Expert Profile - Erica Burger
Dr. Erica Burger’s Bio:
My name is Dr. Erica Burger and I am an Integrative Psychiatrist and founder of Driftless Integrative Psychiatry. I’m passionate about taking a humanistic and integrative approach to mental health.
I graduated from Northern Michigan University in Michigan’s beautiful Upper Peninsula with a degree in sustainable agriculture and pre-medicine. I obtained both Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.) and Master of Public Health (M.P.H.) degrees from Des Moines University. In residency at Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis, MN, I completed additional training in integrative psychiatry from the University of Arizona and was one of the first in the country to complete a formal one-year program in integrative psychiatry from the Integrative Psychiatry Institute. I also completed an herbalism apprenticeship as well as training in Nutritional Psychiatry with Dr. Drew Ramsey and in Accelerated Resolution Therapy – a specialized type of therapy that utilizes guided imagery with bilateral eye movements to help process trauma and other forms of mental distress. I’m honored to have received awards in residency for providing compassionate care and was inducted into the Gold Humanism Honor Society in medical school.
My goal is to provide mental health care that is individualized, heart-centered, and inclusive at Driftless Integrative Psychiatry in Lansing, Iowa. I provide both in-person and virtual care by video to individuals living in Wisconsin, Iowa, and Minnesota. After training in different urban areas in the Midwest, I’m very grateful to be able to return to rural Wisconsin. My husband and I live on an old homestead with our Great Pyrenees dog, Grumble.
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?
In medical school, specializing in psychiatry hadn’t crossed my mind until I was a third year medical student and rotating at the county hospital’s inpatient mental health unit in Des Moines, Iowa. On that rotation, I realized that I was drawn to helping those most vulnerable and stigmatized in our society. Advocacy was part of who I was and being an advocate is an essential aspect of being a Psychiatrist. Learning and listening to others’ stories and guiding them towards improved health was what originally drew me to medicine and I decided to pursue psychiatry when I learned that is the foundation of the specialty.
I also grew up watching my mom struggle with depression and learned that depression and anxiety ran in my family. From a young age, I understood that really strong people could also struggle with mental issues and that people are more than their mental health ailments.
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?
I’ve always been drawn towards integrative medicine and had already gotten accepted into Bastyr University to study naturopathic medicine before trusting my gut to take additional prerequisite courses and pursue osteopathic medicine instead. Meeting integrative medicine physicians and pursuing my own alternative healing and wellness paths have opened my eyes to different perspectives and experience the benefit of non-medication approaches. I also met many individuals who had felt disempowered after meeting with their healthcare provider, not feeling heard or comfortable. Or they were not believed for what symptoms they were experiencing. These experiences have motivated me to lean in, become aware of my own biases (always a work in progress) and to believe my patients and listen to them.
When and why did you decide to actually focus on practicing Integrative Psychiatry, specifically, and how was your decision shaped by the experiences above?
Organic farming and food policy was my career path before deciding to pursue medicine. I apprenticed on several organic farms as a college student and began understanding the relationship between soil health and human health. Since then I have been passionate about learning and practicing integrative medicine. Everything is interconnected and related to our health, whether that be through the food we eat (and the soil that it comes from), the relationships we have with others, the volunteering or work we carry out, how we feel about ourselves and others, or the exercise we get. Thus, my practice philosophy is grounded in a foundation of this holistic interconnectedness.
Looking back, I had to unlearn a lot of how I was taught to practice medicine and instead, focus on how to truly partner with patients. A lot of practicing in an integrative way means listening and meeting people where they are at.
What methods or practices do you utilize to help individuals get/feel better?
My approach is a “Both And” approach – utilizing both medications and non-medications, depending on someone’s preferences, experiences, and symptoms. Non-medication approaches might include helping people make changes to their eating patterns since we know that nutrition plays a significant role in mental health. We also may consider underlying root causes of someone’s mental health symptoms including trauma, chronic stress, nutrient deficiencies, loneliness, and living environment.
I specialize in working with recreational, college, and elite athletes and as a competitive athlete myself, recognize and understand the hesitancy athletes may have regarding seeking out mental health care as well as the unique stressors that athletes experience. Sports psychiatry is a relatively “young” field in psychiatry but it’s so important that we recognize the unique mental health needs of athletes. Athletes experience mental health issues – just like other people. Athletic performance is an essential aspect that we take into consideration when discussing medication and other treatment options.
With both athletes and non-athletes, time is set aside to discuss various treatment options so that individuals will be able to make an informed decision about their care and healing path.
How did people react when you share this Integrative/Holistic approach with them – whether it be patients or other doctors?
Many people are interested in treatment that involves more than pills and tend to be receptive to an integrative approach to their mental health. People often feel more comfortable asking questions and sharing different treatment approaches that they had previously tried.