Integrative Psychiatry and Holism

Ask the Expert Patient Health Guide
  • Question


    Kathryn writes:


    Hello, I am concerned about the use of medications for bipolar over time. I am wondering if anyone is using Integrative Psychiatry or alternatives to medication with success. ... Thanks, and I look forward to hearing from you!




    Hi, Kathryn. You have every right to be concerned about bipolar meds over time. All carry serious long-term health risks that you need to discuss thoroughly with your doctor. Psychiatrists have an unfortunate tendency to play down these risks, so don't be afraid to give him or her the third degree.


    But also keep in mind that risk does not equate with certainty. Meds are likely to be part of your regime for a long time, but there is a difference between smarts meds strategies and dumb meds strategies.

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    This is where integrative psychiatry comes in. You and your team of clinicians work on a strategy that integrates mainstream psychiatry with other disciplines and techniques, say consulting a nutritionist or going to an acupuncturist.


    Be mindful of the fact that when it comes to alternative medicine, it is a wild west market out there and that quacks selling snake oil are the rule rather than the exception. Also keep in mind that a lot of so-called "natural" remedies carry serious health risks (St John's wort, for instance, interferes with birth control).


    Also keep in mind that many people promoting alternative products or practices are rabidly antipsychiatry. If you hear someone use terms such as "medical model" your radar should go up. True holism includes rather than excludes medicine and psychiatry. As Lewis Mehl-Madrona MD, PhD of the University of Arizona, a half Cherokee raised in tribal shaman traditions and author of Coyote Medicine and Coyote Healing, told a conference I attended, "whatever works is good medicine."


    Hopefully, you can come up with a strategy that as your alternative practices and coping techniques kick in you can gradually lower your meds doses. Lower doses usually means less heath risk. But this may take years. You don't just drop your meds and go on something like fish oil (which may trigger a manic episode).


    Personally, I'm highly skeptical of anything that comes out of a bottle, whether it's meds, vitamins, or so-called natural products. Yeh, I take a low dose mood stabilizer, but I find my real mood stabilizer is mindfulness and stress-management. It's part of integrative psychiatry, but it does require mental discipline, which takes time.


Published On: September 10, 2007