Integrative Mental Health: Can health occur without mental health? By Chris J. Tuell, EdD, LPCC-S, LICDC-CS, Lindner Center of HOPE Clinical Director of Addiction Services

Integrative mental health (IMH) combines conventional biological psychiatry and psychological interventions with traditional and complementary alternative medicine (CAM) to provide holistic patient-centered care. Using non-hierarchical interdisciplinary teamwork, the patient and practitioner are able to explore psychological paradigms involving biological, cultural and spiritual dimensions of health and illness. Kindness, avoidance of harm and informed consent are core ethical principles of practice. As well as addressing immediate mental health problems, the patient is encouraged to become actively involved in their own prevention of mental illness and maintenance of mental health.

Mental health is a key determinant of wellness, and has been shown to be strongly influenced by lifestyle factors such as chronic stress, sedentary life style, poor nutrition, obesity, substance abuse, and social isolation. Use of complementary alternative medicine in mental health conditions has been driven by the high cost of conventional care, and the growing list of medication safety concerns reported by the FDA, but due caution must be used with all Interested in touring therapies, conventional or complementary.

The fundamental goal of an integrative approach to mental health is to find the most appropriate treatments (conventional and complementary) that safely and effectively address the symptoms
of the individual, while taking into account personal preferences, cultural beliefs and financial constraints, an approach endorsed by the American Psychiatric Association.

Integrative mental health is an evolving, whole-systems approach to wellness of mind, body, and spirit. It considers that symptoms are associated with multiple causes and that multiple approaches to assessment and treatment may be necessary so that each individual may attain an optimal state of health and well-being. Therefore, the integrative mental health professional is knowledgeable about complementary and alternative medicine and trained in the art of collaboration so that they can discuss patient care with medical doctors, as well. The goal is to understand as much as possible about the whole person and to be aware of what treatments are occurring simultaneously. Approximately half of the individuals diagnosed with mood or anxiety disorders are using a combination of therapies and conventional strategies to alleviate symptoms. For this reason, it is important for health care professionals to ask the right questions and to collaborate in seeking answers when treating individuals who come seeking help.

Today, these individuals may first seek counsel from a medical doctor, a psychotherapist, a chiropractor, an acupuncturist. Therefore, it is important that patients disclose all of their treatments to all of their health care professionals. Mental health professionals trained in integrative approaches frequently serve as the historians of each patient’s care, especially since they are the ones who spend the most time with each patient during the course of treatment.

Recent years have witnessed growing openness to nonconventional therapies among conventionally trained clinicians and researchers. At the same time people who utilize Western biomedicine as currently practiced are turning increasingly to integrating non-conventional therapies for the treatment of both medical and mental health problems. Approximately 72 million U.S. adults used a non-conventional treatment in representing about one in three adults. If prayer is included in this analysis almost two thirds of adults use non-conventional therapies. Anyone diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder is significantly more likely to use nonconventional therapies compared to the general population.

Integrative health care is based on the philosophy that health is influenced by a variety of interrelated factors such as life choices, environment, genetic makeup, intimate relationships, and the
meaning and purpose in life. As a model it is collaborative and multidisciplinary. It is open to and recognizes the importance of conventional medicine, complementary and alternative medicine, mental health care, and mind-body approaches (such as meditation, yoga, hypnotherapy, Reiki, and therapeutic massage). There is a respect for each individual’s journey and for the stories that make up the history of their lives. There is a belief that these individual journeys influence the biology that manifests in illness or in health. Integrative health care supports all of the important
aspects of life, including creativity, cultural expression and the celebration of community. To have “health” means that the whole person is in balance – physically, emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually. Is health really health without mental health?