Why I practice integrative psychiatry

I’ve been in practice as a psychiatrist for almost 20 years now. When I finished my training, my tool kit was essentially no different from what trainees today are provided with: a good deal of information about how to prescribe our medications for depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and psychosis, along with a bit of training in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). As a medical student and resident in psychiatry, I loved to learn, and I soaked up everything my education offered me. I believed that I was getting a comprehensive education and I did not know that there was a lot more to learn.

Out of the gate of training soon it became apparent that people often didn’t respond to medications. Or they had serious side effects to them. Changing medication classes sometimes helped but often didn’t. The psychotherapy I provided was rather intellectual. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) worked very well for some, and not at all for other people. Frustrated and disillusioned with how ineffective the clinical tools were that I had learned so well to provide, I quit psychiatry in 2005. Ironically, this was right after I was board certified in psychiatry.

Not knowing what to do next, and having recently discovered meditation, my meditation teacher suggested I meditate for a few hours a day. Within a few weeks, I rediscovered my deep love for the practice of medicine. I just needed to look “outside the box” to improve my skills. That’s when I started devouring books and weekend workshops on gut health, hormone balancing, genetics, natural alternatives to medications like supplements and vitamins, and I began to explore the role of the body in mental health. I trained in Somatic Experiencing – a trauma protocol – and went to Native American sweat lodges and traveled to South America to learn about shamanism. I started ordering specialty lab tests psychiatrists usually don’t order like stool kits, organic acid tests, and saliva cortisol tests. And I returned to practicing medicine with “a different point of view.”

I had found my commitment to the view that anyone can heal, if we can identify the root causes of the symptoms.

And people got better. I was amazed. It was working. Over the years and about 20,000 hours of patient care, my way of thinking about mental health challenges evolved considerably. I am deeply grateful to my patients who trusted me through a number of trials and errors which we undertook together, some of which produced outstanding results, and some of which had to be aborted early. Fortunately, there were no catastrophes and the sense of what represents the advanced toolkit emerged. And so I started teaching, eventually founding our sister organization the Integrative Psychiatry Institute.

Today integrative psychiatry is a movement that is rapidly gaining momentum amongst providers. At the Integrative Psychiatry Centers, we stand for a more effective, broader-based approach to resolving mental health challenges.