Welcome to the Evolution of Medicine podcast! In this episode, James talks with Michelle Peris, ND, creator and facilitator of Rebel Tribe, a community group of women seeking support and health education. She has successfully helped hundreds of women of all walks of life and health statuses build their own tribes and improve their health and wellbeing. A common concern we hear from practitioners starting out with group visits is that their patients won’t be interested in participating. But what’s different about Michelle’s groups is that that they are aspirational; the foundation of the groups encourages people to grow into better versions of themselves, and to draw on the bravery of their co-members to do it. Functional medicine groups are inspirational in that way—they channel community into a force that is powerful enough to motivate lasting behavior change. It was an excellent 30-minute conversation with Michelle, and she shared great insight that will be valuable to anyone looking for strategies to successfully market group visits and recruit patients. Highlights include:

  • What inspired Michelle to pursue group visits in her practice
  • How to demedicalize the marketing of group visits and attract more participants
  • Stories of transformation from Rebel Tribe groups
  • How the Practice Accelerator helps facilitate group visits in any practice
  • How Michelle plans to continue to grow Rebel Tribe in 2020 and beyond
  • And so much more!

Resources mentioned in this episode:

Podcast by Michelle Peris

James Maskell: Hello and welcome to the podcast. This week we are continuing our group visit series. And we’re going to be talking about making group health sexy. One of the things that all of you know is that you have to get people excited to want to be part of the groups. And that has been something that I’ve heard from practitioners before the book and since the book about what it will really take to get patients to want to be part of a group. How do we make group medicine aspirational? I’m super excited to have on this week’s podcast, Dr. Michelle Peris. She’s a naturopathic doctor out of Toronto. And she has created Rebel Tribe. And I think what you’ll see by demedicalizing, these group visits and infusing a community with naturopathic medicine principles, she has created something that I think will really, really fly when it comes to community-based care. So many great lessons for practitioners in the field. Enjoy.

James Maskell: So a warm welcome to the podcast, Dr. Michelle Peris. Welcome, doc.

Michelle Peris: Thank you so much for having me.

James Maskell: Really awesome to have you here on the Evolution of Medicine podcast and to feature you on the final end or the end of this Group Visit Series. Over the last year, we have talked to all kinds of doctors, practitioners, innovators on the front lines of bringing group visits. And I guess I wanted to have you here on the podcast because ultimately I feel like there’s so much, if you haven’t listened to the whole series now and you haven’t read the book. I can’t really convince you that this is the future of how our medicine gets delivered. And the thing that I feel like I wanted to chat with you a little bit about is just how to make this aspirational, not just for practitioners, but for patients to actually want to be part of a group.

James Maskell: I said in my book as a lot of like trauma associated with being in groups that we are forced into. And I don’t think being in an Alcoholics Anonymous group is aspirational for people. And so we have to try and position these groups as something that people want to be in. And I think you’ve done an incredible job with that. And so let’s just get into the story I guess. So take us a little way back. You’re a naturopathic doctor, you’re in Toronto, what was your life like before you were doing group visits? And what put you on this path?

Michelle Peris: Well, thank you for that. So I started practicing 10 years ago, and I was in a multidisciplinary clinic when I started. And I had an exclusively one-on-one based practice, an office practice. And every once in a while, I would get the opportunity to offer a group initiative, a group detox. That was actually pretty much the main reason I was engaging in a group capacity. And I would see this spark happened between the participants of the detoxification. And I felt like compliance was enhanced, the experience was more enjoyable. It helped with the whole discomfort of detoxification and that just really got me opening my eyes to that’s enjoyable, what is that about? So when it came time for me to consider opening my own clinic, I really wanted a community space.

Michelle Peris: I wanted there to be room to do that. And around the same time I became very aware of your work and your passion for group health and something, it was just this perfect moment of like, “I’ve got to figure this out for the women in my practice.” I could also tell a lot of women I’d been working with for like seven years really had outgrown the need of a one-on-one practice. It didn’t financially make sense and yet they weren’t where they needed to be for transformational health. And they were looking to me for something greater. And so that was really what birthed having a community space and creating what we call Rebel Tribe here in our clinic. And we really did try to position it in a way that was attractive to the women to want to join something greater than themselves, to believe in something bigger than themselves so that they could transform their health.

