Ep. 30: Dr. Omid Naim — Telling a Better Story about Health and Healing

My guest this week is Dr. Omid Naim, who specializes in integrative psychiatry. I thought I knew what that meant before our conversation, but what I learned was much more inspiring than I could have imagined.

We usually think of healing as something that comes from the outside. In Dr. Naim’s approach, however, healing comes from within. You’ll hear him describe an holistic approach that not only integrates many healing traditions, like medicine, yoga, and talk therapy, but that seeks to integrate mind, body, and spirit.

We covered a lot of topics in our discussion, including:

  • The need for novel treatment approaches in psychiatry
  • The work of Peter Levine, author of Waking the Tiger and developer of Somatic Experiencing therapy
  • How trauma gets stuck in the body through the freezing response
  • The effects of chronic stress
  • The effects of having few caregivers in one’s life
  • The many varieties of childhood trauma
  • Our lack of awareness about how radically things are changing
  • The timeless and spaceless realm of smartphone use
  • The rise in mental health challenges around 2013, and the influence of the Internet
  • The importance of disconnecting from productivity on a regular basis
  • The benefits of having periods of reflection to connect with others, nature, and ourselves
  • Staggeringly high rates of mental health diagnoses and psychiatric medication usage
  • Resilience as flexibility and the ability to adapt
  • The “complete ecological approach” in psychiatry
  • Holistic approaches to health and wellness
  • The problem with medical approaches that assume healing comes from outside of you
  • Providing the conditions humans need to thrive
  • Our dual requirements of nourishment and challenge
  • Mindfulness as bringing the mind back to its natural state
  • The role of medication in integrative psychiatry
  • The possibility of complete healing from many psychiatric conditions
  • Medication as supporting innate healing processes
  • Seeing mental illness as an imbalance rather than a deficit
  • Food choices that minimize inflammation and promote healing
  • Meaning and spirituality as the backbone of well-being
  • What leads to major, lasting change
  • Why serial self-help can be so unhelpful
  • Coming back to a morning ritual that aligns intention with a mind-body practice
  • Positive psychiatry and resilience
  • How science could become a wisdom tradition
  • How ideas of who we need to be can keep us stuck in traumatic experiences
  • What drives people to integrative medicine practitioners
  • The integrative model at Dr. Naim’s La Maida Institute

Dr. Naim believes that an integrative approach is the future of medicine, and I agree with him. I look forward to hearing what you think.

Dr. Naim has a very interesting story, and I’m going to let him tell it:

“I was born in Tehran, Iran, and moved to Los Angeles with my family just before the Iranian Revolution in 1978. This early childhood experience of trauma shaped my life and appreciation of how trauma can take shape in an individual and family, and how easily it gets neglected as the root cause of so much mental illness in our society. My experience growing up in a large interdependent family also informed me as a psychiatrist as to the foundational role of community in our health as a society, the process of healing, and as a protective mechanism for preventing disability with my clients today.

“I grew up in Los Angeles and stayed for medical school at the University of Southern California. After medical school I completed residency training in General Adult Psychiatry as well Child & Adolescent Psychiatry at the University of Southern California. My path in psychiatry was devoted to community mental health where I started working with with the most severely ill population of children and young adults in a program designed for ‘high risk youth’ at Edgewood Center for Children & Families in San Mateo, Calilfornia, tasked with keeping kids from being taken out of the home.

“By then I had come to see the limitations of the medical model which relied heavily on psychopharmacology to manage symptoms. Specifically the over-diagnosis of mood and behavioral disorders and profound neglect of underlying trauma as the root cause uncovered for me the degree to which biomedical reductionism was making kids worse rather than better. Against the trend in my field, I believed our job was to help heal trauma, regenerate natural community resources, and foster self-regulation skills to empower youth and families. We did this through launching programs like Dialectic Behavioral Therapy and Family Therapy, and in doing so saw dramatic improvements in functioning alongside reductions and discontinuation of medications.

“This focus on healing trauma through mindfulness, somatic, and family work led me to take a fellowship in Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona as a Bravewell Scholar. Since then I have founded Hope Integrative Psychiatry and La Maida Institute. The clinic is a multi-modal model that supports complete recovery through a wholeness and salutogenic model of personal empowerment. The Hope model has now begun a 2-year investment in partnership with McKinley Child Center in San Dimas, California, to transform an entire institution to Trauma Informed Integrative Care with the goal of reducing medicine use and the use of physical restraints. La Maida Institute was founded to address the larger societal factors, such as lack of nature, breakdowns in family structure, community cohesion, and resources, as well as broader cultural and environmental shifts, as a moral and public health priority.”

To learn more about Dr. Naim and his work, visit Hope Psychiatry and La Maida Institute.

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