Holistic Mental Health

Helping psychiatric patients heal holistically


When I was asked to write a regular “Holistic Mental Health” column, I decided to write about the Herculean forces that must come together to create a holistic psychiatrist – someone who specializes in helping patients off their medications rather than on.

Dr. Alice W. Lee

My journey began when I told a training psychiatrist that I wanted to stop being a psychiatrist. It was a year after my daughter was born, and I had started my third year of adult psychiatry residency at the University of Maryland in Baltimore. I was stressed and exhausted from working on inpatient psychiatric wards for 2 years, countless unpleasant nights on call, and additional sleepless nights caring for an infant.

I told the training psychiatrist that life wasn’t worth living. Was I suicidal, he asked? I laughed bitterly: “All the time!” Once he heard the S-word, he wanted me to take an antidepressant. I finally gave in and began taking Zoloft 25 mg every morning. Within a week, my angst disappeared; but 5 years, another child, and a fellowship later, I was still taking Zoloft. Why? Without much thought, I stopped it. A month later, I found myself brooding on the sofa, numb with depression, and feeling astonishingly suicidal. This “depression” led me to restart my Zoloft. In a week, my mood normalized. I did this on and off for about a year until a light bulb went off: This can’t be depression. It’s withdrawal. I’ve become dependent on Zoloft! Once I realized this, I began taking some St. John’s wort, an herbal alternative that was supposed to help with depression. I used cheaper brands and discovered that brands do matter, because the cheaper ones didn’t work. Through my haphazard exploration of natural alternatives, I came off Zoloft completely. During this time, I developed greater empathy for my patients, openness to natural alternatives, appreciation for supplement quality, and learned about psychotropic withdrawal. Most importantly, I came to understand a patient’s need to be free.

Five years later, in 2002, I had a thriving, but conventional, private practice. Instead of being content, however, I once again wanted to quit psychiatry. Medicating patients felt unrewarding, but I didn’t have another approach. Simultaneously, my practice was filling up with chronically ill, heavily medicated, bipolar patients. Their intense suffering combined with my discontent with psychiatry made me desperate for something better. In this ripe setting, the mother of a patient with bipolar disorder casually mentioned a supplement called EMPower by Truehope that lessened bipolar symptoms. Though my withdrawal from Zoloft allowed me to be more open to holistic approaches, I waited 3 months before calling. I used the supplement for the first time to help a heavily medicated bipolar patient in her 30’s, whose Depakote side effects caused her to wear a diaper, lack any emotions, and suffer severe tremors. Once I made this decision to walk down this new path, I never went back. With guidance from the company, I used this supplement to help many patients lower their medications. At the time, I wondered whether EMPower would be the solution for all my patients. The simplicity and ease of one supplement approach for all mental illnesses appealed to my laziness, so I continued down the holistic path.

Hundreds of supplements, glandulars, essential oils, and homeopathic remedies later, I learned that every patient requires their own unique approach. A year into using the supplement, I discovered that, if patients took too much of it, their old symptoms would reappear. Eventually, I moved out of my comfort zone and tried other supplements. Subsequently, the universe orchestrated two people to tell me about the miraculous outcomes from “thought-field therapy,” an energy-medicine technique. I began exploring “energy medicine” through the support and instruction of a holistic psychotherapist, Mark Bottinick, LCSW-C. Soon, I was connecting the dots between emotional freedom technique and immediate positive changes. Energy medicine allowed me to heal problems without using a pill! I felt as if I had arrived at Solla Sollew by the banks of the Beautiful River Wah-Hoo.

As I discovered and attended conferences in holistic medicine, I got certified in integrative medicine and became a Reiki master. What kept me along this holistic path? Happy patients with positive clinical outcomes. Even as a novice in holistic medicine, I began to experience patients crying with joy, rather than sadness. One psychotic patient got better on some supplements and got a new job in just 2 weeks.

On Feb. 17, 2021, I launched a podcast called “The Holistic Psychiatrist,” with interviews of patients, conversations with practitioners, and insights from me. Of the initial interviews, two of the three patients had bipolar disorder, and were able to safely and successfully withdraw from many medications. They are no longer patients and are free to move on with their lives. A patient who smoothly and successfully lowered six psychiatric medications will be sharing her wisdom and healing journey soon. A naturopathic doctor will also be sharing his insights and successes. He once was a suicidal high school student failing his classes, depressed and anxious, and dependent on marijuana. His recovery occurred more than a decade ago in my holistic practice.

These patients are living proof that holistic approaches can be very powerful and effective. They demonstrate that chronicity may reflect inadequate treatment and not a definition of disease. Over the course of this Holistic Mental Health column, I want to share many incredible healing journeys and insights on holistic psychiatry. I hope that you will be open to this new paradigm and begin your own holistic journey.

Dr. Lee is a psychiatrist with a solo private practice in Lehi, Utah. She integrates functional/orthomolecular medicine and mind/body/energy medicine in her work with patients. Contact her at holisticpsychiatrist.com. She has no conflicts of interest.

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