Holistic Mental Health Practitioner: An interview with Tyler Woods, Ph.D.
By Cathy Sivak Naturopathic Schools
“These groups offer a great deal of support, information, research and networking,” she notes. Tyler Woods began to work as a psychotherapist for clinics as well as in a private practice. She felt that traditional counseling did not explore alternatives for mental health issues. "I believe that mental health is about not just the mind, but the body and soul,” she says. “Holistic health is about listening to the clients’ needs, asking questions and allowing them to participate in their healing.”
As a result of the collision of her beliefs with the traditional medical establishment, in 2004, she retired as a psychotherapist to focus on holistic mental health. Her practice, Mindhance Wellness, aims to help people heal from mental health issues like depression, anxiety, addictions and insomnia while learning how to change their lives through positive healthy living habits. In addition, Dr. Woods uses her holistic approach to facilitate the Southern Arizona Survivors of Suicide group. Her practice focuses on examination of the physical, mental, emotional, spiritual and energetic dimensions of individuals to help them work towards an optimum balance of health and wellness.
Dr. Woods & Her Career
What factors in your social services career drove you to return to school to pursue mental healthcare opportunities outside of traditional western medicine?
I discovered that social services think mono-dimensionally. They do not encompass the mind-body-spirit connection, and humans are multi-dimensional by nature. I burned out after realizing that nothing really changes in social services. However please know social services have a great place in our healing.
Tell us about your experiences during your career shifts from social services to psychotherapist to holistic mental health practitioner. What led you to give up your clinic work to concentrate on your private practice, the Mindhance Wellness?
So many people in the field seemed more concerned about malpractice suits than client care. Therapists were talking about how to protect themselves rather than how to help their clients. They were stressing about how to please the behavioral health board and working with clients as if they were very fragile because of the fear of getting sued. I once worked at a clinic with a client who was depressed and felt lost spiritually and who did not want to go on drug therapy. I suggested Omega fatty 3, and we talked about ways in which the client could get in touch with the spiritual self. The client called the clinic to thank me, and my boss called me to say, “You cannot suggest alternatives to our clients.” I knew at that point that I had to leave the field. I retired as a psychotherapist and put my Doctor in Philosophy in Holistic Health to work.
Who (or what) are the biggest inspirations for your career?
I facilitate the Survivors of Suicide group. It is a group for people who have lost a loved one to suicide. Several people told stories of their loved ones’ depression, and how traditional drugs made things worse. One survivor said to the group, “if only they would have talked to him instead of drugging him.” That story had such an impact on me. But my biggest inspiration came from a friend of mine who was bi-polar. Her psychiatrist had her on nineteen different medications. She had tarda dyskinesia, her speech was impaired and the quality of her life was horrible. Each time we talked, her psychiatrist had changed her medications. One day she called and said she was feeling a little better; once again her medications had been changed. A few days later, I received a call that my friend had committed suicide. She had used her newest medication to accomplish this action. She remains my biggest inspiration.
What do you enjoy most about your holistic role in patient care?
This is simple. Watching them get better and heal.
What unique challenges and rewards come from working with your patients in an independent holistic care setting? With your facilitation of the Southern Arizona Survivors of Suicide group?
There is a great deal of challenge working in an independent setting because it is just that, independent. With that said, the rewards are wonderful. I can pick and choose the modalities that best suit the people I work with. I do not have to follow the guidelines of some clinical director. I can allow and encourage the client help direct their own care and listen to their feedback. Many times, the client just needs to be heard. With Survivors of Suicide, well, mainly the rewards are sharing with these people that grief and loss is holistic period. It encompasses the mind body and spirit and that the journey is about looking for the possibilities through tragedy. Many Survivors of Suicide have post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) because they found their loved one’s body. Medication is often used to treat PTSD. Approaching PTSD holistically helps the survivors realize they have a variety of options available to treat their PTSD symptoms such as meditation, guided imagery, certain herbs for sleep, and amino acids for anxiety and stress. Survivors like knowing they have a choice because when it comes to losing a loved one to suicide, their choice in the matter had been taken from them.
What are some of your personal and/or professional goals for the future?
A goal I am currently working on is starting a general wellness program and incorporating it into the mental health system. If people only realized that what we eat impacts depression, that exercise aids in anxiety and depression, and that self-confidence and self-esteem decrease mental health issues. In our current mental health system, we treat and street. We drug people. The government gives them money to live on, and the psychiatrist instructs them to come back every three months for a med check. No one teaches these people proper diet. No one tells these people that exercise is simple and helpful. No one allows people in the mental health system the chance to achieve overall wellness. So my current goal is to finish writing the wellness program and then try to incorporate it into existing mental health programs. Funding seems to be the real issue, so who knows what will happen, but it is a goal. I also want to write a book. I am in the middle of a book now, but it has nothing to do with holistic health. It is actually a comedy about being born deaf and then getting my hearing back and learning how to be a real person in a hearing world. It’s actually quite funny. Eventually, I want to write a book about holistic mental health. I believe holistic mental health is all about choice.
