Expert Profile - Lauren Schwartz
Dr. Lauren H. Schwartz
Integrative Psychiatrist, Founding Partner of OKCPsychiatry
Diplomat of the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology
Recipient of the Scott Schwartz Award through the American Academy of Psychoanalysis and Dynamic Psychiatry
Current Fellow of the Integrative Psychiatry Institute
Dr. Lauren Schwartz’ Bio:
Dr. Schwartz is Board Certified in Psychiatry by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology and is a Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association. She is an advocate for mental health in the state of Oklahoma and has volunteered her time as an Executive Council Member of the Oklahoma Psychiatric Physicians Association for the past 8 years. She is active with the Central Oklahoma Psychiatric Society, the Oklahoma County Medical Society, the Oklahoma State Medical Association and the American Medical Association. In addition to completing residency at the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Oklahoma College of Medicine, Dr. Schwartz completed a course in psychoanalytic theory through the Oklahoma Society for Psychoanalytic Studies to continue education in one of her areas of expertise, psychodynamic and psychoanalytic psychotherapy. In 2013 and 2015, she was published in the Journal of The American Society of Hematology, “Blood”, and has been actively involved in ongoing research in the area of depression and anxiety in patients diagnosed with chronic blood disorders.
Prior to her career in medicine, Dr. Schwartz danced professionally as a company member with The Sacramento Ballet, Ballet Pacifica and Ballet Oklahoma (now Oklahoma City Ballet). She also performed as a guest artist with the Lyric Theater of Oklahoma. She now utilizes her previous experience as a professional dancer to provide psychiatric and psychotherapeutic support to athletes, dancers and other sports-oriented individuals at every level and advocates for mental health and wellness in all athletic communities.
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?
From Dancer to Doctor
My path to psychiatry was a nontraditional path but one that fostered a passion for mental health and wellness that I would not have developed otherwise. In some ways, I have lived a life surrounded by psychiatry and mental health advocacy. My father, with whom I am currently in private practice, is a psychiatrist, and one who has approached psychiatry from a mental wellness perspective throughout his entire career.
The direct assumption would be that I have always wanted to follow in my father’s footsteps. However, as much as I love my family and my dad, this could not have been further from the truth. At least, it was not my truth right away.
Even into my 20’s, when most of my peers were buttoning up premed undergraduate degrees and applying to medical schools, I had no idea I would end up in medicine, let alone psychiatry. From age 5, my entire world was ballet. During my senior year in high school, I was offered my first professional ballet contract. My career began locally, with Ballet Oklahoma (now Oklahoma City Ballet). I went on to dance with Ballet Pacifica, in Irvine and then I joined the Sacramento Ballet. As I approached retirement, I began to contemplate what would come next and decided to pursue a degree in psychology. As a professional dancer, I was sadly never surprised at how neglected mental health was in a world that was dedicated to athletic and artistic excellence and knew that psychology could provide a way to continue to be involved in the preforming arts.
I loved psychology, minored in art therapy, but knew I had further to go on my academic path. I made the decision to pursue medicine to specialize in psychiatry, which, I found, was also ‘not the norm’. I was repeatedly told that no one ‘chooses’ to go into psychiatry if they have the grades to pursue ‘real medicine’. I was told I was throwing away my academic accomplishments when I pushed back. At one point, I was told by an attending that I clearly was not committed to medicine if I didn’t at least consider other specialties. However, I loved mental health and knew it was where I belonged. I have never stopped being passionate about it, learning about the human mind, brain, the brain-body connection and sharing my knowledge with others.
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?
When I first started my practice in 2013, I envisioned a practice dedicated to Sports Psychiatry and eating disorders (prevalent in many performing arts and dance-related professions). However, what I found was that my ability to speak dual languages, that of a dancer as well as a doctor, allowed me to reach a tremendously more diverse population than I had originally anticipated. Over the years, I have discovered that the common thread allowing individuals to benefit from connecting with a mental health specialist isn’t a disease or a disorder, nor is it one particular career path or specialization; it is being human.
