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Introduction: CAMs and the Future of Mental Health Care

Introduction: CAMs and the Future of Mental Health Care


The professional dialogue on complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) has made little progress after decades of research because no single conceptual framework embraces the diverse understandings of health and illness embodied in the world’s healing traditions. An important practical consequence of this is the absence of consensus on “best practices” in medicine and in mental health care. Clinicians are left with the task of examining the evidence for CAM therapies to judiciously guide patients to modalities that are safe and effective for maintaining emotional and mental well-being or treating specific mental health problems.

CAM therapies are already widely used to treat or self-treat mental health problems. Many of our patients use herbal medicines, essential fatty acids, vitamins, or other natural product supplements—often in the absence of reliable information. Many others are receiving treatment for a mental health problem from acupuncturists, Ayurvedic physicians, massage therapists, and a variety of CAM practitioners. It is significant that many patients who use CAM therapies also take prescription medications for depressed mood, anxiety, bipolar disorder, a substance abuse problem, insomnia, ADHD, or another mental health problem. The majority of individuals who use such integrative approaches do not disclose this information to their mental health care provider, resulting in treatment delays, poor outcomes, and potentially serious safety issues.

CAM research findings are leading to many safe, effective, and affordable nonpharmacological approaches for maintaining optimal well-being and treating specific psychiatric disorders. The contributors to this 2-part Special Report represent the vanguard of a movement that is transforming mental health care. They are visionaries who have expertise in a variety of CAM approaches that are being actively investigated in rigorously designed studies and implemented in clinical settings. Collectively, their work is shaping the future of mental health care in the US and globally.

The articles in part 1 of the Special Report provide concise reviews of important research findings and clinical applications of mindfulness meditation, breath practices, and uses of CAM therapies for perinatal depression. The CME article this month is an in-depth review of EEG biofeedback (ie, neurofeedback).

Part 2 of this Special Report will include articles on CAM therapies for children and adolescents with mental health problems, the impact of zinc and magnesium deficiencies on depression, an update on fatty acids and minerals for maintaining well-being and treating psychiatric disorders, and mind-body-spirit medicine for PTSD.

The CAM therapies reviewed in this Special Report do not obviate the need for psychotherapy or medications; rather, they add to the limited armamentarium of biomedical psychiatry and provide mental health providers and patients with a variety of safe, evidence-based treatment choices. In the coming decades, the increased use of evidence-based CAM therapies in mental health care should provide a range of safe and effective treatments for depressed mood, anxiety, ADHD, and other common mental health problems. As adjuncts to conventional psychotherapy or pharmacotherapy, CAM therapies can improve outcomes, enhance our patients’ quality of life, and reduce the high costs associated with mental health care.


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