Expert Profile - Judith Pentz
Dr. Judith Pentz
MD, Integrative Psychiatrist
Assistant Professor of Psychiatry, University of New Mexico
Board Certified in Integrative Medicine by ABHIM
Specialized in both Adult and Child & Adolescent Psychiatry
Author of “Cleanse Your Body, Return to Your Soul”, offering insights into both Nutritional and Ayurvedic healing modalities.
Original Board Member of the International Network of Integrative Mental Health (INIMH)
Dr. Judith Pentz’ Bio:
Judith E. Pentz, MD, is a holistic, alternative and integrative psychiatrist with board certification in child, adolescent and adult psychiatry. She seeks to combine the best of Western and integrative medicine for support of your mental well being. The goal is to be as gentle as possible and to stimulate the natural healing mechanisms that we all have in our body.
Some of the modalities may include orthomolecular, nutritional options, homeopathy, targeted amino-acid therapy, breathing techniques and meditation as well as other options. The integrative approach includes the spiritual and emotional part of our being, as well the mental and physical part of our being. Therapy is often necessary to support the many changes that are part of the integrative approach. This may include brief individual therapy, family therapy, or more intense, depth psychotherapy. Guidance towards the best integrative approach can be considered.
Shifting into being an educator, a wise person seeking to support your growth with tools to create your own path towards wholeness, Dr Pentz is teaching those motivated to make those internal changes towards a sense of wholeness, serenity and happiness
She contributed a chapter in Integrative Therapies for Depression: Redefining Models for Assessment, Treatment and Prevention, lending her voice to the growing body of work that shows there is a world beyond prescribing drugs. The book released Dec. 19, 2015, featuring her chapter on botanicals for depression.
Her new book, Cleanse Your Body, Return to Your Soul was released August 11, 2020. It is a prescriptive memoir about her trek to India for an ancient ayurvedic cleanse – panchakarma – that forged her path to her own healing. There are many tips about self care from the ayurvedic perspective.
Dr. Pentz attended the Medical College of Ohio at Toledo (MCOT) where she received her medical degree in 1985. The school’s name changed to the University of Toledo after a merging of resources. She completed her training at MCOT in child, adolescent, adult psychiatry in 1990. Board certification in adult psychiatry in 1993 and child and adolescent psychiatry in 1994. She is also board certified in Integrative Medicine by ABHIM since 2014.
She has studied various alternative healing methods including completing training in craniosacral therapy with the Upledger program, EMDR, homeopathy with Dr. Charles Bernaert, Chi Gung with R. Carpenter DOM and Ken Cohen. She has studied with various healers locally exploring Chinese, Native American, Peruvian, Ayurvedic and Reiki healing traditions. Awareness of the value of herbs, nutrition, essential oils, flower essences as well as various body work modalities such as craniosacral therapy, Rolfing, acupuncture present as adjuncts to the healing process inform her approach so may be recommended to be explored with referrals made to other healthcare professionals proficient in these areas.
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?
When I was a young college student, my sixteen-year-old sister became ill. She was the middle sister of a sibship of 5 girls. It took almost two years of going to several major clinics near us in Ohio to sort out the nature of her problem. She was diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder, Scleroderma, while I sat at her bedside at the Cleveland Clinic. After not knowing for over two years, there was some relief in knowing her diagnosis, but her prognosis was not good. She could live a long time yet there was no cure for the illness, only palliative options. She went on to live another mere nine months after we were told she could have a long but difficult life with this disorder. Her health deteriorated rapidly that fall with kidney and heart problems. Hospitalized due to her acuity, she died thirty-six hours later. As fate would have it, her sudden death happened on a September weekend of all of her siblings being home from college.
I stood close by as they tried to resuscitate. I did not fully comprehend what was being done but I could see their efforts were futile. I remember feeling quite numb and in shock. I had been prepared for the long haul. Not this sudden death.
We were all in shock. Yet, little was said other than making the necessary arrangements for her Catholic funeral. I remember driving to the Snyder funeral home. As we reached a crest in the road, the sun was setting like a ball of fire in the horizon. It blinded me. I felt a bit disoriented yet it woke me up in some way so I could help my parents complete the process that needed to happen.
I recall very little about the viewing or the rest of the funeral process other than I saw my father cry. He never cried. My mother did not cry. If she did, I did not see it. My sister’s death was a crushing blow to our family. Being immigrants, our family unit was small. Family was most important. And as my father shared that day, ‘our children are not supposed to die before us’. Our family was wounded and remained so for a number of years. Each of us has dealt with her loss in our own ways. For me, I found a way into therapy eventually, but it took some years.
Returning to graduate school, the numbness continued. The neighborhood rallied as did the church to support my parents. All of us siblings were left to sort things out on our own. It was a very painful, difficult time for me as I was about two hours away from home. I felt very alone and bereft with grief. Therapy was not discussed nor suggested. Even a grief group could have been a great resource. Feelings about her loss were not discussed when I did make it back home. It was a very somber place to be.
I had not made it into medical school as planned when I graduated with my bachelor’s degree in biology, so I had started into master’s program for biology. I had reapplied to several more medical schools that summer and two weeks after my sister’s death, I was, again, slated to take the MCATs, the entrance exam for medical school. Needless to say, I was not in the best frame of mind but I ‘soldiered’ ahead.
