First INIMH-Sponsored International Exchange on Integrative Mental Health Care

July 23, 2013
James Lake, MD

Volume 30, Issue 7

INIMH is continuing the important work of building bridges between clinicians from different cultures and countries, with the goals of exploring novel treatments and models of care for the benefit of our patients.

[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_crop","fid":"15709","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image media-image-right","id":"media_crop_403782192593","media_crop_h":"0","media_crop_image_style":"-1","media_crop_instance":"790","media_crop_rotate":"0","media_crop_scale_h":"139","media_crop_scale_w":"160","media_crop_w":"0","media_crop_x":"0","media_crop_y":"0","style":"float: right;","title":" ","typeof":"foaf:Image"}}]]The International Network of Integrative Mental Health (www.INIMH.org) is a global non-profit organization dedicated to advancing whole person mental health through education, research, networking, and advocacy. As a founding board member and the outgoing Chair of INIMH, I am very pleased to announce the successful completion of the first INIMH-sponsored exchange on integrative mental health care.

A central part of the mission of INIMH is to build bridges between mental health professionals from different cultures and countries through exchanges that allow direct contact between clinicians and researchers with diverse perspectives and backgrounds.

It is through the direct exchange of ideas, opinions, and experiences at a personal level that mental health professionals can learn from one another by sharing insights about models of care and clinical methods used in different countries, including both strengths and weaknesses of conventional and integrative treatment related to efficacy or safety. Most important, open dialogue on mental health care between clinicians and researchers from different countries helps us build consensus on how to improve models of care and treatments and create opportunities for collaboration that will benefit patients in many world regions.

The week-long exchange that took place in Havana from February 17 to 23, 2013, was an inspiring beginning for all of us. The first 2 days of the Cuba-US exchange were taken up with site-visits to 4 outpatient clinics in Havana where integrative approaches are commonly used to treat mental health problems. We toured these facilities, met with clinic directors and staff, and engaged in lively dialogue about all aspects of patient management. The second part of the exchange involved in-depth discussions on a range of issues pertaining to methods and safety; integrative management of depressed mood, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and substance abuse; and special issues in children, adolescents, and the elderly.

We discussed and occasionally debated our diverse theoretical and clinical perspectives on the rational use of pharmacological agents, psychotherapy, and the range of complementary and alternative ther-apies (in Cuba these are labeled “natural and traditional medicines”). Each discussion was facilitated by one American and one Cuban mental health professional. We were honored by the participation of thought leaders in the Cuban mental health system and high-ranking academics representing the Cuban Ministry of Public Health.

Learning about one another’ interests and perspectives through formal discussions about mental health care as well as informal social gatherings engendered strong feelings of mutual respect. We soon realized that our shared values far outweighed any differences in clinical training, experience, or ideology. Though for the most part we communicated through interpreters in English and Spanish, it soon became clear that our common language was the language of compassion for all those who suffer from mental illness and that we had the same commitment as mental health professionals to do all possible for the benefit of our patients within the constraints of our disparate societies, economies, and models of care.

At the conclusion of the exchange, Cuban participants were invited to join INIMH at no cost. A Spanish-language forum has been created on the INIMH Web site to provide a context for discussions and planning of collaborative projects with our Cuban colleagues as well as mental health professionals in other Spanish-speaking countries.

Notes from all discussions have been incorporated into an extensive Proceedings that is currently undergoing final edits. The Proceedings will be translated into Spanish and English, and Spanish versions will be available in our www.INIMH.org library and in the US-Cuba forum created for this project.

Throughout the exchange, we talked about opportunities for collaboration in research and education. At present, we are in the early phase of planning a second Cuba-US exchange in Havana as well as a conference in the US to continue the dialogue on important issues in integrative mental health care raised during the initial exchange.

Riding on the success of this first international exchange on integrative mental health, the board of INIMH envisions many future exchanges in all world regions, including Asia, South America, Africa, Europe, and the Middle East. I would like to extend a cordial invitation to mental health care professionals from diverse backgrounds to join INIMH in continuing the important work of building bridges between clinicians from different cultures and countries, with the goals of exploring novel treatments and models of care for the benefit of our patients.