Stephanie Flockhart, Dr. of Chinese Medicine
"We teach our patients that nobody will have more understanding of themselves, of their body."
Interview by Raquel Fernández Sobrín
If you spend time on social media, you’ve probably come across a post with the words “holistic”, “holistic massage”, “gua sha”, “affirmation” or “ritual” associated with beauty content. If their algorithms find out that said content is interesting for you, you’ve probably also seen videos of people using fillers or botox experts with their corresponding before and after images. Beauty, understood here as the improvement of appearance, is one of the great concerns of human beings even when they have bigger problems to deal with. Beauty, its routines and products, have direct consequences for our health and getting carried away by its currents, by that new diet or that new cosmetic, can become something more harmful than a simple waste of time.
I bought my first gua sha back in 2017 and I don’t mind admitting that it’s not more than a month since I learned how to use it -better late than never-, nor that the platform on which I learned its technique is named after the sound for the passage of time. It’s hard to look away from the screen when what appears on it are the videos of Stephanie Flockhart, a doctor of Chinese medicine with 86,000 followers on TikTok and 74,000 on Instagram. Just as hard as it was to tell her that I already had all the information I needed for this interview before saying goodbye. Sometimes what starts as a facial massage ends up being a massage for the spirit.
“Well, ¡the exercises work!” says Stephanie laughing at my reaction of incredulity when she told me she is 31 years old. Born and raised in Australia, her open mindedness was developed early: “My parents were always into health, I’d see a doctor if I needed to, but it was all more about natural health: eating well and quality food, exercising and spend time outside, drinking water, taking supplements, seeing a naturopath. I started visiting a Chinese Medicine doctor when I was really small, I had no idea she was one, for me she was this magic amazing lady”. Her parents separated when she was nine. “My mum was 42 when she started this huge quest of self-discovery. She went to art college, started meditation group, found out about feng shui. She had a new interest in Eastern culture and went to study acupuncture as well. We had a huge big book on Chinese Medicine and Eastern Philosophy I remember reading cover to cover on my holiday break. I was so fascinated”.
Interest was already there, but teenage years are always complicated. She suffered Anorexia Nervosa between the ages of 12 and 20, and an early new career as a model started by the age of 13 didn’t help. “I experienced the Occidental medical system directly: the fed me in the physical sense of the word, they re-fed me so my body will function, but they didn’t address how I felt, or my emotional side. They didn’t teach me psychological tools to use when I went back home. I was referred to a therapist specialized in eating disorders, but I felt it didn’t helped me at all. In the end I felt it was just: ‘Ok, let’s fatten her up so she can be back into society’”. She moved to the country with her family and the sense of community she found there helped her healing: “The community there is really invested in health, they had their vegetable gardens, they eat organic, care about our spiritual side (energy healing, subconscious believe systems…). It felt like the missing piece. Of course, I was very ill and needed to be re-nourished, but why couldn’t them be combined?”. She still took another turn before finding her current path: “I wanted to be a Getaway reporter, so I studied journalism. I remember sitting in this news reporting class and this overwhelming feeling just came over me: ‘What am I contributing to?’ They were talking about mass media, how to get a story and all this stuff and it felt so wrong. So, at that point I’m like: ‘Ok, what else is calling me? What’s been the constant? How can I help people? What can I do to get back to the world?’ For my own experience I was very motivated by helping young women to go through what I’ve been through. Helping them healing”. Nathuropaty and Chinese Medicine it is. Presentations made, let’s get to the point of this interview.
What does “holistic” mean?
Holistic is the integration of the physical, the mental and the emotional. Like zooming back and looking at the whole picture of health. How does everything that I do contribute to me being well? If we just focus on the physical, let’s say having a massage, having surgery or taking medication or a supplement without addressing our mental and emotional wellbeing not considering what we’re consuming every day, how we’re talking to ourselves (stress and beliefs about ourselves are so paramount to being well), we’re missing a lot of pieces. Holistic is the integration of body, mind and spirit and the little choices and moments we have with ourselves every day that help us be the best that we can be.
Is everything we see labeled “holistic” as “holistic” it seems?
There can be a lot of bluff in the wellness industry. Same with self-care, because it is not only a label you put on something. Some people actually know and understand, but it goes a little against our way of thinking because we tend to segment things: career or relationship, career or health, kids or living your dreams. Why can’t we have it all? It’s a concept very foreign and very misinterpreted.
Who is your patient? Are they informed?
Some patients will be researching and obsessed with health, some hear about acupuncture from a friend and are looking into it. Often we see people that see us as their last resort, they can be super skeptical. They are in so much pain, so stressed or have chronic problems with fertility or so on. They are seeking something because they’ve been everywhere. For the most part, in my experience, after they try they love it. They may have come for a neck pain and end up working in a whole range of different things, so they change certain things about their lives and get more clarity or more balance.
So sometimes their concerns are not their actual problems.
