Integrative Mental Health: 27 Non-drug Options that Work

integrative mental health

By Craig Wagner

Four years ago I dove into a deep and murky pond: the bottomless depths of medical databases that hold mental health research extracted from the bowels of journals from around the world.

I dove in, not as a career choice, but as a survival instinct, when a loved one entered psychiatric crisis. Above the water line, I found a disjointed and overburdened mental health system offering an array of psychiatric drugs that brought partial symptom relief with a debilitating array of side effects. Below the water line, I grasped for evidence of something better. My loved one needed options.

I drank in everything I could find about non-drug options. As weeks turned into months, my initial desperation became rimmed with a band of hope. To my amazement, submerged in this research was a treasure trove: thousands and thousands of gold-standard trials that support the use of non-drug approaches for mental health recovery.

 Research Says: Non-drug Options Work

After examining over 4000 studies, and hundreds of meta-analyses, I surfaced from my research and was hit with a startling “Aha” moment: many non-drug approaches really work.

The ones that do generally offer significant symptom reduction, and in some cases, full remission. They have a side effect profile that is dramatically better than drugs: usually none, or quite mild.1 Unlike drugs, many non-drug approaches target known causes and influencers of mental health issues, not just symptoms. And these approaches help people achieve sustainable wellness.

Non-drug approaches, however, are no panacea. Some approaches work better than others. Some have very strong evidence, others suggestive. Some people don’t get any benefit from certain techniques, while others find them positively transformative. Such is the nature of our individuality.

But non-drug approaches are also no fad. They are validated by disciplined peer-reviewed studies. They’re also more than theory. A growing number of practitioners embrace and heal with Integrative Mental Health — a discipline that uses the best of conventional psychiatry and non-drug options.

 From Symptom Relief to a Wellness Continuum

Surprisingly, there are so many non-drug approaches that we need an organizing structure to make sense of them all. The U.S. Institute of Medicine and European Union of General Practitioners/Family Physicians2 offer such a framework — a wellness continuum with four categories of care perceived vertically, like a pillar:

  • Preventive: Wellness practices that help avoid mental health issues.
  • Restorative: Approaches that reinstate mental wellness by addressing root causes.
  • Symptom Relief: Methods to minimize mental health symptoms.
  • Over-Care Avoidance: Ways to avoid unnecessary and potentially harmful treatment.

Sorting the large basket of non-drug approaches and pouring them into the wellness continuum, the following picture emerges.

integrative mental health

Viewing recovery approaches in this context broadens our perspective and helps us chart a course through the ocean of options. It helps us…

  • Avoid drug myopia. Drugs are one piece of the puzzle, not a necessary centerpiece.
  • Think wellness. Move from a narrow concept of symptom relief to a broad strategy of well-being.
  • Choose from a broad menu of options.You and your practitioners can select approaches to build an individualized recovery plan to fit your unique bio-individuality, history, and preferences.

Interestingly, the bottom category of the pillar —over-care avoidance —is a cautionary one. Since psychiatry has the powerful hammer of drugs, most mental health conditions, and many normal life situations, begin to look like nails to those unschooled in integrative mental health. This category reminds us that hammers can both build and destroy.

 A Large Menu: 27 Non-drug Approaches

The wellness continuum includes 27 broad non-drug options.3 These can be best understood by considering them in the following groupings.

Wellness Basics help minimize and avoid mental health issues. Exercise, a nutritious diet, healthy digestion, calm awareness, restful sleep, a safe home, inner grounding, meaningful activity, and supportive social interaction are just a few important basics. Thousands of studies show that these fundamentals have a profound effect on mental health.

Biomedical therapies address many physical issues that impact mental health. These therapies are important since over 25% of mental disorders are caused by or significantly influenced by physical issues.4 For lower socioeconomic status individuals, the figure approaches one-half.5Although a biomedical analysis is required in the psychiatric differential diagnosis process, it is rarely conducted thoroughly.6 Robust biomedical testing should be considered mandatory. It may allow precise targeting at root causes: food allergies, gut microbial imbalances, pathogens, hormonal irregularities, environmental toxins, inflammation, oxidative stress, and more.

Of particular promise is Walsh-protocol nutrient therapy. It looks deep into each umbrella diagnosis and identifies an array of different bio-types, each requiring a unique therapeutic response. Over 70% of people receiving individualized nutrient therapy gain substantial symptom improvement — sometimes complete remission — across many mental health diagnoses, often accompanied by a significant reduction in psychiatric drug dosages.7

Psychosocial therapies address trauma, stress, emotional difficulties, unhelpful thinking, and more — all of which impact mental health. These therapies work as well as or better than drugs for depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder; and are helpful in avoiding bipolar relapse.8 Dialectic Behavioral Therapy is the go-to treatment for Borderline Personality Disorder.9 Open Dialogue offers great promise for first episode psychosis. And none of these have the side effects of most psychotropics.10 Even though these approaches are effective, they are seldom used.11

Symptom Relief can be accomplished without using psychiatric medication. For every diagnosis there are herbal remedies that can effectively provide relief. A variety of calming sensory therapies aid many diagnoses. And a set of new electrical therapies deliver symptom relief with micro-currents 200 times less powerful than electroconvulsive therapy, from cell-phone sized devices, with no cognitive side effects.

