Integrative Approaches to Mental Health Care – Expanding Partnerships, Tools and Systemic Treatments
“One great question underlies our experience, whether we think about it or not: what is the purpose of life? . . . From the moment of birth every human being wants happiness and does not want suffering.” Dalai Lama
For some of us, the Dalai Lama’s words can feel a bit entitled or at the very least out of touch with reality, frivolous or superficial. “Who has time for happiness?” But why not? Feeling good, thinking clearly, and engaging in work and with friends and love ones makes us better partners, parents, workers and community members – in short, better contributors in all that we do – and happy. However, all too often life can be stressful and that stress can undermine our joy and diminish our sense of purpose. Our vitality can be sapped and our motivation low, not to mention the increase in anxiety, moodiness and the sleeplessness that can accompany stress.
In the past, we treated mental health issues with a black box approach. We focused primarily on emotions as the key to maladies such as depression, anxiety, and other psychological conditions. However, today we are moving to a more systemic model of health that looks at the interconnectedness of the body’s systems as well as how we interface with our environment as root causes of stress. In addition to the traditional list of psychological stressors, we are recognizing things like food, environmental toxins, genetics, learning issues and our fast paced lives as key ingredients. These elements interact and impact our minds and bodies, driving psychological and physical health outcomes. When we are able to optimize these variables, we limit stress and its consequences and live well. But all to often, these factors combine to create a tired, nervous and worn-out feel, where we may struggle with memory, attention or other aspects of cognition. Once in a diminished state, it can be difficult to get back to feeling good and on top of our game.
I want to be clear, in this new paradigm, we are not throwing out our old psychotherapy or psychiatric tools but adding to them to understand and improve patient outcomes in the process. Whether my work is coaching executives, helping a client restore sleep or consulting with a family who’s child has learning issues, I employ the well-constructed and thoughtful approaches that are part of evidence-based and traditional psychological approaches. However, we are now operating with greater clarity into the causes of emotional and cognitive disturbances and we have more treatment options. The difference is that we can now identify more root causes to how we are feeling – and thinking. And, as it turns out, it isn’t always your mother.
Working together as health care practioners, we take an integrative approach. First, we work to diagnosis issues and then apply a wide range of resources to help. When clients experience this renewed energy, making positive changes and taking advantage of psychotherapy becomes much easier. Likewise, many psychologists, myself included and other health practioners are using treatments such as neurofeedback and neurotherapy to address issues such as sleep, attention, mood disorders, learning issues and more. Together, we are creating multipronged approaches that have taken us far beyond the siloed paradigm that we have traditionally worked within, creating smart interventions that help rebuild vitality.
It is an exciting era to be doing this work. Feeling good physically and mentally go hand in hand – one supporting the other. The opportunities to partner with well-educated, knowledgeable professionals, who stay abreast of and are involved in new research is growing. A holistic approach, which respects the power of the emotional, cognitive and physiological and their interactive effects brings better patient outcomes and yes, happiness.
Bernhard, Liz, PhD, R. Psych
Pacific Mountain Centre