Updated: May 12, 2022
What is Holistic Psychiatry? Why do I practice it? And why is it kinda booming?
According the the CDC's National Health Statistics Report #95 from June of 2016 (https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nhsr/nhsr095.pdf) 38% of Americans currently use some form of Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM). Since that report was 5.5 years ago, we can only assume that number has continued to climb. Some of the most frequently cited reasons for seeking help include depression, anxiety, and insomnia--all psychiatric conditions!! In Australia the numbers are even higher (up to 52%). Clearly people are finding some benefit in these treatments. Also, their prevalence suggests that some people are not being fully helped by standard (western) methods. Holistic Psychiatry is a natural development in light of this pattern. It attempts to address the WHOLE person (mind-body-spirit) by considering all (or as many as possible) aspects of the patient's life and how they may be contributing to the symptom picture. Diet, relationships, work-life balance, physical fitness, physical health, emotional stability, personality, spiritual beliefs, living environment, and more are considered part of "wellness" from a holistic psychiatric perspective. Holistic Psychiatry is inclusive and comprehensive. It is about thriving -- on a variety of planes! Holistic Medicine, in general, and Holistic Psychiatry, specifically, have also come to be synonymous with "natural approaches". So, not only does a holistic psychiatrist consider the whole person -- their mind, their body, and their full life circumstances, she/he also chooses or recommends the most non-invasive, natural approaches possible.
Some of the tools in a holistic psychiatrist's toolbox include: herbal medicines, teas, tinctures, vitamin & mineral supplements, dietary changes (Hippocrates said "Let food be thy medicine..."), yoga, meditation, time in nature/ecopsychology, psychotherapy, guided imagery, energy work, art therapy, dance therapy, sound healing, acupuncture, astrology, and more. Some people make the distinction between "holistic" and "integrative" psychiatrist, with an integrative psychiatrist perhaps trying harder to blend non-traditional/natural approaches with the standard allopathic approaches. But many holistic psychiatrists do this, too (prescribing Celexa alongside the adaptogenic herb rhodiola, for example). When I first started considering myself a holistic psychiatrist (2007), I was in residency. There were very few studies to support the things I believed in (from extensive personal experience), but there were some. I learned as much as a could about what was evidence-based and what was "folk medicine" or "indigenous wisdom" (having probable utility). I embraced both! I feel particularly connected to folk medicine and indigenous wisdom because I am a naturalist sort of person - true friend of nature. So, I want to try what has worked for centuries (if not millennia) but be aware of what has evidence, as well. These days, there are thousands of studies on holistic approaches and ideas--from acupuncture to art to rhodiola + SSRIs to the benefits of a lunchtime walk or having plants in one's office.
Even just looking at beautiful photos has been proven to reduce stress!
I chose to follow the holistic path for many reasons, but one of them is because I am a passionate self-experimenter. I have extensive positive personal experience with herbs, supplements, nutritional changes, yoga, meditation, art, nature, etc. starting as far back as high school and college. These things had helped me manage my stress and stay healthy through med school, residency, and beyond. Thus, it felt more authentic for me to follow this path. How could I not honor what had helped me end up where I am??
An additional reason I was an early user of the subspecialty title "Holistic Psychiatrist" is because I am an artist. I enjoy expressing myself ... and being unique! To be one of a few doing things differently (to be a wayshower) has always felt right to me. (Astrologically, this is because I have Uranus (forward-thinking, progression, individuality, trend setter) right next to my sun in my chart!) I also enjoy teaching and sharing what I've learned, so I am committed to helping other physicians and med students learn the (now evidence-based) role integrative and holistic approaches can play within psychiatry. I started sharing what I knew with students and residents at UAz almost immediately after residency graduation. I did this because I wanted to be a part of helping medicine evolve in a positive, humanistic (for the patients and providers) way.
Patients are asking for these approaches. Studies are proving their validity. The comprehensive nature of the holistic approach improves rapport, and strong rapport has been linked to improved outcomes. That is yet another reason more physicians are leaning, at least a little more, in a holistic direction.
Holistic Medicine/Psychiatry prioritizes balance, healing, and growth (including lifestyle/perspective changes) rather than "treatment", so it's important for holistic practitioners to "walk their talk" and be a living example of what they are teaching. For me, this means I constantly seek a state of emotional and physical harmony in my mind and body by a variety of (holistic) means. Balance happens in every moment, in every choice. Deviations from balance (catching a cold, getting triggered, etc.) are an opportunity to grow.
Ultimately, Holistic Psychiatry (+ astrology) has been a way for me to be truly genuine within my career, which I think is a buffer for burnout (a topic I love to try to address--read my article about it here). Once I started down the holistic road, I just never wanted to leave. I kept making more and more choices (and learning more and more new things #forevercurious) that helped me feel better/happier/healthier. This motivated (and still motivates) me help my patients feel that way, too!
In my opinion, holistic approaches are amazing! They are the wave of the ancient future. But, they may not resonate for everyone or for every circumstance. That is okay! It is wonderful to live in a world with space for so many different expressions.
Whatever you do, do it with your whole heart...
That way, you're more likely to SHINE!!