Michelle Peris: And so it really started as one group health initiative. It’s a 10-month program at our clinic. We started with one a month. We now have six to seven to eight going at any given time per month in our clinic alone. And now we are national, potentially international by spring. And so we’re putting these in an all the naturopathic clinics that this resonates with so that we can just grow this, and give more women access because it just has had such strong attraction that we’ve sold out every time we’ve had a wait list. We’ve been able to create this movement that has got people curious, which I love. I’m so grateful for.

James Maskell: Well, I want to dig into that a little bit because ultimately as I shared at the beginning one objection that’s come up for a lot of practitioners is that, “Oh, my patients don’t want groups, right? They like me, they want to see me one-on-one.” And there’s this feeling that their patient’s aren’t a good fit for this. And I’d love just to talk into that. Was there a moment in your life where you thought that your patients didn’t want groups?

Michelle Peris: That’s very good question. No. Well, I’m a huge believer. I just really, when I believe in something so wholeheartedly, I think my passion can translate. I certainly, I do think there are certain people that I’m like, “I’m not sure this would be for them.” And you have to override that discomfort and we will host an info session to give everybody an option to learn what we’re about. And that is an uncomfortable moment. So when I’m thinking about clinicians who are new to this and you’re pitching this new concept of health, it is revolutionary for a lot of patients, they have no idea that healthcare can be delivered in this way. And so there is that moment where you’re standing there pitching this new concept of health and you can feel their cautiousness with it.

Michelle Peris: And so, I override that narrative. I am actually very strategic about how I do this. I try very hard to not say too much beforehand because if we’re patterned in our thinking, if we are ultimately already lonely and isolated and we think hanging out with people and perhaps community hasn’t been safe historically. If I give you too much information up front, your narrative is going to get in the way of my magic, I say. So I am very elusive in my marketing and I try to connect with…our marketing strategy is to connect with women viscerally.

Michelle Peris: I want them to feel something they maybe have never felt before or believe something is possible they’ve never considered before. And then when I get them in my space, I really try and walk them through this journey and answer all their questions for them before they ask me so that I can…I truly believe when you’re pitching group health you have to bring them into your space and you have to hold space for them for a revolutionary idea. I think it is a difficult act and so you have to hold space for that and you have to be the leader of that, and you really have to truly believe in this.

James Maskell: Absolutely. Yeah. I’d like to talk about those sessions, the info sessions, where you essentially sell everyone on this. So talk us through all parts of that, like when is it held? How many people come? What was it like the first time you did it? And how has it evolved since then? And how do you recruit that group?

Michelle Peris: So, the marketing strategy that’s worked for us is two weeks beforehand, obviously you’re always working on that wait list in office. You’re talking to patients who you think would be a good fit and you’re reaching out to those people first. And then we go on social media for two weeks, we get really loud, we talk about the aspirational transformation. I’m really focused on the language of where we expect you to go and what we want you to believe. So when we’re talking about Rebel Tribe, we’re talking about the reclamation of the wilds, how we can tune in and learn about our physiology to trust our intuition. And through that I’m going to teach you a naturopathic curriculum that’s in alignment with what I need you to know to transform your health. And so my marketing is very much stuck on this wild woman or the reclamation, which gets women really curious.

Michelle Peris: They’re curious about that. So for two weeks, we build hopefully a list that’s around 30 to 40 women who are signed up as interested, that are interested in coming. We’re sold out at 20. My current group right now is 28 women because it’s gotten such traction, it’s a bit big. And then we plan for that info session night. So whoever arrives, we’ll always send like an email, a reminder 24 hours before. So everyone is reminded to come. If you market for too much longer than two weeks either people don’t actually show up because they scheduled it too far in advance or they get annoyed by your marketing.

Michelle Peris: So I think you have to be very careful how you’re pitching this. And then in that two-hour info session, the premise behind Rebel Tribe is to really be vulnerable and hold space. So we will go in and we will share our story, and we will talk about what it is, what is our connection to sisterhood, and what is our connection to the reclamation of the wild basically. And then we walk them through the curriculum. Do you have a question?

