, when all is said and done, we go through the same struggles and the same peaks and valleys.
What is your connection to Esalen and their modality of work?
What happens at Esalen is magic. You show up on the property and there's an energy to the land. There are tons of seekers who just want to be vulnerable, get raw and really connect with others. You start to see the human connection. The container becomes a therapeutic modality itself, where you can actually be seen and heard. You start to realize that this human journey is everyone's journey, and we're just expressing different pieces of it at different times. When all is said and done, we go through the same struggles – the same peaks and valleys. I was so inspired by this work at Esalen that I kept going back to learn more. "This is true healing", I'd keep saying. "What I am witnessing at this place is transformational. Why isn't it happening in healthcare, which is where healing is supposed to happen?"
So human connection became a big component of your work. I find that interesting because a lot of people actually feel alone in their healing journey.
Exactly. That led me to start working on this concept of a group medical visit. To try to bring in some of this beauty of human connection as a therapeutic tool into the traditional healthcare system.
We built this group model where we take 15 to 18 patients who have been diagnosed with stress or anxiety and create a container where people could share their experience, but also take the skills based approach. We built in meditation mindfulness practice, breath work, and different stress management tools along with health coaching to actually help people build a practice, and build it in a communal way where we're all learning together.
We saw friendships form, we saw partners get closer, we saw people quitting jobs that weren't aligned with what they really wanted. We saw real transformation. This was a model that we worked with to see how we could leverage the community as a therapeutic tool. To help people with lifestyle and behavior changes. We started to branch out into other content areas too. Which is where we are with it now.
What's a typical day in one of your retreats?
I do the retreats with my partner. The piece that I bring is yoga, energetics and group work. Then my partner, who’s a musician, does breathwork and sound therapy. Our retreats are seven days. Each day is themed in a chakra. We move through the subtle body from the root chakra, all the way up to the crown chakra. Each day we looking through the lens of what the chakra means, and then we apply our different modalities to access information in that part of the subtle body. Then we leave lots of free time, unstructured time, so you can also be on vacation. People spend time on the beach, in the pool, and elsewhere. The idea is to take a pause from our lives to look at where we are, who we want to become, or where we want to go.
Do you sense a growing need in the world for a deeper understanding of the self?
Everyone comes to our retreats with an intention, right? INo one chooses to take time out of their life to do work like this if there's not something that they want to become or create. We've pretty much see almost every person who's worked with us, really step in to what it is that they wanted to create. In under a year. There's nothing more gratifying to me then really getting to witness people’s transformation and be a part of it. You know, it's not us. We're just providing the nest.