Expert Profile - Sarah Schmidhofer
Dr. Sarah Schmidhofer
MD, Integrative Psychiatrist
Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine
Associate Medical Director for the UPMC Center for Integrative Medicine
Registered yoga teacher at the 500 hour level with an additional “master” teacher certification from ISHTA Yoga in New York
Dr. Sarah Schmidhofer’s Bio:
Dr. Sarah Schmidhofer is a board certified psychiatrist and assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. She serves as the Associate Medical Director for the UPMC Center for Integrative Medicine, and sees patients in Intensive Outpatient Program’s at Western Psychiatric Hospital She completed her psychiatric residency as a chief resident at Brown University, and was inducted into the Gold Humanism Honors society in 2012. She is a registered yoga teacher at the 500 hour level with an additional “master” teacher certification from ISHTA Yoga in New York, and holds several other specialty yoga certifications (advanced meditation training, trauma sensitive yoga teacher training, Sudarshan Kriya and others). Her practice focuses on the integrative management of psychiatric conditions, with a particular focus on yogic meditation and breath work, in addition to management of medications. She has written a book chapter on the use of yoga for pain management for a Pain Management textbook.
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?
Between college and medical school I was afflicted with Lyme disease, and had a prolonged course of illness, including neurologic symptoms. At some point, I reached the edge of what Western medicine was able to offer, and turned to alternate healing modalities which not only helped with symptoms relief, but helped with acceptance as well, a critical element of healing. I decided to go to school to be a yoga teacher before attending medical school, to better understand that which was so helpful to me. This experience shaped my desire to go practice integrated medicine, though at the time I did not yet know I wanted to practice psychiatry specifically. Ultimately, part of what drew me to psychiatry was the profound way in which yoga could be helpful in this field.
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?
Experiencing a poorly understood prolonged illness and then having the experience of taking the reins to my own healing through yoga and meditation was transformative. While our current medical system often focuses on “fixing” or “solving” problems from the outside, this period of my life taught me about our own innate abilities to heal, and connected me to others who helped me learn more in this domain.
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 went into medical school knowing that I would be practicing in an integrated way. It seemed to me that none of the systems I had learned about (Western, Eastern, other) had all of the answers, and that to achieve healing for most individuals, a combination of approaches would be required.
What methods or practices do you utilize to help individuals get/feel better?
I use a combination of medication, yoga (including meditation and kriya, or breathing techniques), light therapy, lifestyle changes (such as sleep, exercise, pleasurable activities and diet) and brief psychotherapy. Treatment is tailored to each individual based on needs, preferences and available local resources.
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.