| | By Mike Rosen-Molina. Photos by Margaretta K. Mitchell
Dana Ullman, 63, loves bringing people together and believes in bridging gaps and melding different ideologies. A friendly man with a warm chuckle who can see the joke in any situation, Ullman loves irony, too. So it's almost fitting that a man who wants nothing more than to be a uniting force can also be one of the most controversial, divisive voices in America today.
"I try to be inclusive for merging spiritual and political people," Ullman said. "My mission has always been integrating different movements together in a broader-based effort to change."
It's hard to believe that when listening to Ullman, whose gentle warmth comes through in his voice. But for more than 30 years, this unassuming Berkeleyite has been one of the world's foremost experts on homeopathy, an alternative medicine that posits a substance that causes the symptoms of a disease in healthy people will cure similar symptoms in sick people.
While not accepted by conventional medicine and derided as pseudoscience by many, homeopathy has become one of the leading alternative medicines worldwide. Ullman is convinced that homeopathy has the keys to good health, and his outspoken opinions have earned him both friends and enemies.
A writer, publisher, teacher, and homeopathic practitioner, Ullman is founder and director of Homeopathic Educational Services in Berkeley, a resource center for homeopathic books, tapes, medicines, and correspondence courses. He has written 10 books on the subject and co-published more than 40 additional books through North Atlantic Books.
Ullman is perhaps most visible through his frequent columns on the Huffington Post, where his friendly writing style and defense of homeopathy often attract thousands of comments—not all of them positive. Critics claim that homeopathy hasn't met the standard of evidence to be accepted alongside Western medical practices, but even many skeptics appreciate Ullman's willingness to talk things out.
"I'm loved and hated," admitted Ullman with a good-natured laugh. "Usually you don't get that response, if you're just loved. Haters bring out lovers. Even if there's antagonism, I don't strike against it. I try to include them in the dialogue."
Adam Duhan, a Berkeley internal medicine physician, has been friends with Ullman for 21 years. The two frequently attend Burning Man together and, as big fans of Steely Dan, also carpool to concerts. Although skeptical of homeopathy, Duhan recognizes Ullman's dedication to the health of his patients.
"Many allopathic doctors look at their watches more than at their patients," Duhan said. "Dana listens to his patients; he hears what problems are at home. With him, it's more than just looking at script and then showing the patient the door. He's got caring and integrity."
Psychologist David Surrenda was working as the dean of conscious studies at John F. Kennedy University in Orinda when he first met Ullman. Today Surrenda is executive director of the consulting firm Leadership Edge in Oakland, but he still remembers Ullman as a unique and positive voice in alternative medicine.
"This was a man who knew how to invite the community to the party," Surrenda said. "He's so joyous; he brings community together. He wants to bring everyone into the discussion regarding how to create holistic health. He's one of the best community-builders. He really appreciates the collective contributions of almost everybody. He sees life as a stage, and absolutely gets people inspired. If it's a Renaissance fair, he'll show up in the best costume. He's always in full engagement."
Today Ullman lives in Berkeley with his wife of 25 years and a son studying advertising and communication at the University of Colorado at Boulder. When he's not working, he's an avid disc golf player with a special fondness for the course at Aquatic Park; twice a week, he makes time to practice conscious dance, either at classes or events. "I like the interaction with other people," he said. "Every partner creates their own song."
Ullman grew up in Los Angeles, the son of a pediatric allergist. His father encouraged him to explore medicine from an early age. He even gave the young Ullman a toy medical kit as a gift. But Ullman's interest in medicine took a decidedly different path. Where his father was a devotee of Western medicine, Ullman came to believe that there was something more to be found in holistic and alternative health. He came to Berkeley for college in 1971.
"I was a child of the '60s," Ullman said. "We thought like our parents, but with a twang. I explored medicine from a more natural medicine perspective."
Like many Berkeleyans of the '70s, Ullman was a seeker, looking for meaning in life. He participated in the Human Potential Movement, the Responsive Growth Movement, and the Women's Movement, but he discovered the passion that would become his life's pursuit when he met a group of doctors, nurses, and yoga teachers who had come together to explore natural medicine. Through the group, Ullman learned of homeopathy and saw what he felt was the missing piece from Western medicine.
"What impressed me was how highly systematic it was," he said. No disease, he said, causes a localized effect to liver or skin; instead, these are just symptoms of something that affects the whole body. "You just ask: What are unique symptoms the patient is experiencing? When you've reorded 20 symptoms, you can start to look for a solution—a medicine that would normally causes similar symptoms." For instance, a patient may be experiencing trouble sleeping, tension headaches, anxiety, and diarrhea. Since coffee has been known to cause those effects in a healthy body, it may be the medicine needed to remedy them in an unhealthy body.