I began applying what I loved most about ballet to mental health. I did enjoy performing. I was drawn to the stage, the lights, the live orchestra and the chance to share the experience with a live audience. But what I loved most was the process. I loved daily company classes, during which we conditioned our bodies and minds. I loved rehearsing, repetition, practice and seeing beauty develop through hard work, sweat and at times, tears (along with laughter, support from directors, choreographers, fellow dancers and guest artists). To me, the art was in the process not simply the product. Now, in mental health, instead of focusing on “fixing” or “treating”, I work with individuals on practicing new approaches to life, relationships (with self, through self-awareness and compassion, and others), approaches to ongoing circumstances or challenges they are dealing with (current challenges or challenges of their past).
I have always pictured myself changing the landscape of mental health awareness and treatment but was never sure how. Seeking mental health care should be no different than seeking preventative care from your primary care doctor, optimizing your physical performance with a trainer at your favorite gym or taking a class from a university or yoga studio. But as a society, we are not there yet. We have not figured out how to reach out before the storm hits or before we are in the midst of the health crisis and I have been drawn to #SameHere for these reasons.
When it comes down to it, mental health is important to every single human being on the planet.
It is intricately woven into our physical health, the health of our relationships (with others, ourselves and our past). It affects every aspect of our day. How we wake up, the lens we look through as we approach each day, our motivation, our energy, our bandwidth to handle stressors, known as well as unknown, positive stressors as well as negative, the way we interact with our families, our friends, our colleagues and even those strangers that we pass on the highway or in the grocery store.
We have come a long way in mental health, but my path to and with mental health care and advocacy continuously reminds me that our current system has a long way to go it terms of how it teaches us to treat patients with mental health challenges and I am committed to be a part of the change.
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 began being curious about Integrative Psychiatry long before I recognized that it was a specialty. As a dancer, I was constantly seeking ways to connect mind, body and spirit as well as to utilize natural or complementary treatments for ailments (both physical and mental). After completing medical school and residency, I was drawn to Integrative Psychiatry and pursuing a fellowship, as it appeared to provide a wonderful balance of complementary and traditional treatments. I have a great respect for evidence-based medicine and treatment, I feel strongly that patients must be provided with adequate, sound information to make safe, informed decisions about their treatment. Additionally, I had become increasingly frustrated by the number of “trendy” clinics popping up, promising quick fixes and “all natural” remedies, leaving patients in dangerous medical/mental health/personal predicaments with little to support informed decision-making moving forward. Patients would come to me after being stripped of all medications or started on dangerous combinations of expensive supplements with little understanding of what they were for or why they felt so bad. I am currently a fellow of the Integrative Psychiatry Institute and look forward to expanding my knowledge to better treat my patients, provide a better consultation service to other physicians and health care providers and inspire others to invest in integrative education.
What methods or practices do you utilize to help individuals get/feel better?
As an outpatient psychiatrist and psychotherapist, I provide a comprehensive, integrative approach to mental health which includes a psychodynamic approach to therapy as well as medication support if needed. I challenge my patients to work with me (as opposed to passively being treated by me) to focus on a proactive, preventative approach to their mental health. I encourage them to be an active participant in their care. My philosophy is that it is paramount, as a psychiatrist, that I focus not on mental “illness” and overt, visible symptoms alone but on my patients as individuals seeking a higher quality of mental health, self-awareness and relational connectedness.
How did people react when you share this Integrative/Holistic approach with them – whether it be patients or other doctors?
I have received a wide range of reactions to sharing an integrative approach to medicine and psychiatry. Some patients are thrilled to know there are many non-medication-based or non-traditional treatment options, especially if traditional medicine has not worked well for them. Others are shocked to find that I provide therapy along with medication management. Many patients and providers in our region have little exposure to integrative approaches to health and wellness and I hope to change that.
Organization: Oklahoma City Psychiatry
Location: Oklahoma City, OK, 73131
Address: 9401 N. Kelley Ave., Suite A,
Tel: (405) 755-4700