Expert Profile - Marisa Serrato
Dr. Marisa Serrato
MD, FAPA, Integrative Psychiatrist
Clinical Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Illinois at Chicago
Associate Medical Director and Content Editor at Psychiatry Redefined
Founder of A Nourished Mind
Diplomate of the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology
Diplomate of the American Board of Integrative Holistic Medicine
Certified Clinical Nutritionist
Benson Henry Institute Stress Management and Resiliency Training Certified Healthcare Practitioner
Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association
Dr. Marisa Serrato’s Bio:
Dr. Serrato is originally from Chicago. She attended Amherst College for her undergraduate education, and received her medical degree in 2001 from Baylor College of Medicine. She started her residency at Allegheny General Hospital, and finished at the University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics, where she also completed one year of fellowship training in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. She further specialized in College Mental Health by completing a fellowship in college mental health at the Ohio State University Counseling and Psychological Service.
Dr. Serrato is board certified as a Diplomate of the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology, a Diplomate of the American Board of Integrative Holistic Medicine, and a Certified Clinical Nutritionist. She is also a Benson-Henry Institute Stress Management and Resiliency Training (SMART) Certified Healthcare Practitioner.
Dr. Serrato has also completed Ayurveda Training for Health Professionals through the Maharishi Ayurveda Association of America, training in hypnotherapy through the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis, training in Auricular Acupuncture through the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, and is a Divine Sleep® Yoga Nidra Teacher and Five Element Yoga® Teacher.
Dr. Serrato is currently a Clinical Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Illinois at Chicago, where she provides supervision for psychiatry residents. She has served the student population at multiple universities, and most recently was on staff at the UIC Counseling Center from 2009-2021. She currently provides psychiatric services in private practice and specializes in consultation services using integrative and functional psychiatry approaches to augment a patient’s primary psychiatric treatment. She also offers an 8-session resiliency training program to help participants learn strategies to better manage stress and improve their health and quality of life. Dr. Serrato also serves as the Associate Medical Director and Content Editor at Psychiatry Redefined, a functional psychiatry educational platform founded and developed by Dr. James Greenblatt.
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?
Sometimes people in my personal life comment on my tendency to analyze situations and people’s behavior and wonder if this is because I am a psychiatrist. I usually share that I believe I became a psychiatrist because of who I am rather than being who I am because I trained as a psychiatrist.
From an early age, I was naturally curious about people, emotions, and behavior. While growing up, it seems that I was magnetized towards those who were suffering or needed help. Whether it was a friend coping with family issues or their own personal challenges, I was driven to understand and support them. I was fulfilled by the connection and purpose that I found through helping people. However, I also learned along the way that I could be consumed by my empathy. It took me some time to understand how this tendency could deplete me and impact my relationships. It would require experience to figure out how to achieve the balance that would be needed to sustain a career in a helping profession.
When I was in college, a classmate with whom I had worked closely completed suicide. This experience brought to my reality one of the most devastating consequences of mental health problems. Already knowing that I wanted to pursue a career in mental health, and having majored in Psychology, this confirmed my interest in dedicating my career to the mental health field, as well as in working with the college population.
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 I have grown personally and professionally, I have been continually acquainted with people’s challenges and suffering. I find it a privilege to be invited into people’s lives and given the opportunity to help them find hope and relief. Having the opportunity to work with people coping with a wide range of issues, I am in awe of the perseverance and resilience that people can achieve in their lives through the obstacles they face. I believe that the interventions that I recommend as a psychiatrist are small compared to the power of the alliance that is formed with a patient.
When and why did you decide to actually focus on practicing Integrative Psychiatry, specifically, and how was your decision shaped by the experiences above?
During my residency, I witnessed firsthand how medications had an important — and sometimes life-saving — role in the treatment of psychiatric problems. At other times, unfortunately, I could also see its limitations as well as the associated risks and side effects.
Early in my training, I was naturally drawn towards holistic approaches to treatment, but I did not have the exposure required to know how to pursue a career in integrative medicine, let alone know that such a field existed and was accessible to an allopathic-trained physician.
In the middle of my residency in 2003, I attended a course called “Natural Remedies for Psychiatric Disorders: Considering the Alternatives” at Massachusetts General Hospital. I was eager to apply these newly learned strategies. However, without the professional experience or mentors to model how to integrate this knowledge into practice, it would take me some time to apply these approaches into my work with patients.
Later in my residency, a more senior and well-respected psychiatrist under whom I trained to practice ECT discussed a case with me in a which a patient with life-threatening, treatment-resistant depression had found relief when his treatment was augmented with SAMe and other nutrients. I also attended a retreat for residents in which we engaged in meditation and received acupuncture treatments. Later, as a Fellow, I had the fortune of working with a highly respected psychiatry supervisor who was trained in Qigong and offered introductory experiences to trainees. At the time, these practices were quite foreign to my otherwise very conventional training, but they served as breadcrumbs that I followed to begin my path towards integrative medicine.
In 2013, after practicing for several years after I completed my fellowship training, I was able to connect with like-minded colleagues and finally found a community with whom I could continue to explore and nurture my interests in holistic medicine. I pursued certification through the American Board of Integrative Holistic Medicine and my journey was catapulted. I was enthralled with everything that I had learned, and fulfilled that I was applying all of the medical knowledge in which I had invested in medical school. Over the years, I have delved into multiple trainings and certifications in clinical nutrition, functional medicine, Ayurveda, hypnotherapy, auricular acupuncture, meditation, mind-body medicine, and integrative psychiatry. I pursued fellowship training in functional psychiatry when it was offered by Dr. James Greenblatt through Psychiatry Redefined beginning in 2018. My learning is ongoing and I can not imagine practicing psychiatry without these approaches in my toolbox.
What methods or practices do you utilize to help individuals get/feel better?
My practice currently specializes in providing consultation services using integrative and functional psychiatry approaches to augment a patient’s primary psychiatric treatment. Through a comprehensive approach and evaluation, I evaluate a person’s unique biochemical and psychological individuality as a means to potentially identify the root causes of their symptoms. Once uncovered, these issues can be targeted in treatment. By treating these underling issues and following recommendations regarding lifestyle, nutritional interventions, the possible use of nutrient therapy, as well as mind-body medicine practices, a person may be able to experience enhanced improvement of their symptoms and, in some clinical circumstances, possibly minimize the need for treatment with medications. My consultation services include a comprehensive review of completed questionnaires and rating scales, laboratory evaluation (including routine and functional lab tests), and a clinical interview.
As a Benson Henry Institute Stress Management and Resiliency Training Certified Healthcare Practitioner, I also offer an 8-session resiliency training program which teaches participants how to increase stress awareness, how to elicit the relaxation response, and adaptive strategies to better manage stress and improve their overall health.
I am committed to educating and empowering each person with the knowledge and tools they need to optimize their mental wellness and maximize their quality of life.
How did people react when you share this Integrative/Holistic approach with them – whether it be patients or other doctors?
Fortunately, I have been surrounded by like-minded colleagues who have embraced my integrative approaches. Not only has pursuing integrative medicine been fulfilling to me professionally, it has provided my patients with a whole-person approach to their treatment which has at times minimized or eliminated the need for treatment with medications, or provided the relief that was not being achieved through treatment with medications alone. Patients who are particularly interested in integrative approaches are usually relieved to be informed about approaches to their treatment which go beyond treatment with medications.