I also reconnected with an old boyfriend who chose to come to the funeral. Soon after, I found myself pregnant. He has chosen to not be a part of our lives. I had to accept his decision, but it did not change my decision to keep the greatest joy of my life. My daughter was such a gift to me and to my family during a very difficult time. She has been and always will be a gift of a lifetime for me. My grandson is another tremendous gift at this time.
I did make it into medical school that following year. I felt very grateful. Yet, therapy was not a part of my life until closer to the time of my psychiatry residency. It was most beneficial for me. I did make the decision to go into child, adolescent, adult psychiatry for a number of reasons. The biggest reason for me was that it offered a sane work and call schedule for my life as a single parent. Another reason was to offer family therapy and make room for the children and teens to share their feelings when there is family loss or tragedy. I remember writing a final paper for my child psychiatry fellowship. Its focus was on the lack of awareness in the community of the siblings’ needs when there was a death of a child in the family. I continued to offer family therapy over the years until that part of me that needed healing was healed. I found that I did not need to offer that service anymore.
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?
As time went on, I recognized deeply that the mental health approach with an increasing focus on medications was very flawed. This was especially true for children and teens. I was seeing the adverse effects of the medications along with limited effectiveness. Therapy has its limitations as well. Both can be effective, but I was realizing that there was so much more that needed to be a part of the picture. Empowering the person was needed as well as a more holistic/integrative approach was necessary.
When and why did you decide to actually focus on practicing Integrative Psychiatry, specifically, and how was your decision shaped by the experiences above?
With a sabbatical in mind, I left for New Zealand for what I thought was to be a new life as a traveling physician. I was called back soon as my daughter, now in college, needed me back home. I returned and changed my approach to the new practice I opened. I wanted to share the importance of nutrition/nutrients and herbs.
My own self-care had included this more wholesome approach in my twenties. I discovered Rolfing as well as massage therapy. I learned that body work had been most supportive for me as well. To be able to have an emotional release without talking much was a very welcomed approach for me. Being embodied and present with the release often proved to be more powerful than talking therapy. This is true to this day. My intellect is no longer a barrier to the deeper healing that is needed.
I saw the need to share what had been effective for me. I reached out the community and gave free lectures about a variety of nutrition and nutrient approaches to support mental health.
Along the way, I did deep dives into chi gung and TM meditation as well as other forms of meditation. Spirituality has been an important part of life for a very long time. Ayurveda, a medical tradition that goes back over 5000 years, had been interwoven into my life and came to the forefront around 2015. I experienced the power of changing my lifestyle and food choices specific to my body constitution. It supported the deepening spiritual life that I had at home. The herbs I took further supported me. The ancient cleanse, Panchakarma, has been a life changing experience for me. So much so, that I just released my first book about this experience and the power of lifestyle on my life. Cleanse Your Body, Reveal Your Soul is a prescriptive memoir about my own health challenges and the eight-day process to have this cleanse.
What methods or practices do you utilize to help individuals get/feel better?
My role is more of an educator/mentor/guide these days. I still do some clinical work, but my passion goes beyond that now. The wisdom of the last thirty years has informed me at many levels, and I seek to be a powerful influencer for preventive/holistic care so that is in the hands of all persons. Being a spokesperson who knows that it is the power of prevention that is underutilized in our culture and most of the Western cultures of today: that is one of my primary goals. Mental health and physical health cannot be divided/separated. They go hand in hand. The data is in. The more we neglect our mental and physical health, the more ill we become. It is that basic.
I share about the importance of wholesome foods, lifestyle changes, appropriate levels of exercise, getting outdoors for forest bathing and ways to quiet the body and mind. I seek to get baseline labs for a variety of vitamins, CBC, ferritin and metabolic panel. Or have their primary clinician do so.
How did people react when you share this Integrative/Holistic approach with them – whether it be patients or other doctors?
Many people are excited to hear about this approach. It is not a new approach. Many indigenous or folk traditions have always supported the intrinsic healing power in each of us. The power is in the people and in their kitchen. Food is medicine and can heal us.
Ayurveda has stressed the importance of prevention being in the hands of the person. It is with the knowledge of one’s constitution that changes can be made at the most basic levels. Poor nutrition or wrong nutrition leads to both physical and mental health issues. Though I do not know the constitution of each person I see, I make recommendations that support their general well-being. I will replete Vitamin D or B vitamins. Addressing basic dietary issues and reduce fast food or processed food often can influence a healthier mind and body. The data acknowledges the power of these simple changes. Bringing the person into the kitchen to prepare meals with simple ideas can be effective.
I recently saw a thirteen-year-old girl with her parents. They wanted her assessed for issues of poor attention and reduced academic performance. She was the last of the children. There was some fatigue present in the parents. Guiding a young teen these days in the midst of COVID-19 is no small feat yet her story is not so different from the many I have heard.
As her story unfolded, she did not eat at regular times. She did not exercise or get outdoors at all. She was up most of the night on her cell phone then she and her parents wondered why she was tired when it was time to get up for school. She did not eat fruits or vegetables. She suffered from constipation.
I informed them that their daughter was nutritionally depleted, and sleep deprived. She was also sun deprived. They agreed to review the need to monitor her eating and sleeping habits. Her phone was not to be available after 9 pm at night. Getting back to the basics is the beginning of hope and change.
We are human beings with a body and brain that have the most basic of needs. If we neglect them, there are consequences. Mental health challenges often show up before the body starts to break down in the young but often in the adult, both physical and mental problems can exist due to years of neglect.