On as hot summer day, a couple years ago, my husband and I stopped at a highway rest stop in New Jersey, while driving home from a weekend in upstate New York. As we were getting in the car with our hot teas, my husband went to get something out of the trunk of the car. Suddenly there was a thump. Tea flew out of my hand spilling over the dashboard as my head hit the windshield. I could see out of the corner of my eye, as my husband fell down behind the car. He was pinned between our car and another car driven by an impaired driver. In a split second I was out of the car and next to him. He was conscious, but his leg was visibly injured. As people circled around us, I asked someone to call an ambulance. The EMTs gave an option for a local hospital or a trauma center. I asked for us to be taken to the nearest hi-tech trauma center.
In an acute situation, such as a car accident, heart attack, or stroke, Western medicine is a blessing, and I wanted access to all the technology and medications possible. Yet what is commonly thought of as, simply “medicine” or “conventional medicine” often falls short at addressing chronic and complex health issues. That’s where integrative medicine comes in.
Integrative medicine embraces a comprehensive approach that addresses the mind, body, and spirit to treat root causes of disease. Anything that works can be included in an integrative treatment plan as long as the toxicity or cost of the treatment does not exceed the likely benefit.
Conventional medicine includes familiar treatments such as pharmaceuticals, surgeries, and hi-tech interventions. Integrative medicine, on the other hand, is an umbrella term that encompasses several different approaches to healing. Some of the many healing modalities included in integrative medicine are: functional medicine, complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), ecological medicine, holistic medicine and mind-body medicine.
Integrative medicine does not reject conventional medicine or scientific research, but rather complements those approaches, and blends conventional and non-conventional treatments. In this way, integrative medicine is very different from alternative medicine, as the latter suggests a rejection of conventional treatments.
If you prefer natural treatments, or if you are dealing with a complex health problem that is not easily addressed by conventional medicine, then integrative medicine may provide you with new options for understanding and treating your health condition.
Principles of Integrative Medicine:
A great way to understand integrative medicine is through it’s guiding principles.
Principles of Integrative Medicine and Psychiatry
1. Optimal Mental and Physical Health
The goal of care is for you to achieve optimal wellbeing and your highest level of functioning in all aspects of your life. Not having symptoms is not the same as being well. Integrative medicine supports the goal of feeling great, rather than just not feeling sick.
2. Attention to the Whole Person
Addressing all the unique things that contribute to your health—your mind, body, spirit, environment and the social context in which you live.
3. Acceptance and Care
Recognizing that kindness, empathy and understanding are powerful healers.
4. Scientific Approach
Science and research evidence guide both your initial diagnostic evaluation and your ongoing care.
Focus on the prevention of illness rather than treating symptoms once they arise.
6. The Self-Healing Ability
When a patient has suffered with a chronic illness for a long time, it can be hard to remember that we all have an innate drive toward wellness and growth. Integrative medicine emphasizes treatments that work with your natural healing abilities.
7. Integrative Approach
Integrative medicine allows for blending of conventional and alternative approaches. With an integrative approach, patient and provider work together to select treatments that are most effective and have the fewest side effects.
8. Patient Centered Care
Recognizing your unique experience and circumstances, and providing care that respects your individuality and autonomy.
9. Relationship Centered Care
Recognizing that the patient and provider are teammates working towards achieving the patients’ goals.
10. Teaching by Example
The practitioner practices what they preach! The provider can be a better guide when he or she practices what she teaches and maintains wellness.
In an integrative model, we recognize that all life experiences can be profound learning opportunities, and we continue to grow and develop throughout our lives.
12. Shared Responsibility
People recover and grow within a network of social supports and various care providers.
What is Integrative Psychiatry?
Integrative psychiatry is the application of the principles of Integrative Medicine to the brain and mind. Rather than focus solely on the brain, integrative psychiatry recognizes the interactions of the brain with the rest of the body systems, and takes a systemic approach to treatment of mental diseases. An integrative approach to psychiatry embraces an intelligent combination of conventional treatments, such as psychotropic medications and psychotherapy, and complementary treatments.
Integrative Psychiatry In Practice
As a psychiatrist, I often utilize and appreciate the benefits of Western medicine, but I have also seen the limitations of conventional medicine for many patients, especially those with chronic diseases. For some patients, depression, anxiety, OCD, or chronic fatigue lift with the right medications alone. However, many patients may need to address these issues in other ways. As each patient is unique, so too is the mixture of approaches that is most effective.
When I work with patients using an integrative approach to mental health, I may recommend examining thought patterns through psychotherapy, mind-body interventions such as mindfulness, yoga, breathing, meditation, detoxification, nutritional changes, supplements or herbs, exercise, an examination of environmental factors, or a multitude of other treatments. I may also recommend specialized testing to identify any nutritional, immune, hormonal, infectious, genetic or other issues that may affect health.
With integrative psychiatry, just like integrative medicine in general, we aim to incorporate the best of all available approaches, both conventional and non-conventional, in order to establish and maintain optimal health while respecting the complexity and individuality of each person.