Ullman dropped out of school to start studying homeopathy full time before starting Homeopathic Educational Services out of his home (although he returned to UC Berkeley several years later to complete his undergrad studies and later went on to earn a master's in public health from the same university). At the time, homeopathy was virtually unknown outside of Berkeley. Ullman's father was among one of the first skeptics Ullman had to face.
"My father said homeopathy is quackery," Ullman said. "I said, 'Do you even know what it is?' He didn't, but eventually he came back with an answer. He then claimed it was quackery, because it used too-small doses. So I asked, 'So you've tested it?' So there was an attitude of antagonism, but also a lot of ignorance."
As Ullman began to practice, he faced a bigger challenge.
"After four years of practicing homeopathy, I was honored to be arrested," he said.
At the time, he was living in Oakland hills in a home with six housemates; the group regularly got together to converse and eat meals. One roommate was a right-wing Libertarian with whom Ullman occasionally butted heads. This roommate was skeptical of homeopathy and watched Ullman's fledgling practice with concern. He eventually wrote a letter to the state medical board, claiming that Ullman was practicing medicine without a license, that he was "hanging out with yoga and bio-energy people," and, worst of all, preying on sensitive "Berkeley types." In response, the medical board sent an undercover agent posing as a potential patient seeking help. Something about this "patient" seemed off to Ullman from the moment he walked in the door. Sensing something amiss, Ullman trusted his gut and asked him point-blank if he was an agent.
"Then I said 'Well, it doesn't matter; you know I'm not a doctor'," Ullman said. "And he said: 'Yes, I know.' "
Nevertheless, Ullman was arrested for practicing medicine without a license. To raise money for his defense, Ullman's friends and supporters created a holistic health committee and organized three retreats at Harbin Hot Springs in Lake County, which Ullman fondly recalled as a typical move in "Berkeley right out of the '60s."
"Nothing like a good arrest to bring people together," Ullman joked. "400 people attended the Harbin event, and after paying the lawyer, we still had $1,000 left over. So we used it to start a holistic health magazine called the Holistic Health Review. We thought it would be another good way to celebrate and educate, to bring people together interested in alternative medicine."
Ullman's trial date was ultimately set for April 10, which Ullman noted, with typical wry humor, coincided with the birthday of homeopathy's founder Samuel Hahnemann. Ullman interpreted the coincidence as an auspicious sign. But the trial never came, because the court agreed to a settlement that allowed Ullman to keep practicing homeopathy if he warned patients that he was not a certified medical practitioner and he provide them with written agreements that differentiated the health care he provided from that provided by medical doctors. Ullman was glad to comply, noting he was already doing both.
"It was an early case to suggest the benefit of alternative medicine," Ullman said. "The agreement even strengthened the core principle of holistic health. It's a way of getting agreements in keeping with emerging principles of homeopathy. I think it's important for patients to recognize their role, the more we give someone else that responsibility."
In addition to having an active practice, Ullman concentrates on public education about homeopathy. In 1981, he organized a conference at UC Berkeley extension called Conceptualizing Energy Medicine, inviting advocates from all domains of alternative medicine from homeopathy to acupuncture to therapeutic touch. With a keynote address from physicist Fritjof Capra, the conference helped to give alternative medicine more respectability. (Although Ullman was amused to receive an angry letter from the Dean of UC San Franscisco's medical school revealing he was "shocked Berkeley was letting a conference on this subject go on.")
"The fact remains: 80 percent of the world population uses alternative medicines," Ullman said. "This conference helped to coalesce alternative medicine under a different model than conventional medicine. Conventional medicine sees body as a biochemical machine; energy model looks at the whole system and the subtle forces not seen by the eye. Homeopathy sees body as animated by vital force."
Just recently, Ullman received a telephone call from a Maryland doctor seeking his expertise to help write an energy medicine textbook to be published by the John Hopkins University medical school, something he never would have imagined when he first started investigating homeopathy as a Berkeley undergrad all those years ago.
"Today every medical school in country has a course in integrative health career," Ullman said. "Homeopathy is leading alternative medicine in Europe. Acupuncture and homeopathy are the leading alternative medicines in Asia. In the '70s, people had no idea what homeopathy was. Now there's much better knowledge, but still a lot of people are confused. There's still a lot of education left to do."
Mike Rosen-Molina is an East Bay freelance writer and frequent contributor to The Monthly.
Margaretta K. Mitchell is a nationally known artist and professional photographer, author, and educator based in the East Bay. www.MargarettaMitchell.com