James Maskell: Yeah. I was just wondering what are different ranges of health conditions that people have, and then enter in? Because it seems like in other sessions we’ve said, “Look, you want to try and position it as it’s for this disease.” And one of the things that I see that you’ve done is almost demedicalize it to a certain point. And I just think it’s really interesting that it’s taken off because almost you’ve demedicalized it and made it aspirational and dare I say sexy to be part of this group. And I really just want to tap into your thinking about that and maybe how other people listening can do that. Because I know that this is what it’s going to take in order to get people over the hump.

Michelle Peris: Well, I think it’s a good point you bring up because if you think about when you’re speaking to the person who you want to attract, marketing to inflammation or chronic disease isn’t all that aspirational, right? I think you have to be very careful in your language because…It’s a really interesting question. Even though the program is so medically oriented, I have demedicalized the marketing of it, because I don’t want, again, narrative getting in the way of people joining in a revolutionary group health program. And so I really do lean on what other ways can we tap in and connect with people viscerally and get them interested in this and in the door so that then I can teach you what I think is essential for you to know. Because that was much of the frustration in office is you still couldn’t even get through the bulk of information that you needed your patients to know in a one-on-one visit. I’m trying to answer your question more efficiently. Say it a little bit again for me to—

James Maskell: Yeah. So it seems like you demedicalized the marketing of the group. And how has that helped you to attract people? And what kind of conditions do people have that end up coming in?

Michelle Peris: Yeah. I think about how I would want to be spoken to. So my marketing gets me excited. And so I know that if I had anxiety and depression, which is a large part of our population, I wouldn’t want to be joining an anxiety or depression group. It’s just probably not…or the marketing wouldn’t be super attractive to me. But if I am reading information or content that is talking to me about how I am untapped potential, and I just need to unlock what’s inside of me to heal myself, well now you’ve got my attention. Even though I have anxiety, I am feeling a bit dysthymic, I’m curious. And I want to believe in the aspirational vision you have for me. So I like talking about the outcome versus the pathology. And I think that’s really worked well for us. And so we do have a lot of women with burnout and stress, lack of motivation, anxiety, depression, certainly cardiovascular disease, metabolic disease, overweight, obesity. And through the collective I think we do a good job of addressing all of those things and really getting to root cause of what’s underlying a lot of those pathologies.

James Maskell: So you chose a 10-month program, talk me through your thinking about why you created a program that was that long, and how often do you meet, and what’s the kind of connection? How do you keep people engaged between the sessions?

Michelle Peris: Yeah. Great questions. So when I was really coming across a lot of the information, with you talking about social isolation being the all-cause mortality, that connection was so vital for health. I really truly believed that we needed to hang out long enough to create true meaning lasting relationships for these women. And so I believed two things from the start. I believed that it should be a closed group because I wanted to give these women an opportunity to truly connect with each other. And I thought new people would be disruptive to the connection. And I wanted there to be enough time for them to hang out and connect. So we meet once a month for two hours and we have a private Facebook group that they are encouraged to engage with each other and work on whatever health initiative that they’ve taken on through the homework of the group or whatever they’re going through to continue that relationship.

Michelle Peris: And some of our tribes hang out outside. They do retreats together, they get together for dinner. So we have some women…Because I think the success of what we’ve done too is that it was long enough that the connections were strong. That piece was solid, that when they graduated, they wanted another program. So we created alumni for them. When they graduated from that program, we created Rise because they still wanted to hang out together. So we have some women who have been in our office for 10 months, once a month for 10 months, for three years. So they’re deeply connected to our why, our mission, our purpose. And they really do believe in what we’re doing.

James Maskell: Yeah, I absolutely love that. Give me some examples of transformation. Give me some of the best of from your group, stories that just make you inspired to grow and scale this out.