Over-care avoidance works to avert the significant risk of three common psychiatric practices: off-label prescribing (using drugs in ways not validated by FDA trials), polypharmacy (using more than one drug for a particular disorder) and over-prescribing (giving drugs when not medically warranted). Remarkably, 94% of psychiatric off-label prescribing has little or no scientific evidence supporting it.12 Outcomes from antipsychotic polypharamacy,13 and overprescribing for the elderly,14 are particularly grim. Recognizing these risks, the American Psychiatric Association15 and multiple U.S. public health organizations16 work to curb these practices.

Good News, Bad News, and a Bit of Heresy

The good news is that there are practitioners today who are skilled in using the effective, non-drug approaches. They have many titles: integrative psychiatrist, functional medicine practitioner, naturopath, therapist, psychologist, neurogastroenterologist, endocrinologist, and more. In many ways, these practitioners form the leading edge of psychiatry. They hold a much broader menu of recovery options than conventional psychiatry. These practitioners respect the value of psychiatric drugs, especially in crisis. However, they seek to enhance core wellness through non-drug approaches.

The bad news is that there aren’t nearly enough of these practitioners. Receiving their care is often only partially covered by medical insurance, if at all. By necessity, they focus on only a subset of the total menu of options, requiring coordination of care across multiple practitioners. Additionally, many non-drug approaches aren’t mentioned (or perceived as valuable) in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) — the U.S. psychiatric bible — so using them may be at odds with conventional mental health practitioners.

Individuals with mental health challenges articulate a recurring theme, an urgent plea, and a critical demand: people need options. Drugs simply aren’t enough.

After swimming in this research, I submit a bit of heresy: we have a cornucopia of options. Although research must continue, the major task before us is not creating more options. Rather, we must…

  • Understand and respect the benefits of the non-drug options already in hand
  • Use robust biomedical and psychological evaluations to inform non-drug therapy selection
  • Alter the DSM to put attention on non-drug treatments based on evidence of their effectiveness
  • Train practitioners in their use
  • Eliminate the many barriers that curtail access
  • Reorient our time, enthusiasm, and resources to make them available to those in need

Nobody said this was going to be easy.

 The Path Forward

To make progress, we must all change our consciousness about non-drug treatments. We must learn to recognize that they aren’t all quackery. Many have been proven to be positive, life-altering tools. Even the most effective ones aren’t perfect, but they work. Making this change in consciousness is a part of “rethinking psychiatry,” a prelude to the herculean effort of reconstituting psychiatry by integrating into it the effective, non-drug approaches.

I’m excited and humbled to join those who are advocating the integration of effective non-drug therapies, aka Integrative Mental Health. Let us be both a burr under the saddle and a beacon in the darkness. Both are required for progress.


integrative mental healthCraig Wagner

Craig Wagner is an author and activist helping people achieve mental health recovery using evidence-based non-drug options. Within the mainstream, he works to broaden the acceptance of non-drug treatments in NAMI and the American Psychiatric Association. Outside of the mainstream, he is author of the book Choices in Recovery.

This article was first published on February 7, 2017 at 


  1. Brown R et al, How to Use Herbs, Nutrients and Yoga in Mental Health Care, WW Norton & Co, 2009,
  2. Katz D et al, “Preventive Medicine, Integrative Medicine & Health of the Public,” Commissioned for the US Institute of Medicine, 2009,; European Union of General Practitioners/Family Physicians, UEMO position on Disease Mongering / Quaternary Prevention, 2011, “Preventive”, “restorative”, “symptom relief” and “over-care avoidance” are more descriptive terms and used in place of “primary”, “secondary”, “tertiary” and “quanternary” used in these references.
  3. Wagner C, Choices in Recovery: 27 Non-drug Options for Adult Mental Health – An Evidence-based Guide, Onward Mental Health, 2015.
  4. Koranyi EK et al, “Physical illnesses underlying psychiatric symptoms,” Psycho Psychosom. 1992, PMID: 1488499,
  5. Hall RC, “Physical illness manifesting as psychiatric disease. II. Analysis of a state hospital inpatient population,” Arch Gen Psychiatry. 1980, PMID: 7416911.
  6. First M, Essentials of Making an Accurate Psychiatric Diagnosis, Video from online Psychiatric Times, 2014,
  7. Walsh W, Nutrient Power Heal Your Biochemistry and Heal your Brain, Skyhorse Publishing, 2014,
  8. Canadian Psychological Assoc, “The Efficacy and Effectiveness of Psychological Treatments,” 2013,
  9. DeVylder JE, “Dialectical Behavior Therapy for the Treatment of Borderline Personality Disorder: An Evaluation of the Evidence,” 2010, International Journal of Psychosocial Rehabilitation,
  10. SEIKKULA J et al, Five-year experience of first-episode nonaffective psychosis in open-dialogue approach: Treatment principles, follow-up outcomes, and two case studies, Psychotherapy Research, 2006,
  11. Farah WH et al, “Non-pharmacological treatment of depression: a systematic review and evidence map,” Evid Based Med. 2016, PMID: 27836921.
  12. Radley DC et al, “Off-label prescribing among office-based physicians.” Arch Intern Med. 2006, PMID: 16682577
  13. Waddington JL, “Mortality in schizophrenia. Antipsychotic polypharmacy and absence of adjunctive anticholinergics over the course of a 10-year prospective study,” Br J Psychiatry1998, PMID: 9926037,
  14. Mientka M, “Antipsychotic Medications Overprescribed For Everything, From Hyper Children To Nursing Home Residents,” Medical Daily, 2013,
  15. American Psychiatric Association, “Five Things Physicians and Patients Should Question, Choosing Wisely,” 2015,
  16. BCBS of Illinois, National Initiative Examines Antipsychotic Drug Use in the Elderly, Open Letter, August 2014,


