Prema Rao, Psychology

Photograph of Prema Rao

Prema Rao

Psychology Alumni

Prema Rao works as a research scientist developing biomedical devices, but her passion is for promoting Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) particularly, ayurvedic medicine.

“There is a physical side of us, a mental side, an emotional side, and a spiritual side,” she says. “Conventional medicine serves the physical side, and perhaps mental. But underneath it all is the spiritual, which feeds the others.”

Today, with her PhD from Saybrook in hand, she is actively engaged with national and local organizations bringing a better understanding of CAM and ayurvedic medicine to both healthcare providers and patients alike.

She’s helping to organize the National Ayurvedic Medical Association’s annual conference, and sits on the board of the California Association of Ayurvedic Medicine. She gives public talks about ayurvedic medicine through the Planetree Health Library. She works with a free clinic in San Lorenzo, California, to provide CAM remedies to people without health insurance, and she is working with the Good Samaritan Hospital in San Jose, California, to initiate complementary medicine modalities to benefit patients.

If it seems like she’s at the center of a very big movement in medicine now, she says it started out with very small steps. Even before she decided to go back to graduate school, she would go to medical conferences and just ask questions.

“It was a slow process. I wanted to explore what I was becoming aware of, that science can be limiting, and that healing can be more expansive and inclusive at once,” she remembers. “I thought about it for years, I went to conferences, and tried to see how I could blend what I had done with this new awakening in me.”

Eventually, she decided that a full course of study was the best way to go, and “I decided to go further and get a PhD.”

Saybrook jumped out at her as a place to get it. “It wasn’t just one thing,” she remembers. “Saybrook had a program in consciousness and spirituality, it taught organizational systems, it had very good faculty for complementary medicine … all that resonated.”

She enrolled in the Psychology program, took a concentration in Integrative Health Studies, and found what she was looking for.

“It worked to suit my schedule, and it worked to serve my interests,” she says. “It’s not a conventionally minded program: I was able to interact with my professors to shape the assignments I did because they were interested in where I wanted to go. I really enjoyed the experience, and I think it’s perfect for people who have gone through conventional studying – both undergraduate and graduate, like I had.”

Now she’s is looking forward to taking on the next challenge: ayurvedic medicine needs to be better accepted in the medical profession, and to do that there needs to be more high quality research supporting its effectiveness.

“We’re struggling to get more money to support that research,” she admits. “But I’ve found in my own experience that conventional doctors do understand these things, and are glad to use it, if we speak in their language – and that means we need the research to be done so that we can bring it to them. I am looking for opportunities to be involved in promoting CAM and ayurveda through research and education.”