Expert Profile - Carolyn Ross
Carolyn Coker Ross, MD, MPH, CEDS
Integrative Eating, Body Image , & Addiction Physician
CEO of The Anchor Program™
Graduate of Dr. Andrew Weil’s fellowship in Integrative Medicine
Co-Chair of the AAEDP-BIPOC (African American Eating Disorder Professionals – Black Indigenous People of Color)
Author of 3 books:
Contributor to book: “Treating Black Women with Eating Disorders: A Clinician’s Guide.”
Dr. Carolyn Ross’ Bio:
Carolyn Coker Ross, MD, MPH, CEDS is an author, speaker, expert in using Integrative Medicine for the treatment of food and body image issues and addictions. She is the CEO of The Anchor Program™, a non-diet online (telemedicine) program for individuals suffering from bing eating, emotional eating and food addiction. She is board certified in Preventive Medicine and also in Addiction Medicine and is a graduate of Dr. Andrew Weil’s fellowship in Integrative Medicine. For the past 4 years, Dr. Ross has been an international speaker and consultant on issues of cultural competence, antiracism and diversity in mental health with a particular emphasis on the treatment of food and body image issues in women of color.
She is the co-chair of the AAEDP-BIPOC (African American Eating Disorder Professionals – Black Indigenous People of Color) subcommittee of iaedp (International Eating Disorder Professional). She is the author of 3 books on mental health related to eating, the most recent is “The Food Addiction Recovery Workbook.” She is a contributing author to the recently released book: “Treating Black Women with Eating Disorders: A Clinician’s Guide.” She is co-founder of the Institute for Antiracism and Equity that does trainings for staff and health care professionals – to make culturally competent mental health care more available and accessible to black, indigenenous and other people of color.
What life events or challenges that you’ve experienced (could be minor, could be major) – whether you’ve experienced them directly or via someone close to you, have had any type of impact on your desire to pursue a career in psychiatry?
One of the challenges that impacted my decision was having two brothers with substance use issues – one with opioid use and the other who was addicted to crack cocaine. Coming from a middle-class, well educated Black family, this was unexpected and took a toll on our family. Both of my brothers are wonderful human beings, very sensitive as many of my patients with addictions are and it has been hard to watch them struggle with the consequences of their substance use for decades. Both eventually developed cross-addictions to alcohol which led to the death of the older one and severe medical consequences in the younger one. I saw how addictions literally highjacked their potential in life and when I began to try to understand why, I learned more and became an expert in identifying and treating childhood trauma.
The other profound experience that solidified my desire to pursue a career focused on integrative mental health was that my middle son committed suicide when he was 29 years old after a 10 year battle with severe depression that was not responsive to medications available at that time. At the time of his death, I was actually studying in the fellowship with Andrew Weil which led to my developing an integrative medicine approach to eating and addiction complications and included approaches for depression and anxiety. Sadly, my education came too late to save my son who was an incredibly kind and loving man and whose death devastated our family.
How did those events impact you emotionally/morally? How, if at all did those events impact the way you view how our current system teaches us to treat patients with mental health challenges?
In the case of my brothers substance , my search to understand their struggle led me to an understanding of the impact of intergenerational and historical (slavery) trauma in my own family and with other BIPOC individuals I work with. I spoke about this journey in my TEDxPleasantGrove talk in January, 2020. I feel that this knowledge has helped me to educate my own family to try and stop the cycle of addictions and mental health issues that has plagued our family and led to losses in every generation.
The loss of Noah, my son showed me conclusively that medications cannot be the only way we offer treatment for people with severe depression. In his case, medications did not help. I believe the an understanding of trauma can also inform the treatment of depression and anxiety and the use of integrative medicine therapies can also be of great benefit and offers a more whole person approach than what conventional medicine offers.
When and why did you decide to actually focus on practicing Integrative Psychiatry, specifically, and how was your decision shaped by the experiences above?
My decision to focus on integrative medicine actually came as a result of my being diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia in 2000. At that time, western medicine was not very clear on how to diagnose or treat this and I was often told by my colleagues in medicine that “it was a psychiatric issue” – code for “it’s all in your head.” This shocked me as I had been a very upstanding member of the medical community in the city where I lived and felt I had strong collegial relationships. So I was hurt by this. I turned to acupuncture, energy healing, Phoenix rising yoga and the use of nutraceuticals which helped me heal. I do think the psychological aspect was important but it was not the only thing that I needed to address. Over the four years it took me to recover, I tried many different modalities including shamanism, sweat lodges, and more and I believe all of these experiences helped me to heal.
What methods or practices do you utilize to help individuals get/feel better?
In my online program for people with binge eating, food addiction and emotional eating, I work on trauma issues and also offer suggestions for supplements and other modalities. In my practice treating people with addictions, depression/anxiety and eating complications, I often recommend a supplement regimen, refer for acupuncture or chiropractic and again focus on healing the effects of childhood maltreatment or trauma.
How did people react when you share this Integrative/Holistic approach with them – whether it be patients or other doctors?
Most are very happy that someone is digging deeper than just their “label” and they appreciate understanding the root causes of their mental health issues. It helps them to feel that there is “not something wrong with me”, rather there is “something that happened to me.” This takes the guilt and shame out of their diagnosis and enables them to have a focus for their healing and to have hope that things will get better.