Michelle Peris: Everyone’s favorite that I’ve shared so far is this woman who was a mom of three and she would come in exasperated. She wasn’t a patient when she started and she would come in like disheveled, sweats, mom, she just put her kids to bed. She just really seemed to…She came, she was super committed, but she was just like exhausted in life. She always showed up and she shared. She was always very emotional, but she was always very engaged with the group. Halfway through she became a patient and I learned a lot of about sexual trauma, and her inability to connect with a spouse, and having a really difficult time connecting with her children. Anxiety, depression, medicated, and was really wanting more for herself, and just felt trapped. She kept showing up. She kept contributing and going. And in the last session she came in and she was fully dressed in a dress.

Michelle Peris: Her hair was done. And she just looked like this beautiful best version of herself. And when we were all sitting around in a circle and we were sharing what it was that we got from Rebel Tribe, what was our favorite things? Tears came down her eyes and she wept and talked about how she was dressed the way the women made her feel for the last 10 months. And that she was finally weaning off her medication. She wasn’t afraid to feel her emotions anymore. She was connecting with her partner, she was moving through trauma, she was connecting with her children, she was forgiving herself, and she was ready to feel like the embodiment of the emotions and the things that she was going through because she felt brave.

Michelle Peris: That’s one of my favorite stories. A lot of women through this either leave partnerships or strengthen relationships that are serving them or end up leaving the jobs, the obstacles, that get in the way of true transformational health, the things that they grind in every single day that weigh them down. I really feel like that’s where we see a huge shift in women where women, it becomes the inconvenient truth that they have to face, but because they have the collective, they’re brave enough to face those things.

James Maskell: Yeah. What’s interesting about that is that I’ve seen that in the 15 years of being in this world and seeing that happen in one-on-one sessions with practitioners. But I imagine that this just totally amps up when you’re in a community of women too. Because now it’s like validating that this is important. And I guess you also have women who have been through that transformation and have kind of life on the other side and can talk about what that looks like too, right?

Michelle Peris: And I think you said, you asked me earlier on when you were talking about how info sessions go, I completely flopped the first one. I basically begged everyone to be a part of it. And thank goodness they trusted me to go on that journey because we did sell out and it was a closed group and it was hugely transformational. But we will have those women come to the info session and share because that is what seals the deal. Because it’s one thing to have a facilitator or a naturopathic doctor stand in front of you and say like, “This transformation is possible.” But when you hear someone like you share that…it’s why I think peer-oriented facilitation works so well too, when someone gets what you’re going through that really has that visceral response of belief and trust. And you can lean into that new risky, scary road because for a lot of people they’ve never done anything like this before.

James Maskell: That’s wonderful. Yeah. And really so many great things to learn for all the practitioners who are out there. Through our Practice Accelerator we’ve been teaching people for the last five years or more to be able to put on these evening events to recruit people into their practice, and ultimately either typically for a one-on-one focused appointment or an ongoing package and solution, I just feel like ultimately the group talk structure for bringing people in is actually very conducive to bringing people into a group because you’re going to meet the people that night. And that was always my aspiration for it is like, “How do you bring people in?” Okay, you can do webinars and you can push Facebook ads to webinars.

James Maskell: And people just have a very individual experience. But ultimately if you can bring people into an energy where they can feel who you are, they can touch and feel what you’re about, and then ultimately to see, “Okay. There are other women like me that want to go through the same process.” I think it could just really jumpstart the lead acquisition for many practices. And also, I would imagine that there are women that come in, there’s a lower kind of price point opportunity for them to come into the practice. I would imagine that it leads to a number of one-on-one appointments throughout those 10 months, right?

Michelle Peris: Absolutely. It’s an absolutely beautiful way to grow your one-on-one practice while giving everybody access to incredible high-quality health with definitely a lower price tag.

James Maskell: Well look, this could even be part of our Success Leaves Clues podcast series that we’ve been doing because ultimately it is successful on the business end too. And we heard on the last podcast a clinic in Idaho that had really focused on group visits, bought a practice, grow the group visits, being part of the accelerator, now have multiple locations are growing out. I’d love you to share with our audience. Okay, you’ve got this core group, you’ve been doing it for a few years. What’s happening in 2020? And what do you see happening in this next decade?