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Posted in Altern. to Psych Meds, Anxiety, Depression, Drugs, Integrative Psych, Medication, Mental Health, Psychiatry

Warning for those on antidepressants


Antidepressants raise the risk of an early death by 33%, controversial study finds

  • The drugs do more harm than good, researchers say, and their use should be cut 
  • Psychiatrists disputed this and argued that they have been safely used for years 
  • McMaster University in Canada analysed the impact on nearly 380,000 people

By Ben Spencer Medical Correspondent For The Daily Mail, Thursday, Sep 14th 2017


Taking antidepressants could increase the risk of an early death, a major study suggests.

Experts found depressed people without heart disease were 33 per cent more likely to die over any set period, for any reason, if they took antidepressants compared to those who did not.

The authors of the controversial paper said antidepressants do more harm than good – and their use should be severely curtailed.

But psychiatrists disputed the findings, arguing antidepressants have been safely used for years and offer a vital lifeline for people with no other options.

Antidepressants are one of the most commonly prescribed drugs in the UK, with one in 11 of all British adults thought to have recently used the pills.

Their use is dramatically increasing, with 64.7million prescriptions given out in England last year, double the number of a decade ago.

Taking antidepressants could increase the risk of an early death by a third, a major study suggests (file image)

Critics are increasingly concerned that many of these patients may not actually need the drugs, with doctors prescribing the pills as a stop-gap because of long waiting lists for therapy.

The new analysis suggests people who take the pills may be at greater risk than previously thought.

How was the study carried out? 

Scientists at McMaster University in Canada combined the results from 17 previous studies, analysing the impact on a pool of nearly 380,000 people.

Their initial analysis suggested just a 9 per cent increased risk of death among those who took antidepressants – a result they admitted was not statistically significant.

But they then removed the people suffering from cardiovascular disease from the findings, and found the chance of death among the remaining patients who took antidepressants jumped up to 33 per cent when compared to those who did not take the drugs.

The scientists think this is because antidepressants are also a blood thinner – which actually protects the health of people with heart disease because it stops blood clotting.

But among people without heart disease, this is dangerous because it increases the risk of a major hemorrhage or internal bleed.

The researchers found that among people without cardiovascular disease, taking antidepressants increased the risk of heart attacks and strokes by 14 per cent.

The use of antidepressants is dramatically increasing, with 64.7million prescriptions given out in England last year – double the number of a decade ago.

They believe the protective impact of the drugs among patients with cardiovascular disease has been masking the impact on other patients for years.

But the scientists stressed that although the relative risk of death was high, this would not actually affect many people, because the initial risk was very low.

What do the stats say? 

They calculated that eight people in every 1,000 over-50s would usually expect to die every year if they did not take antidepressants. This would increase to 10.64 per 1,000 for those taking the pills – fewer than three extra deaths per year.

British experts stressed that all medicines have side effects – and antidepressants are crucial for countless patients.

A spokesman for the Royal College of Psychiatrists said: ‘All medicines have side effects. Countless studies over the years have shown that antidepressants are a life-saver for many, reducing the risk of suicide in depressed patients. It is down to a patient and their doctor to decide together whether the benefits of a medicine outweigh the risks.’

But Canadian study leader Paul Andrews said the risks are extremely serious.

‘We are very concerned by these results,’ he said.

‘They suggest that we shouldn’t be taking antidepressant drugs without understanding precisely how they interact with the body.

‘I do think these drugs for most people are doing more harm than good and that physicians ought not to generally prescribe them.’ 

Google’s Depression Tool

Google’s screening tool that enables people to check online whether they are clinically depressed could do more harm than good, an expert has warned.

Last month, the tech giant released a self-assessment quiz, called the Patient Health Questionnaire-9, which pops up as a result for the search query ‘Am I depressed?’ on a computer or cell phone.

Google developed its test in partnership with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) but one professor claims that the quiz could just lead to over-treatment of depression amid the US’s opioid epidemic.

He warns the tool’s development was funded by major drug company Pfizer, which profits from the sale of antidepressants.


How do the drugs work? 

The researchers think the way antidepressants work – by altering the uptake of serotonin, dopamines and other natural mood-enhancing chemicals in the brain – harms other parts of the body.

They said these chemicals are vital for other major organs of the body, including the heart, kidneys, lungs, and liver, which use serotonin and other chemicals from the bloodstream.

Antidepressants block the absorption of these chemicals throughout the body, and the researchers warn that antidepressants could increase the risk of death by preventing organs from functioning properly.

Benoit Mulsant, a psychiatrist at the University of Toronto who was also involved in the study, said the findings point to the need for more research on how antidepressants actually do work.

He said: ‘I prescribe antidepressants even though I do not know if they are more harmful than helpful in the long-term.

‘I am worried that in some patients they could be, and psychiatrists in 50 years will wonder why we did not do more to find out.’

What did the critics say? 

Critics, however, questioned the results of the study. They said people who take antidepressants are already at increased risk even before they start taking the drugs.

Professor David Baldwin, a psychiatrist at Southampton University and chairman of the psychopharmacology committee of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said: ‘Unfortunately this study has major flaws.

‘Depressed patients have higher risks of a range of physical health problems, all of which carry a risk of increased mortality, and antidepressants are often prescribed for a range of problems other than depression, including chronic pain and insomnia, which also increase mortality.’

He added: ‘The small number of papers included in the meta-analysis included patients who were prescribed antidepressants at any dose and for any duration, but the analysis takes no account of this.’

Original publication:

In May, 2017, The Guardian published another story on anti-depressants illustrating experiences individuals have:

Are you interested in learning an integrative approach to ending depression that does not over-rely on psychiatric medications?

Go to to find out more! 




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Posted in Anti-Depressants, Depression, Drugs, Medication, Mental Health, Research, Suicide

How to Manage Spiritual Crisis

Since psychic and spiritual experiences have been pooh-poohed in our culture—to the point we have considered talking to God as a sign of psychosis−-most people are scared of them. But when people get the right kind of support, they find the experiences to be positively transformative! The process of integration, or “spiritual emergence,” brings profound satisfaction.

Examples of psychic or spiritual experiences are hearing the voices of angels, receiving spiritual guidance from an unseen being, intuiting the future, remembering an event as if it was a past life, or accurately sensing a medical problem in a stranger without any technology or even a conversation with the person. If anyone starts to have any of these experiences—they typically are afraid they are going crazy.  They also fear friends and family will think they are nuts, so they don’t reveal what’s going on.

At the very least any of these situations may throw a person into questioning: “Is this real? What should I do with this information?  Why do I know this but other’s don’t?”

Frequently, the experiencer tries to find a way to shut down the sensitivity and the psychic experience by drinking alcohol, going to the mall, over-eating, over-working, or some other distraction.

However, for some, the gift of psychic abilities is such a strong part of his or her nature, that pushing the gifts away leads to deeper disturbances– including profound depression, addiction, inability to sleep, and even what appear to be psychotic or manic episodes.

Accepting the gifts, i.e. learning about them, finding peers who offer support and fellowship, and finding a mentor to acquire skills to harness the gifts, is not a sign of going crazy. On the contrary, it is a sign of taking steps to greater wellbeing as well as the satisfaction of being of service to others wellbeing through doing some kind of healing work.

Where to go for support?

William James, PhD, MD, often called the father of American psychology, encouraged all doctors to accept that psychic experiences are part of being human. Unfortunately, his sage advice did not lead to doctors and nurses being educated to be competent in supporting those people who were disoriented by psychic experiences. Instead, they are taught to consider the experiences as most likely a component of a mental disorder.

Fortunately, there are “Spiritual Emergence Coaches” now being certified by IMHU to support those who are dealing with the phenomena of spiritual emergence, aka spiritual emergency. IMHU’s International Directory has contact information for peer support coaches who lead support groups as well as professional therapists who are qualified to give one on one consultations.

IMHU specializes in a series of courses that focus on aspects of spiritual emergence. A brief free course, “Spiritual Emergency: What is it?” is available by clicking here. Thirteen other courses which empower individuals and their therapists to cope with phenomena related to spiritual emergence are available by clicking here. Five online live webinars on “How to Effectively Support Someone in Spiritual Emergency” are available by clicking here. The newest series starts on September 13, 2017. (Use “laborday” to get a $25. discount.)

Author: Emma Bragdon, PhD

Dr. Bragdon is Founder/Director of Integrative Mental Health for You.  She was licensed as a psychotherapist in 1988. She has also been teaching, authoring books, and producing films since the early 1990s.  She was a volunteer at the Spiritual Emergency Network (SEN) for 7 years, coordinated two conferences for SEN in 1985, and was asked to publish two of the first books on Spiritual Emergency shortly thereafter. She is the instructor for the 5 online webinars mentioned above.  See, or contact Emma at

Sculpture pictured above is by Paige Bradley (


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Posted in Altern. to Psych Meds, Anomalous Experience, Diagnosis, Hallucinations, Mental Health, Mysticism, Non-Ordinary States, Paranormal, Peers, psychic experiences, Psychosis, Spiritual Crisis, Spiritual Emergency, Spirituality

The (r)Evolution in Mental Healthcare: Brazil-Style

 (Discount available for November 4-11 Brazil Trip–see below)

There is currently an epidemic of mental health disorders in the U.S. One in five Americans is estimated to be taking one or more prescribed psychiatric medications, despite their many side effects. However, optimizing wellbeing without psych meds is possible, something many Brazilians have been doing for more than 100 years—using spiritual therapies.

My Time in Brazil

From 2001-2012 I spent 6 months of every year in Brazil exploring Brazilian Spiritism, an offshoot of Spiritualism that specializes in healing. During that time I served as a guide bringing groups to John of God’s spiritual healing hospital in Abadiania, Brazil.

