Pacific Grove’s Healing Collaborative offers alternative care that’s more caring than clinical.

Stretched Out: Chiropractor Trinette Gilbert demonstrates a rehab technique on the reformer machine.

Don’t call it the waiting room. This is the “relaxation room,” where patients can find not only kids’ toys and magazines but also filtered water, hot tea and the Cadillac of all remote-control massage chairs. Roomy and leather like a grandpa’s throne, it transports its occupant to a place of multi-stroke muscular surrender.

It’s an atypical perk in an atypical doctor’s office. At the Healing Collaborative in downtown Pacific Grove, where nine practitioners offer a spectrum of alternative health services, the vibe is more caring than clinical. It’s also decidedly feminine: All of the practitioners are women, though they say that’s pure coincidence.

Dr. Gloria Kalisher, crisp and animated in a jogging suit, tells the story of the collaborative’s birth. About nine years ago, she says, fellow doctor Don Bruce decided to turn the former bank on Forest Avenue into a new kind of medical center. Kalisher and the other founding practitioners met monthly to discuss a volunteer’s medical history from different perspectives – a collaborative approach to healing.

“YOU ALWAYS FEAR BEING LABELED A QUACK, BUT I’M CREDENTIALED UP THE WAZOO.”

Soon Kalisher, then a primary care physician, took over the lease. Over the years she began offering alternative services including massage, Ayurvedic medicine, Gerson nutritional therapy and vitamin infusions. While earning a certification in medical acupuncture, she began to view Western medicine from an Eastern perspective – and saw stagnancy, insecurity, an over-reliance on prescriptions and quick diagnoses. In a more holistic approach, she says, doctors work to identify the root causes of their patients’ illnesses.

“You always fear being labeled a quack, but I’m credentialed up the wazoo,” Kalisher says. “It’s not the drugs that heal us; we heal ourselves.”

She closed her primary care practice and gave up the lease on the collaborative, narrowing her services to acupuncture. In the transition, Kalisher says, the patient pool dwindled. Money froze up. Another practitioner, chiropractor Trinette Gilbert – who offers one-on-one Pilates training in the former bank vault – took over the lease around 2005.

The Healing Collaborative is inching toward its 10-year anniversary, but it’s still relatively low-profile. Most of the patients learn about it through word-of-mouth, doctor referrals or simply by passing it on the street. The collaborative doesn’t maintain a collective website or even phone book listing. The practitioners operate independently, Gilbert explains, though they often refer patients to one another and trade services. That lack of coordination, combined with a slumping economy, has some practitioners – particularly those who don’t accept insurance – feeling the pinch. Some describe a re-kindling of energy, but others admit the collaborative isn’t nearly as busy as it was in its heyday.

“I’m not a natural manager,” Gilbert says with a small shrug of her perfectly aligned shoulders. “I took over because patients love coming in here.”

As if on cue, a smiling patient comes by offering homemade lemon muffins.

The patients who discover the collaborative have a multicultural menu of services to consider, from chiropractic to aromatherapy and ear candling. Massage styles go beyond Swedish and deep-tissue to lomilomi, lymph drainage, aquacranial, reflexology, Reiki and Bio Energetic Synchronization Technique.

Chiropractor Deena Hakim says she and the other practitioners specialize in “preventative care, rather than catch-up care” – an approach that’s ultimately healthier for both patients and their budgets.

Complementing the many therapy offices is the “fun room,” where licensed aesthetician Lauren Racusin offers all-natural beauty treatments. Today she’s trying out a new “galvanic spa,” a hand-held device she says works miracles at toning skin. With brunette curls, wooden jewelry and an ever-present smile, she explains that her role is to make things pretty – patients as well as the building.

“People come here sick,” she says. “It’s nice for me to give them the happy side of life, show them the beauty of living.”

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