Expert Profile - Patricia Gerbarg
Dr. Patricia Gerbarg
MD, Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, New York Medical College and International Pioneer for Clinical Psychiatry
Integrative Psychiatrist and co-founder of Breath-Body-Mind, whose workshops have served thousands of stressed and traumatized individuals globally.
Dr. Gerbarg has Co-authored 75 publications, and Co-Authored the Award Winning Book: The Healing Power of the Breath
Dr. Patricia Gerbarg’s Bio:
Patricia L. Gerbarg, MD, assistant clinical professor in psychiatry, New York Medical College, graduate Harvard Medical School and Boston Psychoanalytic Institute, practices Integrative Psychiatry and serves on the APA CAIM task force. She also serves on the Board of the American Botanical Council. Her research focuses on mind-body practices for stress, anxiety, PTSD, depression, and mass disasters, including the 2004 Southeast Asian Tsunami, 9/11 World Trade Center Attacks, Gulf Horizon oil spill, veterans, first responders, and survivors of war, genocide, and slavery in South Sudan, Nigeria, Rwanda, and Myanmar (Bangladesh).
Dr. Gerbarg and her husband, Dr. Richard Brown, developed The Breath-Body-Mind Program based on their studies of mind-body interventions, their workshops serving thousands of stressed and traumatized individuals, their experience over 40 years in clinical practice, as well as their post-disaster relief programs. She is the Program Director for Breath-Body-Mind Workshops and Teacher Trainings. Breath-Body-Mind programs for children and families are being used for children at-risk and refugees in the US and other countries (see: www.nolimitgen.org).
Dr. Gerbarg has co-authored 75 publications. She and Dr. Brown are award-winning co-authors of Non-Drug Treatments for ADHD and The Healing Power of the Breath. With Dr. Phillip Muskin, they wrote How to Use Herbs, Nutrients, and Yoga in Mental Health. Dr. Gerbarg is the first editor of the textbook, Complementary and Integrative Treatments in Psychiatric Practice, American Psychiatric Association Publishing, 2017, winner Nautilus gold book award in psychology. For further information, please visit Breath-Body-Mind.
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 father, Dr. David Gerbarg, a very active physician and chief of medicine at our local hospital, encouraged me to become a doctor at a time when very few women went to medical school. As a child, I rode in the car with him when he made house calls and early morning trips to the hospital. For me, that was quality time as we could talk about everything that was happening. From him, I heard stories about a courageous woman psychiatrist he knew, about how she handled violent patients, and about how she rescued a man by rappelling down a mountainside. In retrospect, these stories were probably to provide a role model for me, as there were so few women doctors in our area.
Dad always said that practicing medicine was 40% medical and 60% psychological. When I was 13 years old, he gave me a textbook of psychiatry to read. That might have been a subtle nudge in this direction. Although I was baffled by some of the vocabulary, nevertheless, Strecker’s Fundamentals of Psychiatry deepened my understanding people and their behaviors. Two members of my family suffered from depression. My father took care of them. He helped me understand what they were experiencing and the treatments they were receiving. During medical training, I was more interested in seeing people as individuals rather than as diseases. Some people prefer certainty in their work. I don’t. When you practice psychiatry you never know what will happen each time you open the door and invite a patient into your office. Every treatment is a unique creative collaboration between the psychiatrist and the patient.
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?
Seeing how much my father loved his work and how intensely he cared for his patients affected me. He instilled a sense of professionalism, of absolute responsibility to provide the very best care to every person. Beyond giving medical care, he took the time to know about the lives and personal problems of his patients. I have never accepted limitations on the necessary treatment imposed by insurance companies or healthcare systems. I have fought these limitations and found that when a doctor forcefully fights for a patient’s need for additional treatment and doesn’t back down, eventually the treatment is approved. However, this has become increasingly difficult and time-consuming.
When and why did you decide to actually focus on practicing Integrative Psychiatry, specifically, and how was your decision shaped by the experiences above?
Having a traditional medical education at Harvard and then the Boston Psychoanalytic Society, I had no interest in complementary and alternative medicine during the first 15 years of practice. My perspective changed when I became severely ill from Lyme Disease. Over a period of five years, many specialists at top medical centers missed the diagnosis and refused to prescribe antibiotics until I became an invalid in constant pain, mostly bedridden and cognitively impaired. The neurological damage and pain persisted, even after I was finally given a course of antibiotics. Conventional medicine had nothing to offer. My husband, Dr. Richard Brown, using medicinal herbs and nutraceuticals, restored my cognitive functions, and enabled me to recover my health. Many doctors only try CAIM when they or a family member has acquired a serious illness for which there is no conventional cure.
After recovering my abilities to read and think, I dove into learning as much as I could about complementary and integrative treatments. I felt that these treatments saved my life. Since then I have worked hard to study, write, and teach others about Integrative Psychiatry.
What methods or practices do you utilize to help individuals get/feel better?
My husband (also an Integrative Psychiatrist) and I are committed to teaching consumers how to use herbs, nutrients, mind/body practices alone, or in combination with the best biological and psychotherapeutic approaches to achieve the best results.
We developed a neurophysiological theory to understand how mind-body practices can be used to treat stress, anxiety, insomnia, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, ADD, depression, and other conditions. Based on these studies, our research projects, and our clinical experiences, we developed polyvagal-informed, breath-centered mind-body practices that could quickly be taught to large groups of people during and after mass disasters to help them recover and become more resilient.
How did people react when you share this Integrative/Holistic approach with them – whether it be patients or other doctors?
Over the past 20 years, I have seen a change. More and more people are open to talking about their emotional struggles and trying complementary and integrative approaches. When I practiced traditional psychiatry, I rarely told people I was a psychiatrist because I didn’t want to make them uncomfortable. Some people think that psychiatrists can read their thoughts. Now, however, I often talk about my work and find that most people, including the men and women who do lawn work or construction or fix the wifi or provide online services, are very open and interested. They usually tell me about their stress or anxiety or depression and they want to learn more about the treatments we use.