While John of God — whom the indigenous people of Brazil consider a gifted shaman — is a healing phenomenon unto himself, more conventional Spiritists operate over 12,000 community centers and fifty psychiatric hospitals in Brazil. These hospitals combine conventional psychiatry, including the cautious use of psych meds, psychotherapy, art therapy, etc., with various paths of spiritual healing, such as energy work to clear subtle bodies, compassionate fellowship with peer counselors, spiritual healing, blessed water, the assistance of medical intuitives and mediums for diagnostics and treatment.

A person who enters the hospital for care first meets with an MD for a physical check up, then a social worker to consider psychological stress (loss of a job, death in the family, marital problems, addiction, etc)—just like our regular hospitals. An authorization to receive Spiritist treatment must be signed in order to receive it. After being admitted, the person is ushered into a ward in the secure compound that is specific to their problem, e.g. addiction, schizophrenia, etc.

Goiania’s Spiritist Psychiatric Hospital grounds used to be a farm. Patients enjoy 100 year old mango and other trees with fruit free for the picking, a large permaculture garden where patients can work if they wish, a pond with ducks to feed—even some friendly dogs and a large pet turtle roam freely! Cows graze in a nearby field and amble, mooing, into the compound barns to be milked twice a day. The rhythms of nature are ever present, the food is wholesome, companionship and support of other patients and peer support workers are close-by, nurses are there as needed. This is not like our typical hospital settings in the USA. I could imagine wanting to stay at this hospital on vacation!

A typical residential stay is 28 days; but some patients stay longer—depending on the care needed. Private patients, not subsidized by the government, may elect to stay much longer than 28 days. Most Spiritist hospitals also provide out-patient services for those who don’t need residential care.

Over the years, many generous Brazilians who work in these hospitals have taught me about the spiritual side of maintaining wellness and healing from emotional disturbances.


 A Closer Look at the Impact of Spiritual Growth on Mental Health

You don’t have to be religious to find healing, but you do need to align with what brings meaning and purpose to you individually. Many people find that meditation and prayer assist in finding meaning and purpose, which are universal practices found in nearly every culture to induce peace and reduce anxiety and depression. An ongoing community that is personally meaningful might involve making music or art together with others, being in nature, joining a church or a myriad of other interests that bring people into close, authentic connection, which also contribute to feelings of wellbeing.

Brazilian Spiritism offers a way of life that supports spiritual growth in the context of a healthy, balanced lifestyle based on the golden rule. Spiritist mediums, medical intuitives, and healers offer their services for free through community centers and psychiatric hospitals to individuals of any age, culture and philosophy. (The hospitals charge for hospital services such as nursing, professional assessments, and residential care.  Patients on government support pay nothing; private patients pay at a more normal rate for Brazil which is well below USA prices.)     Mediums and medical intuitives are sensitive people gifted with heightened psychic abilities, who have been trained over many years at Spiritist centers to perceive the root cause of mental disturbances in those who are suffering. They generally work in groups to perform spiritual healing supervised by their more experiences teachers. Spiritists have a system of mentoring the gifts of sensitives so they can harness their abilities to lead balanced lives and assist others.

Energy healing, blessed water to enhance healing, study groups, mediumistic meetings, lectures, compassionate fellowship, and training as an energy healer, medical intuitive or medium are services that are also available at community centers. Some centers offer pre-natal care, consultation with MDs and homeopaths, herbal and vitamin/mineral supplements, a soup kitchen and food boxes and clothing for those who are financially challenged. There are many opportunities for volunteer work to benefit others.

Can you imagine what it might be like to receive this kind of care? I was profoundly touched by the compassion and sensitivity in the community centers and hospitals for those suffering with mental illness. My local hospital in VT uses Reiki in palliative care; why not bring it into mental health care as well? Medical intuitives would be very beneficial to help with diagnosis and treatment.

In Brazil, Spiritist community care has been available for more than 120 years. It has both stood the test of time and continues to grow in popularity. They call their approach “integrative” because it brings spirituality into mental healthcare, while recognizing the effective role bio-chemistry can play when monitored carefully. In the U.S., the Spiritual Emergence Network and Spiritual Competency Resource Center recognize a category of experience called “spiritual emergency,” which assists individuals experiencing a psycho-spiritual crisis, similar to the Brazilian focus.

An evolution in mental healthcare is taking place where we have become aware of the dangers in leaning too heavily on psychiatric medications. Spiritist centers and hospitals in Brazil offer one model that can facilitate our re-evaluation and exploration of options.


Author: Emma Bragdon has a PhD in Transpersonal Psychology, is an author, and the founder and executive director of Integrative Mental Health for You (, a not for profit organization delivering online classes to the public to optimize mental health. Dr. Bragdon takes groups of healthcare providers to an annual weeklong tour in Brazil to learn more about Spiritist healing from the psychiatrists, spiritual healers and psychologists who collaborate in the hospitals. Visit to learn more. See trailers of a 30 minute documentary on Spiritism co-produced by Dr. Bragdon by clicking here.

 Discount information: If you want to register for the November 4-11, 2017 trip to learn more about the Spiritist paradigm of care you may receive a $100 discount by using the discount coupon “BRAZILBLOG” on registration. Be sure to include it in your registration application!  Also let us know if you want Continuing Ed credits or CME.

