Expert Profile - Dianna Esmaeilpour
Dr. Dianna Esmaeilpour
MD, MSc, Integrative Psychiatrist
Medical Director of Eating Disorders for Arkansas Children’s Hospital & Integrative Behavioral Health Psychiatrist for University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences
Founder of Well Life Psychiatry, an Integrative Nutritional Psychiatry Practice Headquartered in Arkansas
Completed the Integrative Psychiatry Fellowship Program through Psychiatry Redefined
Board Certified Adult Psychiatrist and is fellowship trained in Child and Adolescent Psychiatr
Dr. Dianna Esmaeilpour’s Bio:
Dianna Esmaeilpour MD, MSc is an Integrative Nutritional Psychiatrist with an emphasis on Eating Disorders and Sports Psychiatry. She discovered Integrative Psychiatry when trying to merge her lifelong passion of wellness with the practice of psychiatry. Beliefs include food as medicine and movement as medicine. She believes in the power of breath and that mind-body interventions are essential in helping clients access healing. She utilizes a functional medicine approach by looking for a root cause. However, also looks for psychological root causes including trauma, damaging core beliefs, and self-sabotaging behaviors. Her goal is to teach self-care and self-love to create health, happiness, and resilience, empowering clients to reach their true potential.
Prior to medical school, she received a BA in World Religions from Hendrix College and a Master’s of Science in Nutrition from Columbia University. She is a Board Certified Adult Psychiatrist and is fellowship trained in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. She has completed Psychiatry Redefined Fellowship for training in Integrative Psychiatry. She has also started Functional Medicine Training through the Institute of Functional Medicine.
She was formerly the Medical Director of the Child Diagnostic Unit at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. She is the Medical Director of Eating Disorders for Arkansas Children’s Hospital, as well as the Integrative Behavioral Health Psychiatrist for the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. She is currently the founder of Well Life Psychiatry, an Integrative Nutritional Psychiatry Practice. She is joining Ekoe Health in Virginia to provide integrative telepsychiatry services in the state of Virginia and will soon be offering telepsychiatry services in Oregon.
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?
My interest in Psychiatry evolved over time. However, two life events were paramount in my decision. As a child, I was surrounded by volatility. I didn’t understand why my parents were so angry, but I did understand that they were suffering. The anxiety and stress of my home life eventually became overwhelming. Around 11 years old I spent months contemplating and planning suicide, but instead of having an attempt, I came to a realization. I realized that one day I would grow up and be in charge of my own life. I would be able to make my own choices. That was the moment when suicide was off the table and I was all in on my life. I made a commitment to live differently and to “find happiness”. This is when my life long pursuit of wellness and personal growth started. Over the next few years, I gave up soda, fast food, and TV. Despite the little emphasis placed on educational achievement in my family, I saw school as my road to a better life. Discipline became a core value as I focused on school, work, and started running. I went to a liberal arts college and started traveling the world.
My world came to a halt right before my 21st Birthday. My brother, my only sibling, had a psychotic break. I will never forget the pain and disbelief I felt as I watched his mind betray him. Since that time, his life has been a constant rollercoaster. He is haunted by the stigma of mental illness and could not accept that he needed help. He has been inconsistent with his engagement in mental health treatment. In and out of the hospital. He has been on and off medications due to the side effects. He could not stay committed to therapy. He has always been very vocal about his disdain for conventional treatments. I have been there in some of his darkest moments, including the most devastating. I was on the phone with him when he was psychotic and suicidal; he had not been in treatment. In a moment, his rage that was directed inward became directed out. He committed a horrendous crime that deeply hurt many people that he loved.
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?
It is hard to capture all of the ways in which these events affected me. I understand how stigma creates a barrier for healing. I think the language we use in conventional medicine does not help patients to feel empowered, but rather makes them feel helpless. Physical health and mental health are deeply connected and need to be viewed as a system.
My experiences have inspired me to look beyond conventional mental health treatments. I know my brother would have been much more willing to engage in treatment with an integrative approach. I believe it would have helped him develop the coping skills that he needed. While medications and conventional therapy help many, they are not enough for everyone. My experiences have driven me to acquire knowledge and skills to help more patients because there is no one size fits all approach.
I believe that you can use the power of pain to transform yourself and help others. The only conclusion I have is to turn my pain into my power in order to help and inspire others to do the same. I know transformation is possible. As an adult, I watched my parents transform through a program they committed to for ten years, Celebrate Recovery. Healing is possible and transformation is possible, but it takes the right tools for that person, as well as support and a lot of hard work.
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 life’s focus has been on wellness and self-improvement, which to me, encompasses mind, body, and spirit wellbeing. I was using food and movement as medicine before I could even conceptualize what this meant. I went on my first overnight meditation retreat in college. I was not pre-med in college and instead got a BA in World Religions with a minor in Art, as well as an MSc in Nutrition before medical school.
Conventional medicine gives psychiatrists the tools of medication and therapy. These are important tools, but healing and wellness are about more. Mental health manifests in the body. I continue to struggle with being in sympathetic overdrive, being anxious, and having sleep disturbances. It is the physical interventions that have helped me. Simple tools such as STARR exercises, breathing, sensory interventions, meditation, mindfulness, and yoga can be remarkably powerful. Two of my first tools for coping and healing throughout my life were movement and food. I have always taken care of my body as a way to take care of my mind. I wanted to share my passion for wellness with my patients and this is when I discovered “Integrative Psychiatry”. This is when my seemingly random interests came together and when I knew what I was supposed to do.
What methods or practices do you utilize to help individuals get/feel better?
My goal is to show up fully present and to listen with intention. As a provider, I think it is important to meet people where they are and individualize treatment to them.
I use body-based interventions because they are simple, powerful tools, and even a child can learn some techniques. The STARR exercises have options for everyone. I believe in the healing power of breath and utilize a variety of breathing techniques. The simple act of breathing can have profound effects on human physiology. I will also recommend forms of meditation, mindfulness, yoga, visualization techniques, progressive muscle relaxation, and sauna. I utilize technology including heart rate variability to teach how to calm the body and focus the mind.
I look for root causes and will do basic and specialized laboratory workups. I have an in-depth knowledge of food, micronutrients, and non-prescription interventions. Often I make recommendations for supplements including vitamins, minerals, amino acids, fatty acids, adaptogens, and herbal medications to treat symptoms or to supplement deficiencies. I use food as medicine. I have an interest in the microbiome’s role in mental health and use many strategies to target microbiome health. I consider the role of the HPA axis and the immune system to be an important component of mental health interventions.
From a therapy perspective, I use strategies from motivational interviewing, acceptance and commitment therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavioral therapy, trauma-focused therapy, and positive psychology in therapeutic encounters. Of course, I also use prescription medications, when appropriate.
How did people react when you share this Integrative/Holistic approach with them – whether it be patients or other doctors?
People are typically interested in my unconventional approach. People know that there is more to mental health than medications and talk therapy. People love to know more about the biology behind their symptoms. They also are empowered by the knowledge that they can utilize to create change in their own life.