The Unmedicated Mind

Backlash against antidepressants is fueling new interest in alternative treatments.

Excerpts from an article by Nancy Keates
The Wall Street Journal online www.wsj.com
July 13, 2007

…Spurred by the growing disenchantment with antidepressants, an increasing number of people are seeking treatment for depression, anxiety and eating disorders from naturopaths, acupuncturist and even chiropractors. At the same, time, more traditional psychiatrists are incorporating massage and meditation in their practices. The treatments go beyond needles and spinal manipulation. They include Emotional Freedom Techniques—tapping on the body’s “energy meridians” as the patient thinks about upsetting incidents. Clinicians are also prescribing supplements like omega-3 fatty acids, found in fish oil, or amino acids like L-theanine, found in green tea.

Sarah Spring had been in therapy with a psychiatrist and on the antidepressant Wellbutrin for four years to work through a childhood trauma, but felt she wasn’t making any progress. So she went to a naturopath – a practitioner trained in holistic therapy and alternative treatments like herbal medicine and nutrition. (they attend a four-year naturopathic school – – a bachelor’s degree is a prerequisite – but only 15 states license naturopaths.) After two sessions of Emotional Freedom Techniques, the tapping treatment that is meant to clear emotions and restore balance, Ms. Spring says she doesn’t get the same shortness of breath and accelerated heart rate she used to. “It’s remarkable” says the Portland, Oregon , marketing manager who just started to decrease her dose of Wellbrutin.

To address the growing interest from professionals, Harvard Medical School’s Department of Continuing Education will have three classes on complementary and alternative medicine in psychiatry over the next year, up from one year since the class was introduced in 2003. David Mischoulon, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard, says doctors who have attended the class report that more patients are asking for alternative treatments – due to the side effects of antidepressants, as well as lack of response to the medication. Only about half of patients who take antidepressants respond, he says. “It is time to broaden the horizons,” he says.

… Proponents of alternative medicine say the wide range of treatments used address broader causes like hormonal imbalances and stress. Treatment can mean spending time talking to patients about their physical and emotional problems, examining their diet and exercise habits, and doing blood tests to look for medical or environmental causes for depression, such as Lyme disease, toxic chemicals or mold.

In Los Angeles, naturopathy Holly Lucille has seen 30% more patient in the past two years whose chief complaint is mental-health-related, while Sara Thyr, a naturopathy in Manchester and Concord, NH has seen a 20% rise. Margot Longenecker’s naturopathy practice in Branford and Wallingford, Conn, now has half of its patients come for anxiety and depressions, compared with 25% three years ago.

Melissa Mannon, a 36-year old photographer in Bedford, NH saw psychologists for years about her depression and anxiety. Then she visited a naturopath for help with infertility, and was diagnosed with an intolerance to 90 different foods, including gluten. She changed her diet and within seven months, she got pregnant and most of her anxiety and depression went away, she says. She still see her naturopath if she’s feeling down and to discuss what’s happening in her life. “She understands me”, says Ms. Mannon.

… Stanford University Medical School clinical professor of medicine Kenneth Pelletier says chiropractors and naturopaths aren’t adequately trained to recognize true psychopathology. But Dr. Pelltier believes most of these practitioners are ethical about remaining within the scope of their practice and refer patients to licensed mental health-care practitioners when they think the diagnoses are severe.

… The Mental Health Center of Greater Manchester, NH – which combines traditional psychiatry with naturopathic treatments for seriously mentally ill patients – received a two-year grant last summer from the New York-based Ittleson Foundation to promote the intermingling of naturopathy and psychiatry. “it’s just a better way to approach the problem,” says Ronald Parks, an internist and psychiatrist in Asheville, NC, who uses alternative methods and was just approached to create a community-based model near his practice.

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