This article is an abbreviated version of a longer article that was published in “Spirit of Change” in Fall, 2016. Energy Magazine published an article on this topic in May/June 2017 which emphasizes how a version of healing touch is being used in Spiritist Psychiatric Hospitals.


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Posted in Altern. to Psych Meds, Bipolar, Depression, Diagnosis, Energy Work, Healing Touch, Integrative Psych, Medication, Mental Health, Psychiatry, Psychosis, Psychotherapy, Spiritism, Spiritual Healing, Spirituality

Guest Blog: Kelly Brogan, MD

An Open Letter to the Spiritual Community About Psychiatry

By Kelly Brogan, MD

 There’s life with the experience of mental illness and then there’s life as a mental patient. I’ve been told that both entail a large serving of unfathomable suffering. Suffering that brings you to the brink of something you can’t imagine tolerating one more second of, and then it asks you how you’d like to stay there for infinity. The kind of existential fear that comes with not knowing what is real and what is illusion. A depth of pain that feels so endless it’s like a black hole inside your core. Others describe feeling on fire, electrified by worry. Or maybe you’ve just been told that your behavior is concerning, scary, or dangerous.

If you are reading this, it’s possible that you were brought to your edge, and like any one of us, you begged for mercy. It’s possible you tried alternative medicine, but ultimately surrendered to medication, battling a daily inner conflict as you opened that prescription bottle again and again. You had no choice, or at least it felt that way. When we get dragged by our hair through this human experience, we need to know that it’s going to be ok. And medication can offer us just that reassurance. But perhaps we are asking for help in the wrong places? In places designed to ensnare us, disempower us, and keep us arrested in our spiritual growth. Perhaps we need to come together around a new story for mental illness. But first we have to ask some important questions and open our minds to the possibility that there is meaning in struggle and there is meaning in how we respond to it.

If the goal of spirituality is integration – persistently examining where we are still asleep, where we are still defended, where we are still inauthentically manifested – then we must explore what the meaning of a pharmaceutical product is to us. To my mind, a pharmaceutical – whether it’s birth control pills, antibiotics, vaccines, acid blockers, or psychiatric meds – a pharmaceutical says, “No, you’re not enough. You’re not ok. What you’re feeling is a problem. It scares me, it bothers me, it’s unacceptable to friends, family, and society. This body, this felt experience needs management from more powerful agents.”  When we say no to our felt experience, to our bodies, we are maintaining the tension of the war. It’s exhausting and at best results in a stalemate.

But are there really other options? How does a spiritually-oriented person relate to mental illness and needed treatment? I’d like to speak to that. But first, some context…

I am new to spirituality. As a conventionally trained physician and former science-worshiping atheist, the notion of spirituality was, for the better part of my adult life, something like a gold star board you might set up for a 6 year old – a cute strategy to encourage good behavior that quickly becomes irrelevant when there are pressing questions or real behavioral issues at hand. I used to think that spirituality was the land of rainbows and unicorns and sentimental tropes about gratitude. I used to think spirituality was a conveniently draped window dressing to the real stuff of life – science, and by extension medicine. I used to think spirituality was for the softies on the sidelines of the action.

Then I changed. I had a felt experience that turned the lights on and revealed to me that I was only in one room of a house that was in a neighborhood that was in a village that was in a region of a country on a planet in a solar system in a galaxy in the universe. I awoke. And as I spiraled outward, the whorls and patterns and beauty and designed chaos left me confused about what was true, what was real, and who I was. I would later learn that this confusion is the first sign of growth and change.


In Greek it means shift of the heart. That’s what happens to those who awaken to spirituality. Their heart undergoes a transformation. Because no one has ever touched their soul through their mind and because information has never by itself led anyone to their truth. Experience has. I know this but I have also come to know, on the level of an akashic remembrance, that I have an important message to deliver, and a good part of it is the experiences of those who have traveled beyond the pale and moved beyond their psychiatric labels. I have no intention of making anyone reading this feel that they have made a mistake, not tried hard enough, or that they have been duped. I believe passionately in the Maya Angelou principle of when you know better, do better. And I feel compelled beyond what I can contain to share some truths with the spiritual community in case it helps you to know better – or to confirm what you already know.

I have been saddened by the recent death of Michael Stone. A beloved teacher of Buddhist lineage, my office may seem a surprising place for his grief-stricken supporters to reach out to in the wake of his tragic death. While not intimately acquainted with his work, over the years I have received many a text message from my best friend sharing his wisdom. I witnessed the impact that his words had on her life, and know, through my own posthumous relationship with Zen philosopher Alan Watts that these words, disembodied as they might be, can feel like a rope ladder from the deepest, wettest, dankest well, out into the golden light of a meadow. They feel that way when they give voice to a truth that you already possess within. One that has become obscured.

And isn’t that what awakening is? A commitment to opening, to working with, to acceptance, to surrender, to peeling back the layers of gauze wrapped comfortably over our eyes?

Michael gave many souls a place to rest – created a container for them. But, as is the case with most teachers, myself perhaps included, there is the message and then there is the medium. And we are learning that Michael was wrestling with his own energies in a way that ultimately led him down a path many may be shocked to learn about.

