Expert Profile - Nesrin Abu Ata
Dr. Nesrin Abu Ata
MD, Integrative Psychiatrist, Founder of Mind;Alchemy, Board Certified Psychiatrist & Family Medicine Physician
Current Fellow in Integrative Psychiatry through Integrative Psychiatry Institute
Completed Additional Integrative Training through Center For Mind Body Medicine
Completed Training at the Harvard Program in Refugee Trauma
200 Hour Registered Yoga Teacher
Dr. Nesrin Abu Ata’s Bio:
Born and raised in Israel, Dr. Abu Ata understands firsthand the experience of trauma personally, and how it is stored in the body and transmitted to the next generation. She grew up speaking four languages and understands how the world is experienced differently through each person’s unique cultural lens. She grew up watching her grandmother use spiritual practices and traditional healing methods for ailments, including herbs. Being part of a minority that fell in the 2% of the population, she has an appreciation of the untold and hidden stories due to fear and misunderstanding.
She went to Ben Gurion Medical School in Israel, with an emphasis on global health and worked with diverse populations in their native languages. She completed dual training in both family medicine and psychiatry at the University of Iowa and subsequently completed training at the Harvard Program in Refugee Trauma with Dr. Richard Mollica. She has also trained with the Center for Mind Body Medicine and worked with different underserved populations, such as veterans, refugees, asylum seekers, youth at risk, transitional youth, youth in foster care, and different American Indian tribes. She has completed 200 hours of yoga instructor training and enjoys teaching different types of meditation and movement practices. She is also a practitioner of Reike and Shamanism.
Dr. Abu Ata believes that as one Hopi elder once said, “We are the ones that we have been waiting for.” This belief has helped her shift from the victimhood and helplessness mindset to recovery and wellness. Dr. Abu Ata brings mindfulness, movement, spiritual and cultural practices to traditional psychiatric care, creating a bridge connecting the mind and the body. On this bridge, patients experience personally meaningful alchemy.
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?
My life challenges have been two folds. First of all, I grew up in Israel where I and people close to me were exposed to trauma.
Although many of us healed over time “physically”, the trauma itself left a lasting impact “mentally and emotionally”, which was not addressed under the conventional medical system. This inspired me to pursue a career in psychiatry.
In addition, when I was an adolescent, I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. I had to learn to be in tune with how my physical health impacted my mental and emotional health and came to appreciate the connection between the mind and the body. In order to cope with the physical & emotional challenges as a result of Multiple Sclerosis, I learned to incorporate Traditional Chinese Medicine, Tai Chi, Qigong, Yoga, Other Energy Medicine, and Movement Modalities. Learning about the Mind-Body-Connection along with the science behind using integrative healing modalities, leading to my pursuit of a Dual Residency in Family Medicine & 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?
In terms of growing up in Israel with the experience of trauma, I understood personally that if trauma is not transmuted, the transmission occurs transgenerational. I have experienced transgenerational trauma transferring over to me and saw myself transferring it to the next generation, and I wanted that to stop. The current system does not address personal and transgenerational trauma, therefore perpetuating the cycle of transfer.
In terms of how having multiple sclerosis affected me, I felt tremendous shame and a sense of failure as a result. Other adolescents and young adults were able to do physical activities I wanted to participate in but couldn’t due to my physical limitations. At a young age, I had to learn how to live in a body limited by chronic disease, and yet still engage with life at a different capacity. What took someone else less effort to do, I had to invest a lot more energy physically to do.
Furthermore, going to medical school and the grueling demands of two residencies that required continuous hours of call, with no to minimal sleep was difficult. This added to my sense of frustration about my disease in addition to developing feelings that I did not live up to the medical systems expectations. I sometimes literally hobbled around on hospital rounds due to multiple sclerosis, feeling broken and ashamed of “walking funny”. While my neurologists managed the disease, they didn’t help with learning to live with a chronic disease, how it affected my sense of self, how to capitalize and cultivate the strengths that I already had, how to mourn my physical losses, yet also appreciate the gifts that it brought me, how to learn about other nontraditional modalities to maximize my health, including nutrition, movement practices.
Being both a patient and a physician, I saw how the healthcare system was focused on coming up with the correct diagnosis and prescribing medications, and then moving on to the next diagnoses. No two patients have the same “illness”, even though they may have the same diagnosis. The medical system provided cure but not care. It addressed the immediate physical need, but not how physical illness impacts patients emotionally and mentally. It also failed to address the “Mind-Body Connection” that any chronic disease brings on.
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 have been practicing integrative psychiatry since I was in residency, though I did not call it that. In medical school, I began looking at how different diets interact with Multiple Sclerosis and what supplements may help with mitochondria health. However, it wasn’t until I finished residency that I had the time to invest in learning and practicing Yoga, Qi Gong, Thai Chi, and different Breath Work Exercises. About three years ago, I also did training with the Center for Mind Body Medicine that gave me tools to use to address the mind-body integral connection, along with further training with the center about how diet influences physical and mental health.
What methods or practices do you utilize to help individuals get/feel better?
I meet patients where they are at, with a patient-centered approach and using motivational interviewing. I focus on learning about patients’ strengths and values and work with their inherent inner wisdom.
I integrate conventional psychiatric care with evidence-based non-mainstream therapies. My comprehensive approach involves addressing lifestyle (relationships, exercise, sleep, nutrition), mental health (core values, spirituality and trauma history), and physical health (including gut-brain health). I offer mind-body medicine (movement practices like Yoga, Qigong, Tai Chi, different forms of Meditation, Biofeedback); psychotherapy (such as Tapping, Somatic Experiencing, Hakomi, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, Dialectal Behavioral Therapy, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy); energy medicine (Reike, Shamanic Practices); medications and nutritional counseling.
How did people react when you share this Integrative/Holistic approach with them – whether it be patients or other doctors?
Patients react with a sigh of relief and appreciation. Many times, patients have already tried different approaches but felt alone and isolated in their search for wellness. People feel validated, supported, empowered, seen, and heard through this comprehensive approach.