Practitioner Spotlight: Kia Sanford, MS

This is a blog series profiling the philosophies, practices, and work spaces of integrative health professionals. This week we spoke with Kia Sanford MS.

I have been a counselor since getting my Masters in marriage, family and child therapy in 1995 and added a Masters in human clinical nutrition in 2004. I have been combining the two disciplines for the last decade.

What inspired you to become a practitioner?

As a child, I was always the observer and used to love making up stories about people I would see while waiting for the bus or grocery shopping with my Mom. I would come up with elaborate explanations for their behavior. I’ve always been curious about what makes people tick. Later I ended up being the one all my friends came to with problems and did my best to help them feel better. Eventually one friend said “you are so good at this it’s a shame you aren’t getting paid to be a counselor” and it clicked. After working as a counselor for a number of years and getting frustrated by what felt like a very limited tool box, a couple of defining moments lead me into the field of nutrition.

I was working closely with a complementary cancer care specialist and saw how much the choices we make every day in foods, activities, and stress responses play a role in our long term health. During that time I had a counseling client who came in on a really hot day with a double handled “Big Gulp” mug full of diet soda, plunked the half gallon container on a side table, plopped onto my couch and burst into tears while complaining about her mood swings. Again, something clicked and I knew I had to go back to school and find some tools my clients could use daily that were tangible with regards to their diet and lifestyle choices because they were directly affecting their mental and emotional health, as well as their physical health.

Do you have any mentors?

My clients are my most important mentors. I know that sounds trite but it’s true. I learn so much from my clients every day that I sometimes feel like I should be paying them rather than the other way around. I have devoured the writings of certain leaders in the field of nutrition, psychology, and genetics, especially those who are “big picture” people who understand the biochemistry and neurological science behind the symptoms but don’t get lost in treating a symptom. People of many disciplines and walks of life have had an impact on my philosophy, including my father who taught me there is no such thing as a stupid question so keep asking. Other key influencers include Jack Guthrie PhD, Candace Pert PhD, Jonathan Treasure MNIMH, Gary Zukav, Russell Blaylock MD, Diana Schwarzbein MD, Carl Jung, Ron Kurtz, Bill Moyers, Christiane Northrup MD, Michael Pollan, Gary Taubes, Mary Enig PhD, James Gordon MD, and many more.

What are your favorite blogs, books or information sources?

I have to choose? There are so many good ones!


Something people don’t know about you?

Although I grew up mostly in the US with Norwegian and American parentage, there is a huge Asian component to my family culture since my Norwegian Mother was born in China and her parents lived in Asia most of their adult lives. Because of these incongruous roots I am REALLY picky about Chinese food 😉 I spent 6 weeks traveling in China a few years ago and discovered the origins of my passions for Asian flavors and philosophies. I still dream of the street food in the night markets…

Describe your practice:

How big is your practice? At any given moment I probably have 40 active clients, which might not sound like a lot, but for each client face-time hour I put in about 1-2 more behind the scenes in preparation and research. Each client is unique and I get to learn more and more with each new challenge.

Are there any ways you treat your patients that might be considered “unconventional”?

Absolutely, but I can’t imagine practicing any other way. I investigate the psycho-emotional as well as the biochemical and physical layers when working to promote health. I have found that without addressing the underlying reasons “why” someone is having physical symptoms, most top down symptom mitigation will only be temporary at best. No matter whether the client is undergoing cancer treatment, just had their first heart attack, or just wants to lose ten pounds, unless you recruit their emotional and spiritual selves to make healthy changes most plans will fail in the long run. If you only focus on the “what” without addressing the “why” and the “how” there is too much opportunity for self sabotage or waning interest. Whether clients come to me for counseling or for nutrition first, they usually end up getting both.

How do you manage your time to effectively deliver individualized care while also running a successful business?

…um… yeah… by the seat of my pants usually! It’s extremely difficult to wear all the hats it takes to run a successful practice and still be a good and effective practitioner. Before embarking on my own journey as a healthcare practitioner, I spent a number of years working as the practice manager for other practitioners so I learned first hand what systems need to be in place to make the front and back office run as smoothly as possible. My first Masters thesis was actually on the creation of a wholistic multidisciplinary healing center where the practitioners were all supported by a stellar administrative staff in a college campus-like environment. It’s still on my bucket list. In the mean time I have developed my own forms and systems to track paperwork, develop protocols, progress notes, business finances, marketing, and more.

How do you maintain relationships with your patients to help them feel supported with their health goals?

I offer my clients access to me during the whole course of our work together, not just from one appointment to the next. My clients all have my cell phone and my email address, and over the last twenty years I can safely say I can count on one hand the number of clients who took advantage of that access. I’m clear up front that I will tell them if questions move from “quick” into the realm of needing to set an actual appointment. I also offer home visits for clients within 10 miles which makes it much easier for busy families or clients with mobility issues to use my services.

Software or other tools you use in your practice:

I have moved over to using Fullscript’s portal after years of going through a distributor directly largely because it seems my clients like the interface better. It makes it easy for me to check up on them as well and know if they are following the recommendations I have made.

I’ve found that most of the “boxed” software for healthcare practices is not only cost prohibitive, but has far more bells and whistles than I really need. Most of the software I use is pretty standard but I have created tweaks and forms that work for my needs. I use a Mac so I use Pages for my progress notes and Numbers for my protocols, invoices, and statements. I use Wiggio and Google Calendar for appointment setting at my offices, and coordinate it all in iCal for my laptop. I don’t let my clients set their own appointments because there are too many variables. I use Square for my credit card processing because it’s as mobile as I am. I don’t take insurance although my services qualify for most Flex accounts or HSAs and can be included in itemized medical tax deductions. I have found that by staying out of the whole insurance mess, it keeps my practice simple and straightforward. I have an easy to understand flat fee for service system. The trick is remembering to charge for the time I spend researching, meal planning and protocol development.

Any advice for new grads?

Learn to feel comfortable answering a client’s question with “you know, I’m not sure, let me find that out more and get back to you”. Don’t back your clients into a corner with a “my way or the highway” approach. Given only those two options you’ll be surprised at how many clients opt for the highway even if they think you’re right. Don’t ever stop learning! The field of nutrition is constantly changing so keep studying and be willing to change your opinion as new information comes to light. Offer detailed information to your clients, even really technical research articles. You’ll be surprised at how many clients really want to know more but just don’t know where to look for quality information. Develop relationships with other practitioners both in your field and outside of it. Cross referrals and word of mouth are my best sources of new clients.

Anything you would you have done differently?

In retrospect I think I might have gone into genetics and nutrigenomics… and I still may!

As we move into understanding more and more about both health and dis-ease, we are finding that we have MUCH more control over our long term health than we thought we did. Helping clients to reclaim and maintain their health so they can stay away from overmedication and hospitalization will dramatically increase quality of life. Empowering clients to create healthy internal and external environments for themselves and their families is a rewarding and fulfilling way to spend each day. I love what I do and I get so much back each time a client reverses a dangerous dis-ease path. What we do, or don’t do, most of the time counts. Eating well and moving daily are the two best investments we can make and the best health insurance we can buy.