When I read about his experience of surrender to conventional psychopharmacology, I felt a deep sense of heaviness – perhaps the weight of all that I want to share that perhaps can never be shared with this man.

Here’s what I would have wanted to share, and what I will share with you in service of growth and expansion, alignment and perhaps confirmation of what you already know to be true:

1. Psychiatric medications are not what we are told they are.  I used to be a card-carrying pharmaceutical dispenser. I thought that I was helping people when I wrote prescription after prescription throughout years of my medical training. It wasn’t until I had a lived experience of radical healing that flew in the face of all of the medicine I had been taught, that I went back to the books to see what other scientific narratives existed that I had not been exposed to. What I found out was shocking! I learned that in an effort to help, doctors prescribe medications that move symptoms around like a whack a mole game. Because when you suppress or distort a symptom, it doesn’t actually resolve, and that disturbed energy manifests elsewhere. So as our patients are falling off of cliffs, we are offering them knives to grab onto – we are offering them help that ends up making them sicker, or at best arresting an emergent and self-limiting process.

This is the perspective of several renegade psychiatrists and of Robert Whitaker, whistleblower and investigative journalist whose work led me to put down my prescription pad. For good. Through non-industry published literature, I learned that psychiatric medication can perpetuate the very disability that it purports to resolve. In other words, you are worse off taking it than not. Hard to believe, I know. Because we feel like we have to do something, and that medication is what we do in urgent and serious situations, right? Or what if your situation is neither urgent, nor serious, but is just really taking a toll? You’d be reckless or stupid not to avail yourself of the safe and effective tools Western medicine has to offer – perhaps even combine it with some Eastern methodologies for the best of both worlds?

That would have made sense to me too, before I spent a decade reviewing a very different tale – a much suppressed one – about these medications. If I had to use my credentialed expertise in analysis of primary literature to come to these inconvenient conclusions, then how could the non-clinician ever be expected to know?

Unfortunately, most of those who now know, know because of their experience being injured, harmed, or disabled by these medications. And what they would tell you corroborates what the science has to say, namely, that –

But for those costs, we would expect a sizeable benefit, of course. And these medications underwhelm at all objective analysis of their efficacy. In fact, they repeatedly perform only as well as placebo.

2. Belief is the key to healing, so know what you believe. We are in an interesting time, one in which research science is catching up with spirituality – namely in exploration of energetics, interconnectedness, complexity, and the power of faith. An area of exploding data is that of the placebo effect. Formerly dismissed like some fly-like nuisance, we are learning that belief is arguably the most powerful determinant of medical outcomes ranging from surgery, to bone healing, to even the effects of drugs like stimulants. Given this, it is a critical exercise to look at what your beliefs are around the body.

We are steeped in many centuries of conditioning, largely thanks to denominational religion, that has led us to separate the material and the sacred. There’s the spirit, the soul, and God, and then there’s the sins of the flesh that need to be managed and oppressed. Perhaps, for this reason, it is not common in spiritual circles to explore our relationships to our bodies and to the external authority that controls them – the medical system.

It may not be obvious that orthodox medicine is itself, a belief system. As my mentor, Dr. Nicholas Gonzalez told me – medicine is an unacknowledged religion complete with its own language, costumes, and places of worship. But through many interesting twists and turns in history including the Flexner report commission by Rockefeller that sought to single-handedly dismiss all and every non-pharmaceutical form of medicine, we have been told a story about the objective dominance of conventional medicine relative to all others. It’s important to know that it is a story so that you can be aware you are tethered to a religion, perhaps unwittingly. A religion that says – your body is broken and dangerous, that you cannot spontaneously heal, that you require the help of medications and surgeries to get by and survive, and that genes and bad luck are behind your health struggles. That this isn’t personal, it’s not meaningful, and you just need to manage the situation. Odds are, this is not what you believe. Odds are, if you’re reading this, you believe in the sacred design of your bodily vessel. You believe that everything has meaning. You believe that struggle and suffering lead to breakthroughs – that you must plumb the depths of your personal hell in order to transform it into heaven.

3. We need to make room for falling apart.With my patients and in my online community, there’s a lot of struggle. Suicidality, hopelessness, and distorted thinking. And it doesn’t scare me. That’s because I know that, if I can provide a solid container for it to all fall apart, then the alchemy of the wound takes place. And everything transforms. I never prescribe. EVER. And my patients know that I could prescribe…but I don’t. So they know that they have only one choice – let the energy move through and look for the teaching. No conditions, no negotiations. And it does transform, every time. But if you have never been told that this kind of struggle is ok – and you don’t recognize that you still believe in the religion of medicine – then how could you possibly move through this space? That’s like a woman in labor at home, wearing headphones that say “you can’t do this, you’re going to kill your baby, what are you doing, you reckless moron!”

We have to expose these influences, and also acknowledge that it is our responsibility as a community to begin to hold space for it to all fall apart. Hold space for non-functionality. Because one of the greatest ironies is that medication is often justified on the grounds that patients are “not able to function” otherwise. But what of the fact that medication is the ultimate cause of long-term disability? We, as a culture are terrified of grief, pain, suffering, and struggle. Tears, in fact, are a diagnosable symptom in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Psychiatry. We must make room, real room for the ugly in order to allow these rites of initiation to take effect. It takes the tribe to hold space for that. One man cannot do it alone.

