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Medical herbalist Melinda McDougall: My Best Life in 10 answers

The National Institute of Medical Herbalists, the UK’s largest professional body for western herbal practitioners, is taking part in Mental Health Awareness Week (MHAW) which runs from 10-16 May.

This year’s theme is nature and the environment, which ties in perfectly with the work of the Institute and its members, supporting patients on their journeys to better mental and physical health.

Melinda McDougall is a Medical Herbalist specialising in women’s health. She is on a mission to help women have a happy, healthy menopause and feel positive about heading into the next phase of their lives.

As an accredited member of the National Institute of Medical Herbalists, which was first founded in 1864, she is part of network of herbalists across the UK that work to support their patients’ health with plant medicine and a holistic approach to wellbeing.

Melinda at her graduation

1. What has been your Best Life Project to date?

Leaving behind a 20-year career in journalism and broadcast media to retrain as a Medical Herbalist. It took me 8 years of part-time post-graduate study – including going to night school to get some science A-levels – before I completed my Master of Science degree and started my practice.

2. The unknown … what challenges did you have to overcome?

So many! The professional training to become a Medical Herbalist is incredibly tough and many fall by the wayside. It gives you a full medical background – from anatomy and physiology to pathology, pharmacology, diagnostic skills – and of course botany and plant chemistry. There was a lot of soul-searching and self-doubt but I was determined to see it through – every flaming hoop. I also had to take a pay cut and go back to being a poverty-stricken student, but it was absolutely worth it.

3. In hindsight…..what would you do differently?

I had been thinking of changing my career for a while but it took me time to build up the courage. I loved making documentaries and had a strong track record making films for the BBC and Channel 4. But I could see it was unsustainable and burnout was looming. I was 38 when I began easing myself out. Should I have jumped sooner? I’m a firm believer that everything happens at the right time.

4. Next steps?

I now have a thriving online practice. My mission is to help educate women about what to expect in their 40s and 50s, and to let them know that there is a safe, effective and natural way to navigate it. I have analysed thousands of research papers on the subject and combine this knowledge with traditional insights about the plants, and the evidence I gather from my patients. I give talks, do online events – one day I will write a book.

5. What lifestyle changes has lockdown made you consider?

My life was fairly self-contained before lock-down as I worked online and from home, so in many ways it hasn’t felt like a huge change. Like many people, it has made me value nature even more, those special green spaces where we can walk amongst the trees, breathe fresh air and get to know the plants. As we know, nature has many benefits including for our mental health. It’s made me really think about where I want to live in the long term. As a herbalist, the idea of having space to grow medicinal plants is incredibly enticing.

6. Kissing frogs …. is there an unexpected person who has helped you and, if so, how did they do it?

My teachers, mentors and fellow herbalists have all been an incredible source of strength through this process, but really, I’ve been so grateful that my husband 100% supported my decision to retrain even when the going got tough – he helped me believe in myself in some low moments. I also have some amazing friends who would bring me food and cheer me on when I was in the depths of exam hell.

7. My Inspiration ….who or what inspires you?

I’m constantly inspired by my clients and the huge leaps they take in regaining control over their health and redressing the balance in their lives. And anyone who campaigns for equality and justice – I’ve been interested in human rights and feminism since I was very young, that’s why I initially trained as a journalist.

8. How do you relax or do you struggle to relax?

Spending time in nature, harvesting wild herbs for medicine, laughing with friends, sleeping (so underrated), cooking, going for long walks, yoga, meditation, red wine. I’m walking the South West Coastal Path with a friend in sections. Relaxing is definitely one of my core skills.

9. Guilty secret pleasure?

I used to have a lot of guilty pleasures but life is very simple now. I need a lot of mental clarity to do my job. But the minute we can go to festivals again, you’ll find me dancing under the stars on a Saturday night with a big smile on my face.

10. Words of wisdom

It’s never too late to change your life. The path to transformation may be tough but if you have commitment, determination and a support crew anything is possible. It might feel overwhelming when you’re at the foothills of the mountain, but reaching the summit is oh so sweet.

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