How to Become a Holistic Psychiatrist

Holistic psychiatry is a specialized branch of psychiatry based upon the principles of holism, which states that a person is an integrated whole and that the body, mind and emotions are interconnected. Therefore, in treating mental illness, a holistic psychiatrist looks at the total picture instead of just the psychiatric symptoms.

A patient’s diet, lifestyle, physical condition, mental health and emotional state are examined before a treatment plan is enacted. The object of holistic psychiatry is to support the body’s inherent ability to heal itself by removing the barriers that prevent healing.

Unlike many conventional psychiatrists, who rely heavily upon prescription drugs for their patients, holistic psychiatrists only use drugs as a last resort, because of the dangerous side effects many psychotropic drugs are subject to.

Antidepressants, for example, can cause a patient to develop suicidal behavior or bi-polar disorders; antipsychotic medications can cause diabetes or obesity; and lithium can cause kidney failure or thyroid problems.

While drugs can relieve the symptoms of mental disorders, they can’t really deal with the roots of these problems. This suppression of symptoms lends a patient a false sense of being healed, leading to a dependence upon these drug medications. And the side effects of these drugs can cause other problems, leading to an endless cycle of drug use.

Holistic psychiatrists believe that mental diseases and disorders are caused by an imbalance in the system, and if they can restore this balance, they can heal the disorder.

While holistic psychiatrists use conventional psychotherapy, they also can, depending upon the training and preferences of the therapist, use or prescribe many unconventional treatments like nutritional supplements, neural therapy,

Alexander Technique, homeopathy, energy medicine, detoxification, acupuncture, EFT, ACMOS and other non-invasive methods of therapy. Most holistic therapists also stress proper nutrition and exercise.

Treatment plans are individualized, geared toward the needs and preferences of the patient. Patients are empowered to take an active role in their problems in order to eventually gain control of their problems themselves.

Work Environment

Because holistic psychiatrists are unconventional in their methods, they seldom can find work in conventional hospitals or psychiatric facilities that emphasize the use of pharmaceuticals. This is doubly true because certain serious cases of mental illness seem to require tranquilizers or other drugs.

Many holistic psychiatrists set up their own private practice. These therapists are free to set up comfortable and homey offices that are well-suited to the informal approach that nicely suits clients who are drawn to unconventional psychiatry. This type of environment offers the relaxed atmosphere that promotes psychological healing and growth.

Another option for holistic psychiatrists is to work for a holistic or alternative health care institution. Because most holistic psychiatry patients require alternative medical care or therapy, this option is especially convenient for these patients.



Psychiatry is a highly competitive field, so students must aspire to get good grades throughout high school and college in order to gain admission to medical school. The four-year bachelor’s program normally features pre-med courses, while also including subjects like biology, chemistry, anatomy, psychology and physiology. It’s also advisable to take courses in methods of alternative healing, where possible.

After attaining a bachelor’s degree, students enter a four- or five-year medical school program, normally choosing to study for a Doctor of Osteopathy degree instead of a Doctor of Medicine degree, because osteopaths stress the use of holistic medicine. After receiving a degree, students receive additional medical and psychiatric training in a residency program, often lasting four or five years.

Some psychiatrists attend a school where they’re able to combine their medical school training with their graduate school psychiatric training into one program, cutting the amount of time they need to spend in school. Others are able to combine their undergraduate and medical school into one program, which likewise shortens the over-all educational process.


During residency training, students gain hands-on experience in both conventional and holistic techniques of psychiatry. They diagnose ailments and administer various treatments under the supervision of a licensed psychiatrist. They prescribe and administer a wide variety of pharmaceuticals, and also learn various techniques of psychotherapy and diagnose.

Licensing and/or Certification

All psychiatrists must get a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) or a Doctor of Osteopathy (D.O.) degree, as well as a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) degree.

Because psychiatrists write prescriptions for pharmaceuticals and deal with seriously ill patients, they must become licensed physicians and must get certified by the Federal Bureau of Narcotics. They must also get a license as a mental health counselor.

Necessary Skills and Qualities

Psychiatrists must be sympathetic listeners who can draw reticent patients into talking about their problems. But at the same time, psychiatrists must be objective and detached, able to discern fact from fiction and to read between the lines of what the client is saying. Psychiatrists must balance empathy with dispassionate evaluation.

Opportunities for Advancement

Psychiatrists who work in health care facilities of various types can advance to an administration position. Those who teach or perform research at schools can become department heads. Those who are in private practice can learn new health care skills to expand their clientele.

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