Integrative Mental Health Conference

Attendance overwhelming at integrative mental health conference

By Paula E. Hartman-Stein, Ph.D.

Phoenix, Ariz. The first National Integrative Mental Health Conference drew so much interest from practitioners that about 200 had to be turned away.

Andrew Weil, M.D., chair and co-director of the conference, said when the conference was being organized about 300 were expected to attend the three-day conference on cutting edge research evidence in mind-body approaches to treat mood disorders, such as exercise, yoga, breathing instruction, hypnosis, resilience training, acupuncture, nutritional strategies and spiritual practices.

Instead, he said, nearly 600 signed up for the conference before registrations had to be closed because of space limits at the Arizona Biltmore Resort.

Attendees included about 100 psychologists and – indicative of growing dissatisfaction with solely biochemical approaches to mental health treatment – about twice that many psychiatrists.

“The time is right for a paradigm shift from the biomedical model of treating mood disorders,” said

Weil, who founded the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona College of Medicine, which sponsored the conference.

“The main practical problem of the biomedical model is its lack of efficacy,” he said in his opening remarks. “If we believe the pharmaceutical advertising, anxiety and depression would be things of the past. The biomedical model has not greatly increased our ability to manage these problems.”

According to Weil, economic necessity is driving the integrative mental health field. “We cannot depend upon politicians and bureaucrats to figure out how to lower health care costs,” he said. “We need a grassroots movement. I would love to see physicians and other health professionals working collaboratively to change our expectations of health care, of what we do and what we practice in order to improve outcomes.”

Victoria Maizes, M.D., co-director of the conference and executive director of the Center for Integrative Medicine, said the long term goal is to develop a standardized training program in integrative mental health. “We have a Fellowship where we train primary care physicians to practice integrative medicine. We would like to provide the same kind of initiative for mental health,” she said.

“Integrative health care addresses all aspects of lifestyle, honors the human organism’s potential for self-healing, regards patients as partners in the healing process and uses all treatments that may be helpful as long as they are unlikely to cause harm and are supported by some scientific evidence for efficacy,” said Maizes. “We do not reject pharmacological management of mental illness, but we don’t see it as the whole story either.”

Weil said the attendance at the conference shows how hungry practitioners are to learn integrative treatment approaches.

“The profession of psychiatry is a very unhappy profession today,” he said. “The word psychiatry comes from Greek and literally means ‘soul doctoring,’ but of all the medical specialties, psychiatry is the one most mired in scientific materialism. Almost all of what it does is give people biochemicals in effort to change disordered thought processes and disordered mood. The combination of lack of efficacy and the stifling of creativity is the reason for widespread unhappiness.”

According to Lewis Mehl-Madrona, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of psychology and director of psychopharmacology at Argosy University Hawaii, the ways to get to med students, psychiatrists and psychologists interested in integrative mental health is to offer them experiences in methods to learn to be a healer. “Take off the blinders and then you can be a healer,” he said. In addition to his presentation on indigenous models of mind and mental health care, he led a Native American ceremony one evening.

According to Weil, the biomedical model denies, ignores or discounts lifestyle factors on physical and emotional health. “The biomedical model does not let us make sense of common experiences of consciousness, such as precognition and synchronicity. The biomedical model makes it impossible to understand the reality of new research coming from imaging studies of living brains that show patterns of thinking can change brain structure and function.”

Albert Kaszniak, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Psychology at the University of Arizona and chief academic officer of the Mind and Life Center in Boulder, Colo., who presented on psychological interventions derived from Buddhist meditative practice, said psychologists are better prepared to deliver integrative mental health care than psychiatrists because of training on the role of beliefs, life style factors and social relationships in maintaining health and alleviating mental suffering.

According to Kaszniak, currently there are too few training opportunities for psychologists in integrative mental health care. “The entire domain is really very new,” he said.

“Psychologists interested in this field should take continuing education and training in value-added skills that are integrative in nature and have empirical support (e.g., mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, dialectical behavior therapy, acceptance and commitment therapy) as well as expanding familiarity with research on the role of diet and dietary supplementation and develop a consistent contemplative practice such as meditation, yoga or centering prayer that can enhance the clinician’s listening skills, empathic responding and perhaps wisdom,” Kaszniak said.

He recommended that psychologists find colleagues who are interested in exploring the field and who will provide mutual support and helpful critiques as they begin to incorporate integrative practices.

“By integrating these perspectives we create a new way of knowing,” he said. He advocated for equally treating with rigor both third person and first person perspective. “We have neglected it in our science.”

DVDs and CDs of the conference are available under “Conferences; Integrative Mental Health” at

Paula Hartman-Stein, Ph.D. is a clinical geropsychologist with a consulting practice at the Center for Healthy Aging in Kent, Ohio. She conducts intergenerational therapeutic writing workshops for clients as well as professional audiences as an integrative mental health practice. Her website is: