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Local Integrative Psychiatrist Finds Medication Therapy 'Over Simplistic'

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The model most of us think of when we think of psychiatry involves a psychiatrist, a patient, a couch and often - prescriptions. And that is not too far from reality. But there are some in the field who are looking to change the paradigm and add alternative or complementary treatments.

New Berlin psychiatrist Aruna Tummala's practice is in what's termed integrative psychiatry, a subset of the field that takes in both Western and other psychiatric techniques. For Tummala, learning about the integrative approach was "so simple" and so "profound" that it renewed her sense of purpose, enthusiasm and hope for her patients.

Tummala completed her psychiatry residency in India and the United States, where the main approach to psychiatry was to offset the brain's neurochemical imbalance through medications. However, she says the theory "is really over simplistic."

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Integrative psychiatrist Doctor Aruna Tummala.

"Why do I say that? Mainly because there is a lot of evidence that is showing that what we have been doing up until now does not help anybody," she explains.

Instead of viewing illness as a symptom of a problem in the brain, integrative psychiatry "really look(s) at mental illness not as a brain disorder, but rather that the brain disorder and the symptoms of mental illness is actually a result of a physiological imbalance that could happen anywhere else in the body," she says.

Now, she says, research is examining other areas that can attribute to mental illnesses, such as the microbiome in our guts or nutritional deficiencies. In addition to internal issues, external agents, like technology, noise pollution and visual pollution, can also attribute to imbalances in the body,  Tummala says.

Instead of relying on only traditional medications, Tummala notes that the integrative approach includes supplments for nutrients that are not available in our everyday diets.

"It literally is like the cellular factory was chugging along with great difficulty and then we are providing the raw material for it and everything seems to fall in place," she says.

In addition to treating patients in a holistic manner, Tummala says that a doctor must posses empathy and a sense of wisdom to appeal to and successfully treat their patients.

"The medication management model never appealed to me," she says. "The definition of psychiatry is 'doctor of the soul,' and to be a doctor of the soul you need to connect with the person at the level of the soul - and that does happen in establishing a humanistic relationship."

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Audrey is a producer, host and reporter for Lake Effect. She is involved with every aspect of the show — from conducting interviews, editing audio, posting web stories and mixing the show together.