Expert Profile - Jodie Skillicorn
Dr. Jodie Skillicorn
D.O., Integrative Psychiatrist
Board Certified in Holistic Integrative Medicine
Dr. Jodie Skillicorn’s Bio:
Dr. Jodie Skillicorn is a board-certified psychiatrist and a Diplomate of the American Board of Holistic Integrative Medicine. After graduating Phi Beta Kappa from Skidmore College with a BA in English, and working for nearly a decade as a photojournalist, she attended Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine. She completed her Psychiatry Residency at Northeast Ohio Medical University. Dr. Skillicorn is the author of the book, Healing Depression Without Medications: A Psychiatrist’s Guide to Balancing Mind, Body, and Soul. At her private practice in Stow, Ohio, and via telemedicine, Dr. Skillicorn integrates conventional medical training with evidence-based holistic methods that include breathwork, meditation, yoga, Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT), Mind-Body Medicine, nutrition, herbs and supplements, and exercise. She believes strongly in the body’s ability to heal itself if given resources and support, and in the importance of empowering patients to take back their health through simple, but effective lifestyle changes.
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?
I have always been drawn to understanding people and behavior. As a shy, anxious kid, I turned to stories for role models, and to better understand the people and world around me. I obsessively read biographies and memoirs. In fact, I read every biography and memoir available in the children’s section of my hometown library. My favorite stories, whether fiction or nonfiction, were about people overcoming adversity. Their strength and resilience offered a roadmap. Their uncertainties, doubts, and fears resonated with me, and put my own in perspective. If these resilient survivors could face far larger challenges, I could certainly face my own. This fascination for understanding others, and myself, led to a career in photojournalism, which offered me the opportunity to meet people from all walks of life, hear their stories, and observe their lives. Over time, I felt called to not just passively observe and document, but actively play a role in easing the suffering of others. My fascination with integrating the stories of our lives, thoughts, emotions, bodies, and spirit eventually led me to psychiatry.
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?
Reading about and observing others, and later through my own therapy and therapy training, I started to see patterns. Beliefs, thoughts, emotions, and behaviors are not random, but, rather, make sense when looked through the lens of someone’s life experiences. I began to see the diagnoses I learned in medical school and residency not as pathologies, but rather a product of our life stories, and a set of symptoms often stemming from unacknowledged or untended stressors, losses, toxins, and traumas. The emotions, behaviors, and symptoms being classified as dysfunctional, almost always make sense if we take the time to listen to someone’s experiences. Even what we consider severe pathology, may well be a normal response to severely abnormal life events. Viewing these symptoms as dysfunction, and reducing them to a mere neurochemical imbalance, to be treated almost exclusively with pharmaceutical solutions, disempowers and victimizes people further. The message that you are broken and will require a lifetime of medications in order to function only exacerbates and perpetuates hopelessness, stress, and anxiety. Offering education and strategies to cope with uncertainty, stress, fear, and other emotions we all experience at times; learning skills to balance the nervous system to make it less reactive; tending to the body’s inflammatory responses caused by chronic stress and toxins, and healing untended soul wounds, empowers, motivates, and enables people to make needed changes and heal.
When and why did you decide to actually focus on practicing Integrative Psychiatry, specifically, and how was your decision shaped by the experiences above?
I had no interest in conventional medicine. I decided to go to medical school after reading Christiane Northrup’s book, Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom, which approached women’s health with a mind-body-spirit approach, which resonated deeply with me. By the time I entered medical school, I had been practicing meditation, yoga, and qi qong for over a decade and had seen the powerful effects of these practices on my own life. Despite this background, while in medical school and residency, the dogmatic focus on pathology and pharmaceutical solutions seeped into my thinking. I think this is partially because there is so much uncertainty, so many unknowns, and so much to learn. I think far too often we pull out the script pad (I know I did!) to avoid our own discomfort and helplessness at not being able to fix someone’s suffering. We are taught to offer solutions but are taught little about the value and healing potential of simply listening, allowing, and holding space for the suffering of another. Plus, most physicians simply do not have the time, as compassionate listening and presence do not earn revenue in our medical system.
During residency I quickly became aware of the limitations of conventional psychiatry. All the “new” patients I began to see were actually “old” patients who had been handed down to me not only from the previous residents but the residents before them and before them. I remember wondering if medications and talk therapy work, why is nobody getting better? Worse, when the patients did not get better, they were labeled “treatment-resistant,” as if it was their fault the medications were not working, either because they were “non-compliant” — more blame!–or so broken that our treatments were not sufficient. The possibility that the treatments were simply, for many, not addressing the roots of the problem, or were potentially making the problem worse, was never considered. The question of why people were not getting better led me to return to strategies that helped me deal with my own anxieties: breathing, meditation, yoga, EFT, EMDR, exercise, journaling, guided imagery, and nature. I began digging more deeply into the research, obsessively reading, and taking classes in search of new possibilities for a more integrative approach.
What methods or practices do you utilize to help individuals get/feel better?
I combine time, presence, and listening to better understand the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of an individual. I integrate conventional medical training with mindfulness and somatic-based psychotherapy, EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique), breathwork, meditation, exercise, nutrition, and supplements, along with education about the power of the body and mind to change and heal if given the resources.
How did people react when you share this Integrative/Holistic approach with them – whether it be patients or other doctors?
When I first see people, I always begin by reframing the story of brokenness that so many of them have been told over and over again by providers. This is not a true or hopeful story. It completely ignores the capacity of the brain to rewire and regenerate, if given new data and information. When we tell people their brains are broken, and they must take a pill for the rest of their lives in order to keep mental illness away, we disempower them and distinguish hope. To normalize the symptoms from which they suffer and let them know they are not broken or alone, but responding appropriately to abnormal situations or an imbalanced lifestyle, we offer them hope for healing, and motivation to make the changes necessary to rebalance their lives. Most people respond to this empowering message with relief and hope.