A Conversation with Holistic Integrative Psychiatrist David London, MD
After 34 years in clinical practice in Waterford, Connecticut, in 2018 Dr. David London opened a second office in Westport, bringing his holistic integrative psychiatry approach to a new population. As part of our mental wellness issue, we asked him to tell us about his journey from conventional Western medical training (he is an
assistant professor of psychiatry at Yale) to the integrative mindset he now has toward his patients.
When did you first realize you had a passion for understanding the workings of the inner mind?
At the age of 12, I read Viktor Frankl’s book, Man’s Search for Meaning, and was fascinated. I wrote a paper for English on the “History of Mental Illness” and a paper for senior high on the Etiology of Schizophrenia. I was intrigued about psychoanalysis and mental illness throughout college and medical school and read widely in those areas. A course on Motivation and Personality in college and reading about the third force in psychology—the psychology of
being—and the works of Abraham Maslow was inspirational.
Were you always interested in the role mental wellness plays in overall well-being or was that connection something that developed over time?
The mind-body-spirit connection happened for me when I began practicing yoga at age 18, and Transcendental Meditation at 19. This was about the time the first health food store appeared in our town. I went with my dad, who always enjoyed reading Prevention Magazine. The only produce they had was very large, organic carrots. We appreciated the special taste and energy of organic carrot juice. My first elective in my first year of medical school was nutrition.
Do you recall when/how you began to recognize the pot-ential of holistic practices for improving mental wellness?
In 1980, I was at Esalen in Big Sur, California for a workshop on Holistic Medicine and was introduced to a wide variety of modalities. It was brilliant. In 1984, I developed a physical condition that didn’t respond to conventional medical treatment, so tried acupuncture with a woman who was very spiritual. After my first acupuncture treatment, the symptoms were gone. I started training in acupuncture for physicians several years later. That was the real beginning of developing a holistic practice. I moved past the mind-body split of conventional medicine and began integrating spirituality into clinical practice.
What challenges did you face while integrating holistic modalities into your clinical practice? How were you able to overcome them?
Trying to understand the framework for holistic practice took a long time. Thinking through the connection between conv-entional psychiatry and energy medicine was a challenge. I finally came to understand that at any moment, there are four simultaneous worlds co-existing and communicating with one another—body, heart, mind and spirit—each with their own language. They each manifest differently, with different energies and frequencies.
It wasn’t until 1993 that the National Institute of Health established the Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. So in the ‘90s, Connecticut had limited acupuncture, and the medical profession and public had very limited knowledge of its benefits. In 2000, things really began changing. The reception—by the public and mainstream medicine—has grown exponentially. So my integrative holistic psychiatry practice has been well received, especially over the last 15 years.
Which holistic modalities do you use with your patients? Are there other modalities you’re interested in but have not yet explored or don’t yet offer yourself?
I’m trained in Chinese and Western Herbal Medicine, as well as Functional Medicine, allowing me to provide more options to clients. Training in contemplative psychotherapy—both mindfulness and compassion practices—has shifted my psychotherapy work, which also can include Buddhist and psychoanalytic psychology.
Currently, I’m in the middle of a yoga teacher training program, and look forward to offering yoga therapy. Movement and breathing are critical in achieving a healthy lifestyle and overcoming illness.
I am interested in the whole body and the ecology of our environment, constantly avoiding reductionist, single-cause thinking. In the early ‘80s, I was doing forensic psychiatry—evaluating people with multiple chemical sensitivities from working in sick buildings with poor heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems full of toxins from bacteria and mold. Many colleagues were quick to label these people as having only psychological problems. I learned early in my career not to label someone when I didn’t understand the cause of their problems or couldn’t find an answer in my knowledge base.
I have grown comfortable with uncertainty and leaving my mind open to the possibility of something I’m not aware of contributing to the problem. This has been the primary motivator for my ongoing educational development and growth as a clinician.
What do you most want Natural Awakenings’ readers to know about your work and approach?
Everything I do is individualized and personalized. I work intuitively and listen deeply to people. I believe in cultivating a positive, caring relationship that can hold the person as they experience their suffering. This is the centerpiece of my work. Medication has a place, but it is not the whole solution. Lifestyle, diet and nutrition, exercise and stress management, herbs, vitamins and nutrients, energy medicine... all have much to offer.
Thinking systemically and being process-oriented, there are many pieces to the puzzle that need to fit together. I strive for comprehensive evaluations. I value small, positive steps toward health and wellness. I try not to label and put people in a diagnosis “box”. I have been trained to value a developmental approach, having a strong foundation in early development, childhood and adolescence, family and community, and various stages of the life cycle. I prefer to see things as evolving over time, and with the right ingredients, people can come into homeostasis and balance. Collaborating is a shared journey; at best, I am only an optimistic guide. Change is always possible, but can be challenging. To come out of darkness requires our willingness to come into the light.
For more information or to schedule a consultation with Dr. David London in his Westport office, call 203-557-6574 or visit DavidLondonMD.com. See ad, page 41.