Michelle Peris: So in 2020, I really truly believe we’ll be in Canada and the US. And I just really, when we’re talking about making a movement, we can be louder as a collective, the ones carrying this knowledge forward. I’ve been able to witness the transformation. I see how important and imperative group health is for health and for humanity as a whole. It is so key. It’s the most powerful tool. It’s the best kept secret, not a secret anymore, that we have here. And we need to take radical responsibility for that. And so the way I positioned it to other naturopathic doctors is, of course you could do this on your own. But why? Let me save you 500 hours, a little adrenal burnout, and we can do this as a collective, you can implement this, bring this to your practice and take this and be a sold-out program in 30 to 60 days.

Michelle Peris: And now we can create a louder voice for this. And so my vision this year is to really expand our reach to amplify and be able to access more women because women are really benefiting this. We’re also trying to get this all online so we can be accessible to other women who crave to have this because I think it’s so important. And then I’m trying to think of a way we can stay connected as a collective, like long-term. Because I really do think this is the way my practice is evolving. I think this is where I’m best suited is serving the public this way.

James Maskell: I think so too. Well let me just ask you about one thing. So a couple of days ago, a couple of weeks ago, depending on when you’re listening to this, we did our functional forum at Bastia, the home of naturopathic medicine. And my intention that day was to really set a new energy for the industry where ultimately one of the things that I’ve seen, which is horrifying for me is that functional medicine and naturopathic medicine seem not really, seem a little bit like there’s not complete alignment in those two terms. Which I’ve always sought through the Functional Forum and everything that I’ve done to like, see integrative functional, naturopathic lifestyle medicine. This is all the same thing. We’re all a big community and we need to start acting like it. And being in silos, actually is stopping that. Now, I wrote a blog last year that maybe I’ll put it in the notes.

James Maskell: Which was my thesis, ultimately that group visits, and whether they’re called functional medicine group visits or Rebel Tribe or otherwise, that have this salutogenic thesis running through them was a way for us all to come together. Because most of the groups that we’ve spoken to thus far are either integrative or functional in like their terminology. But here’s something created by a naturopathic doctor that’s spreading through naturopathic doctors that ultimately is 99% the same as let’s say the Cleveland Clinic Functioning for Life program. And I guess I just want you to speak into that a little bit because my thesis is, and we’ll see how successful it is over the next decade, but ultimately that this group structure is a way for us all to come together and really build the future of chronic disease care. What do you think of that?

Michelle Peris: Well, I completely agree with that. I think so much is healed through the collective and so much transformation is possible through that. So if group health is the intersection of where everybody pushes the needle forward, which is what really needs to happen for us to make a dent in chronic disease and inflammatory conditions, then for me it’s so obvious. It just makes so much sense that this is the way the future of medicine needs to be because I think people are waking up and realizing that we need to do this differently and that it is lifestyle medicine and interventions that are going to be what truly heal people.

Michelle Peris: And it’s too hard to do alone. And we don’t even have enough practitioners to serve the people who truly need this. So if we can get together and all be providing group health, then absolutely, I think that is the way we have to go. And, yeah, it’s hard to think that there’s any debate about that. But I guess there is. And this is a huge opportunity for that to happen. And in fact, we have interest with functional doctors in the US to implement Rebel Tribes. So maybe we’re on something there.

James Maskell: Yeah. So give us the next steps. If someone’s listening to this and I think I want to run Rebel Tribe out of my clinic, what’s the best way to get in touch and what would that look like as far as, is it a franchise? What are you really doing with that?

Michelle Peris: It’s a licensing program. And we’re launching them for my own preservation. We’re launching them in the winter, spring, and fall. And so we’re onboarding about five to 10 doctors each time. And we are training them in the methodology behind what we do in our success. And so we’re teaching them why we’d run group health the way we do it, which is really delivering a much more like visceral emotional response versus really sticking on leaning into the health piece, which is a big part of it. But we’re really careful about how we deliver that health information, how we attract people. So we train them in that.

Michelle Peris: And what we think our responsibility in terms of hosting a circle, how do we successfully help patients transform through this journey? And then we walk them through our marketing strategy and then we go through the curriculum. Obviously, most of it is fairly in alignment with how everybody practices. So that’s usually the easy part. And then I walk them through that info session. We get them super prepared for that sales night because this is a paid out of pocket event. I think you really truly have to shift the way that you do things and hold space for people. So you get training and all of that. That’s been wonderfully successful our first launch, which we just did a winter launch across Canada, and everyone sold out, which was amazing.

