Leading the way in natural health in Australia with Dr. Lesley Braun

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Dr Lesley Braun shares her inspiring journey in natural medicine and tells of the role the Southern School of Natural Therapies (SSNT), now part of Torrens University Australia, has played in her career.

As a young woman, Lesley Braun was inspired and encouraged by her father – a pharmacist and naturopath. Now Lesley is the Global Director of the ground-breaking Blackmores Institute, recently published her second book, Mental Wellbeing, and on 1 March 2022, she received the Australian complementary medicines industry’s highest honour, the Lady Cilento Award.

You qualified as a pharmacist and studied Naturopathy at SSNT – what made you choose to do both?

My father was a big influence on my career choice. He was a pharmacist and from the age of 12, I used to work with him in his stores. I loved talking to customers, learning how to solve their health problems. Studying pharmacy was a natural progression, however I always saw it as a stepping stone and not the end goal. Maybe it was all that time I spent on the shop floor talking to people that reinforced the notion that a one-size-fits-all approach to health is really limited.

In the 1980s my dad graduated as a naturopath, and he was getting a lot of good results at his clinics. That piqued my interest. At pharmacy college, I had been taught that drugs are the best medicine. Clearly, though, there were many other health-promoting approaches, but they were less visible and less accepted.

Dad recommended that I enrol at SSNT as he knew the science was important to me and SSNT could be the bridge between worlds.

How has naturopathy influenced your career path?

I started studying at SSNT when I was still studying pharmacy at university. Back then, both disciplines were preaching that their way was the best way. Thankfully that has changed. I became passionate about the concept of integration, which was then in its infancy. It encouraged us to see value in multiple approaches and not take an either/or view.

Social justice is also a strong driving force for me. Seeing how herbal medicines and nutritional supplements kept my grandfather out of hospital and living an independent life at home until his nineties, and helped countless patients who responded to them when nothing else worked, made me think, Shouldn’t everyone have the opportunity to access naturopathic treatments?

This fuelled my PhD study. Across four Victorian hospitals, I investigated how medical doctors, surgeons and pharmacists managed the use of complementary medicines. This project led to advising the Victorian Therapeutic Advisory Group on their hospital policy and ensuring it would ‘allow’ patients to use complementary medicines in hospital. I started to write and give lectures to build bridges between the professions, so health professionals would become better informed and more patients would benefit. It also led to several ministerial appointed positions at the TGA (Therapeutic Goods Administration) and later, university research positions.

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Tsinghua University, Beijing, in 2019, named Dr Braun Special Researcher for the ‘Chinese National Social Science Fund Project’ on Research on International Communication and Recognition System for Chinese Medicine Culture. She is pictured here at The 14th China Health and Communications Conference.

What does your role at the Blackmores Institute involve and how has it evolved?

I became Director of the Blackmores Institute in 2014. At that time, the focus was on Australia and developing education, small research projects with an emphasis on innovation, and we had our naturopathic advisory hotline. I quickly realised that we should review our approach to education to meet different learner needs and improve naturopathic literacy. I also identified that we should expand overseas. I coined the phrase ‘Sharing knowledge, changing lives’ – recognising that as more people understand diet, lifestyle and naturopathic approaches, the better decisions they can make about their own health, the health of their family, of the community, through to public health.

Then, the Blackmores Institute moved into South East Asia and we built on our research capabilities. Its role is now global, and I work with 19 universities around the world. Last year we had 1.4 million education touch points and we are involved in 35 research projects.

Our aim at the Institute is to leave a legacy that will grow over the years. We want to support the next generation of leaders, that is, students and our interns. It feels great to be making this positive impact.

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CEO Magazine recognised Lesley Braun’s contribution to transforming natural health literacy in Australasia, naming her the Health and Pharmaceutical Executive of the Year in 2019. Her Blackmores colleague, Brett Winn (right), was named the CIO of the Year.

Your book, Herbs and Natural Supplements, is used across our Complementary Medicine courses at Torrens University. What motivated you to write it?

Many pharmacists and GPs lacked awareness and education in relation to herbs and natural supplements, and they were making a lot of assumptions. They believed there was no evidence of the benefits of natural medicine, and we needed to show there is. The book was a great opportunity to marry the sectors.

As well, I asked myself, if I were a busy natural health practitioner what book would I like to have as a convenient reference. Also, when I was teaching naturopathic subjects at university, I saw a gap that had to be filled for the students.

These were the thoughts that motivated me. It took me almost three years to write this book, and it was my passion for natural health kept me going.

In your new book, Mental Wellbeing, what compelled you to write about mental health and wellbeing?

With so much happening around the world these past years, we’ve seen a wave of mental health issues. The national discourse is often only about serious disease, such as severe depression, but there are other symptoms as well. Personally, I saw that many of my friends and colleagues were experiencing far higher levels of stress and suffering with sleep problems, trouble with mental focus and sometimes symptoms related to burnout, yet there was little public discussion about these very real issues. I wanted to create a supportive resource for practitioners to use for themselves, and for their patients.

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In her most recent book, Mental Wellbeing, Dr Braun helps practitioners, students and patients understand and manage mental health with herbs and nutritional supplements.

How do you see Mental Wellbeing supporting students and practitioners of Naturopathy, Nutrition and Western herbal medicine?

It’s a one stop shop. It will save people the time and trouble of reading many books and multiple articles, then having to synthesize the evidence. Mental Wellbeing introduces a spiral concept that shows practitioners, students and patients that mental wellbeing is dynamic. It’s a fully referenced, supportive resource that I hope can help practitioners and students to learn ways to stop their patients from slipping down that spiral, and to manage the spiral in their own lives.

Can we use a holistic approach through disciplines such as Naturopathy, Nutrition and Western Herbal Medicine to deal with Australia’s mental health challenges?

The unique benefit of a holistic perspective is that we look at a patient’s lifestyle and not just their presenting symptoms. We examine their diet, where they live, work and play, and this broad perspective helps us to address an incredibly complex mental health landscape.

How has the natural health profession changed since you studied at SSNT?

With Naturopathy there is a lot more science in the education now; when I was a student, it was all traditional teachings. Today it is evidence based and this has strengthened the qualification. As well, there is more focus on critical thinking – students are graduating with a broader understanding of traditional and medical practices and they’re thinking critically.

What advice would you give anyone who is considering studying Naturopathy?

Naturopathy is more than a profession, is it a personal framework for how to live. In my career, I’ve been fortunate to see that so many pathways can open up for you – research, product development, education, working with government. Studying Naturopathy doesn’t only mean working in a clinic. Your naturopathic and nutrition education can be used in so many ways to contribute to society.

When you graduate the learning has just begun – it keeps growing and your learning evolves. As the world changes, the evidence changes too, so you need to let go of any old ways of thinking. Equally, as your experience grows and the science grows, we need to be open to adopt new thinking and evolve ourselves, and our profession.

SSNT is Australia’s longest-standing institution in natural therapies and has been part of Torrens University Australia since 2014. To find out about our courses visit:

www.torrens.edu.au/about/our-heritage/ssnt
www.torrens.edu.au/courses/health/bachelor-of-health-science-naturopathy

Check our Health Courses to learn more
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