4. There is a way to work with the energy, from a more solid foundation.While I have come to believe that all illness involves a personal teaching and a psychospiritual origin, co-created by the patient, I believe in multiple narratives, and that the body has its own story to tell. Those who struggle with their mental well-being, also struggle with their physical well-being, whether they know it or not. Even the literature suggests that they are not discrete in the way that we have been led to believe – that in fact 5 million people with Bipolar Disorder may actually have physical imbalances at the root of their uncontrolled experiences – and I don’t mean chemical imbalances in their brains. They are the canaries in the coalmine whose bodily mechanisms are sensitive to toxicant exposure, processed foods, and otherwise industrial lifestyles as much as they are sensitive to the many layers of wrongness unfolding on our planet today.

I have found that physical healing – remember that body we were told to transcend? – must be the foundation of a powerful spiritual process. That’s why I lead with (controversial) dietary self-exploration (and believe that nutrition dogma can be a tremendous handicap), and I recommend daily detox methodologies in addition to community and meditation. Because it may be that your body says no to an exposure through so-called mania, psychosis, or suicidal depression. Here’s a 37 year old woman whose delusional psychosis resolved after she eliminated wheat, another whose thyroid imbalance lead to suicidality, and another whose hormonal imbalance bought her a pile of dangerous and ineffective meds. Heal naturally first, then the real work can begin. You wouldn’t embark on an Everest hike after an all-nighter, with a couple of Snickers bars, so understand that honoring your vessel is saying yes to your process, and it will unfold all the more gently.

5. In order to choose, you have to know what’s possible. Perhaps the most important truth I am here to share is predicated on the one of the principal tenets of ethical medicine – informed consent. Informed consent implies the exploration and confirmed awareness of all known risks, benefits, and alternatives. In addition to peeking behind the curtain of medication efficacy and safety to see the small man pulling the strings, you need to know what is really possible in order to make a choice that feels empowering to you. Did you know that you could put schizophrenia, Bipolar Disorder, OCD, panic attacks, chronic fatigue, ADHD, Major Depression with suicidality, eating disorders, and generalized anxiety into total remission without medication, and even in spite of it? Watch what these people have to say about their experience doing just that. Did you know that you could shed these labels and walk into the wilderness of your life only to encounter the real you? I’ve come to believe, from the hundreds of patients and online participants who tell me the same thing after they come off of medication – that they finally feel like themselves – that psychiatric medication makes the deepest spiritual work largely impossible. It’s almost like cutting the chrysalis to free the struggling caterpillar before it has metamorphosed into a winged creature ready to set aloft.

But if you didn’t know what awaited you on the other end of your dance with psychiatry, you might imagine that euthanasia or suicide is the only option, as one mother of a schizophrenic son disabled by medication thought one month before completing a program of comprehensive healing that gave her son’s life back and then some. My mission is to make sure that as many people on this planet know that the presumed ‘incurability’ of chronic disease is a myth and that healing is eminently possible, because only then can you truly make an informed choice.

Perhaps this is triggering and you feel anger (maybe towards me!), indignation, or a sense of defeat. The reason I want to bring this message to you and your tribe is because I know you aren’t daunted by uncertainty and confusion. I know that you can sit with this reaction and let it transform. I know you are fundamentally curious. I know that you say yes to what life sets before you in so many arenas. But I also know that no one should be walking this path alone.

It may be our job, as a community to begin, one by one, to say yes to ourselves, fully, in all ways. Yes to a high level of self-care, to devotion, to the messages our body is attempting to send, to our felt wrongness, to our wild energies, to our very souls slamming the walls of the small boxes we have stuffed them into. But we have to do this together. We have to lock eyes and say – if you do it, I’ll do it.

Please help me to divine the means and method of re-looming the frayed fabric of a tribe that already knows the beauty of this life and that has the power to hold space for radical transformational healing from the messiness, bigness, and scariness of illness. We already know that the universe moves through us, each of us, and all of us with as fierce a grace as it knows we can handle.

For more information and data (if you love science that confirms spiritual tenets!), I’ve collected my findings/beliefs in my book, A Mind of Your Own.

© Kelly Brogan MD. This work is reproduced and distributed with the permission of Kelly Brogan MD. For more articles, sign up for the newsletter at

spiritual psychiatry Kelly Brogan, M.D. is a Manhattan-based holistic women’s health psychiatrist, author of the New York Times bestselling book, A Mind of Your Own, and co-editor of the landmark textbook, Integrative Therapies for Depression. She completed her psychiatric training and fellowship at NYU Medical Center after graduating from Cornell University Medical College, and has a B.S. from MIT in Systems Neuroscience. View full bio. Want to share this article on your own blog? View our reposting guidelines.


Note to Reader from IMHU:

If you see the wisdom in Dr. Brogan’s article, we encourage you to explore effective alternatives to medication in presentations at  These include practical ways to overcome symptoms of depression, anxiety, bipolar conditions, psychosis, ADHD, and Autism.  IMHU also shares information about new ways of perceiving extreme states of consciousness–to include spiritual growth and spiritual emergency.

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Posted in Altern. to Psych Meds, Bipolar, Drugs, Medication, Meditation, Mental Health, Nutrition, Psychiatry, Spirituality, Suicide
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