Dr. Google is a big problem in our society, me myself I’m guilty of checking that. It can cause a spiral. There’s another thing attached to the way the beauty and diet industries work: we hear about a new diet or a new product that worked for one person and we automatically believe it would work for us. We are not taught to check with ourselves and understand that we are an individual, that our treatment may vary. Just because 50 people have headaches doesn’t mean it’s all coming from the same cause and Chinese Medicine is really beautiful in that aspect because it treats each individual as a person. We diagnose based on where you are emotionally, what are you eating, what is your background… it’s kind of detective work.
“Holistic is the integration of body, mind and spirit and the little choices and moments we have with ourselves every day that help us be the best that we can be”
What key elements do the treatments have in common?
We teach our patients that nobody, no doctor or expert will have more understanding of themselves, of their body. That they have a beautiful thing called intuition that is so strong that you have to trust that. Other important part of the treatment is the connection: being listened to, don’t being dismissed.
You said before your main interest is helping women. Are we finally discussing everything that happens to us?
I can’t even remember a conversation with my mother about my period, I don’t remember understanding sex and knowing that talk about it is ok. Now, with social media, the conversation is so ok that is almost trendy to have: menstrual cycle, emotions, conditions like PCOS, PMDD -an extreme form of PMS that is not talked about-, endometriosis, fertility issues or miscarriage… Women are more confident to talk about those things and more important: by doing so they feel less alone.
What are the steps of the treatment?
It depends on what they’re coming to see you for. I go through the diagnosis method, I try to understand what’s their day like, to take note of how they eat, what supplements they are taking… Then I gave them a treatment and ask them to come back to check how they’re feeling. We try to teach people that those treatments are an ongoing process, we educate them in preventive healthcare because we only treat ourselves when we’re broken. I always use the car analogy: you go and service your car after a X number of miles, you don’t wait until it breaks down and you don’t question that. There’s another important point: if anyone promise you something like a one stop show, that’s wrong and it’s not true. I’m super clear with my patients about that.
In which ways are we going to suffer these times of sanitary crisis?
Mental health and stress. As much as we can have the illusion of community through technology, it’s not the same and connection is important from human beings since the dawn of time. We are concerned about our finances, our health… it’s a recipe for disaster. Stress is the cause of 95% of diseases in the body. As humans we just adapt and there’s this pressure on being productive at home: creating online businesses, enjoying this time off, learning to play the guitar or another language, maintain a house and keep sanity still. All that pressure is being pushed under the rug, is not being discussed, and I don’t know anyone who’s not affected by it.
“I always use the car analogy: you go and service your car after an X number of miles, you don’t wait until it breaks down and you don’t question that. Why don’t do the same with your body? ”
Talking about pressure: Don’t we all suffer the one coming from the Instagram beauty standard?
I’m releasing soon a beauty course and in my research I found very alarming statistics about the impact of FaceTune and other apps that alter your appearance and filters. People actually go to plastic surgery clinics with portraits of themselves with a filter on asking to look like that. I’m guilty of using it before: you whiten your teeth or use the airbrush. But it starts innocently, with a bit of editing. Then you start getting validation through it and developing anxieties for meeting people and not looking like that.
Are there downsides of these invasive treatments we don’t know?
A lot. That’s what drove me to start sharing all this. During my studies I did an additional training to be a cosmetic acupuncturist with the mission of sharing a natural alternative to all the fillings and toxins at a very young age. I lived in a place called the Gold Coast in Australia where the standard beauty has been based for a while in big breasts, big lips… People are making decisions based on what society tells them it’s beautiful without realizing that society’s opinion change. Think in how our ideal of beauty has changed since the supermodels of the 90s. I don’t shame people who go through the aforementioned procedures, I respect everyone. I just want people to know that there’s alternatives. We don’t even know the consequences of invasive treatments in the long term.
What are the effects of holistic beauty?
With the Chinese Medicine techniques that I’m sharing it’s all based on working through different emotions and self-love. It is not about the beauty. The beauty, the exercises and the rituals, is the part that I can share in a 15 to 30 second video format. With cosmetic acupuncture you work in this points and energy channels all over your face connected to channels all over your body. They have emotions connected to them. For example, Chinese Medicine believes that the cranky line is linked to the liver and the emotion of the liver is anger and frustration, so the theory is that if we can treat these lines, we are actually processing the emotion internally as well. By doing the exercises you cultivate a bit of self-love. You cultivate your spirit, connect with yourself internally, so you get that glow.
Am I right if a say part of the benefit comes from slowing down and devote a bit of times to ourselves?
Yes. The exercises make you slow down, take five or ten minutes to complete them and make you stimulate all the right points. You are breathing while you’re doing them and hopefully saying affirmations (it might sound cheesy but it’s repeating you love your beautiful eyes instead of “I hate my horrible dark circles”). It transforms your entire day, then your week and then your month and then you feel better and more confident and you start noticing physical changes too.
You might think that Stephanie made the wrong choice when she chose journalism. Now that I have finally understood why it was her videos that hooked me and not those of other experts in the field, I think she just got the signals mixed up. She’s an amazing communicator, she just needed to find the field she wanted to devote her ability to.