Michelle Peris: And yeah, so we’ll be doing it again for the spring and yeah, so it’s four coaching sessions up front and then you get 12 months of support, ongoing support to help you troubleshoot because there’s definitely a different collective energy in a group and you might have to troubleshoot different problems you’ve never had to deal with in a one-on-one practice before. So we’re here to facilitate and support that. And everything, we have the handouts, the PowerPoints, everything is included. And the coaching on top of that. And then there’s just an annual re-certification fee to maintain the brand and the intellectual property.

James Maskell: Wonderful. Well look, I am super psyched to share this with our community because ultimately the whole point of the book and the whole point of this podcast series has been to stimulate people to go in this direction and to do it. And ultimately what I see that you’re doing is creating something where a lot of these things had been thought out for people because…and a lot of the barriers that have been up in people’s minds about whether or not this is something that they can do in their practice are systemically being taken down, or systematically. And ultimately, I’m super excited to do what I can to help this thing to move forward. Because ultimately there is a big piece of this, which is people love being in the group, but people don’t necessarily think they need to be in a group or want to be in a group.

Michelle Peris: Right.

James Maskell: And ultimately, we need to help people jump over that hurdle. And I think you’re doing an incredible job of helping women to jump over that hurdle. And honestly, 75% of women, 75% of functional medicine patients are women. And so we really need to, if we can really nail that down, I think it could be transformative for all involved. So yeah, thank you for being on the front end of this. And thank you for just going about this so passionately. When I actually saw you on Broken Brain for the first time, I didn’t know that I was involved in it at all. And I was just like, “Oh, this is cool, there’s someone with a naturopathic doctor in Toronto who likes community.” And when we met it was really great to know that there was some reason why I went for that extra evening event to Toronto back in 2017. Even if it didn’t seem so at the time.

Michelle Peris: For this moment. You were hugely instrumental. And that stuff is so cool and I’m glad that I had the opportunity. I say that to the women like, “I’m so grateful I had the opportunity to be able to say that to you.” Because it meant everything to me to be able to actually meet the person that I admired so much from the intranet to share what you did for me and how you really transformed that moment. I was going to do community anyways, but you lit a fire and a passion, your passion is infectious and it really helped propel this for me. And I just want to say two more things. I am super grateful for this opportunity and the way we have been able to help people is I think we demystify that to demedicalize what we’re doing and make what make community sexy. We get people excited and it can be very hard.

Michelle Peris: It is a huge obstacle for people. And I think that we’ve figured that out. And so I just want to say two things, that people are interested in learning more, I have on MichellePeris.com/freebie, I have like a downloadable document on everything I wish I had known when I started a community group. And I have, you can go on our website and you can book a tribe-building call for clinicians with me. And we can talk about whether or not Rebel Tribe’s a good fit. But I’ve actually also been coaching a couple clinicians on helping them build their community. But using my methodology behind how we market this and how we demystify this for people. So there is some cool opportunities to co-create something pretty amazing.

James Maskell: Wonderful. Well, we’ll put all the details in the show notes. And yeah, thank you for taking this whole thing forward. And if this is the first episode that you’ve listened to, go back and listen to the rest of the group visit series. I think you’ll just see that look, this is the plan moving forward. And ultimately I think more than anything I’m just like a hundredth monkey into this whole system where it’s like there’s a lot of amazing work that’s been happening in the decades before. But right now, we’re at a moment of collective transition where this is what people want and this is what people have an appetite for.

James Maskell: And I bet that you are vastly underestimating the desire for this kind of community-based transformation in your community. And thank you Michelle for creating the systems and structures by which this can spread very quickly. So thanks so much for being part of the podcast. This has been the group visit series. We’ve been with Dr. Michelle Peris of the Rebel Tribe and my name’s James Maskell, this is the Evolution of Medicine Podcast. Thanks so much for tuning in and we’ll see you next time.


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