The battle against mental illness is not easily won.
For many people with mental health issues, it is a war fought for years, if not an entire lifetime.
When my struggles with mental illness began in college, I became inundated with obsessive fears. While I, like many on a mental illness journey, continue to have symptoms in times of stress, I also know now how best to manage my condition. The implementation of integrative psychiatry is owed a significant amount of credit in my recovery.
Integrative medicine, of which integrative psychiatry is one practice, is an approach that has grown in popularity in recent years, due in part to a dissatisfaction with the American healthcare system. The rising cost and increasing inaccessibility of conventional healthcare has encouraged many Americans to seek out more accessible and holistic care.
Using a patient-centered care model, integrative medicine focuses on the healing of the entire person, in which the body, mind and environment are treated as a whole. Integrative medicine is particularly well-suited to psychiatric practices, as psychiatrists are trained to evaluate both the mental and physical attributes of psychological illnesses.
This emerging study is rooted in the original concept of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) that implements supplements, like fish oils and vitamins, nutrition, meditation and breathing exercises, as well as body work such as massages and acupuncture. Integrative medicine differs from CAM because it relies on empirical evidence to evaluate the effectiveness of alternative medicine before integrating it into clinical practices.
I sought out integrative medicine after a few years of struggling with obsessive compulsive disorder. I’d seen several therapists and psychologists for both CBT and ERP. Some of their care had been effective, some not.
While working with a psychologist, I began seeing an integrative physician. Before prescribing any sort of treatment plan for my psychological imbalance, my doctor tested my blood and urine for food sensitivities, neurotransmitter production and heavy metal intoxication, to name a few. I was later prescribed supplements and encouraged to strictly adhere to a diet eliminating foods like gluten, dairy products, eggs and many other grains.
While my well-being improved greatly after a year of following these treatment plans, I continued to feel off balance and was able to have my hormones tested through an integrative pharmacy (many endocrinologists will not test a woman’s hormones if she is not menopausal or potentially pregnant). I was told to use progesterone cream to help my out-of-whack hormones, which were connected to my psychological imbalance.
Most integrative medicine practices, like this pharmacy, do not dismiss conventional medication. In fact, the majority of integrative psychiatrists and other practitioners treat their patients with both conventional medication and evidence supported CAM. Many psychiatrists will give patients an option of whether they would like to proceed with conventional medication, CAM — including supplements or body work treatment — or a combination of both.
Since my initial experience with integrative medicine, I have continued to see an integrative psychiatrist, to help improve my health through diet, supplements and natural hormone cream. Many people’s experiences with integrative psychiatry might include tools like meditation or acupuncture, or lifestyle changes such as exercise and seeking out community.
Integrative psychiatry practices do not simply aim to treat your illness. Rather, the field strives to help you become healthy and balanced and to integrate regular wellness strategies. These professionals focus on improving the overall wellness of a person while treating a specific illness.
Personally, I have seen massive improvement in my mental health through integrative psychiatric care. If you are struggling with a mental illness and looking to supplement psychotherapy or even medication, integrative psychiatry is worth looking into.
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