Describe a typical day of work for you. On a basic level, what skills does your job demand?
What I love about my work is it changes on a daily basis. One of the first things I do upon meeting a new client is get a medical and mental health history. Then I give the client an eating journal and ask them to track their food intake. I remind them that I will not be looking at it, that I just want them to begin to notice how food influences their moods. I am a huge advocate that what we put in our mouth affects our biology and our moods. I pay attention. That is where being a retired psychotherapist comes in handy. I watch my clients and I can tell if they are uneasy, if they have anxiety or if they have depression. The body carries a great deal of information. I listen carefully to their health symptoms. I believe if there is an issue, it is in the tissue. Normally if a client comes to me with depression or anxiety issues, they leave with a regiment of alternatives to help them with their symptoms. The skills that I really use are compassion along with an understanding of mental health issues, and the knowledge needed to develop a program combining supplements and a diet designed to meet a client’s needs.
Can you describe a patient care anecdote that exemplifies your holistic practice?
I had a female client in her 40s. She had been on a variety of medications for over half her life for depression and anxiety. She had been in traditional therapy for years. Still, she was unable to function with her depression. Medications would work for a brief period of time, but she said the effects “wore off” eventually or side effects such as weight gain and digestive problems became too much for her, so she would take herself off the medications. She also experienced insomnia and was afraid to take medication for this condition because of the fear of becoming addicted to the sleep aid. I suggested a regiment of high doses of Omega 3 and GABA for the anxiety and Calms Forte for her insomnia. We also made several changes in her diet. Within a few weeks she was sleeping better and her anxiety was much better, but the depression was still paralyzing her. We added folic acid to the supplement mix and began to explore her spiritual path. We slowly added swimming to her regiment. Now we are working on her spiritual self, her mental self, and her physical self. She realized that she always worked on either her mental health or physical health, but rarely worked on them both. Once she added a spiritual component to it, she stated she felt her treatment was very well rounded. Five months later, she started working and is now married and doing well.
What are the tools of the trade that you use the most? Favorite gadget?
Hope is the best tool of this trade. I can’t say I use a gadget. I’ve used vitamins, herbs, education, love, spirituality, insight and ritual. Ritual is a great “gadget.” Giving a client an item to hold onto is a wonderful tool as well. A rock, a healing stone, a crystal, something with positive energy that they can hold onto, goes a very long way.
What contributions do you feel the naturopathic profession has made in society?
Again, choice. It gives people a choice in their health care. Medicine has become an assembly line for the HMO companies. Doctors are allowed to spend something like 7. 5 minutes with each patient, and then bring out the prescription pad and write prescriptions. They no longer spend time asking important questions or suggesting alternatives. Holistic health is about listening to the clients’ needs, asking questions and allowing them to participate in their healing. The other huge contribution is holistic medicine doesn’t just mask symptoms, it heals!
How did you decide to study holistic psychology, counseling and holistic health? How did you find your schools?
By accident! I was going to go to school to be this great psychotherapist and heal the world. In my first semester I took an anatomy class. Because I had taken nursing before, I asked the school why I needed anatomy, the advisor said just take it. So I did. I told the instructor I already knew anatomy. She said, “Really, then which chakra is the kidneys in?” I had no clue what she was saying. What was a chakra? The instructor healer Judith Cohen who embraced me and worked with me for over four years. It was through my apprenticeship with her that I discovered holistic psychology and healing. The school I went to is an alternative learning school. I did not go to a degree factory. The school challenged me to think outside the traditional box. So I did. I'm going to open a school one day as well.
What did you like and dislike about your holistic/naturopathic education? How did it build on your previous educational experiences in the field of social work? How did it differ?
I did not dislike anything. Nor did it differ from my other education because as I said I went to an alternative school for both my BA and MA. The college wanted you to take a chance and take risks to reach out and learn beyond what traditional learning would have asked. I used to work at a clinic at which I supervised psych interns. Again, the social service field is really cut and dry. There is no room for a holistic point of view as much as follow the directions whether the client likes it or not. So for me, the big difference is about choice versus no choice.
What do you know now, that you wish you knew before you pursued your education in the mental healthcare field?
Great question! I wished I would have known several things. First, I wish I had known that being in the mental health field means pleasing a board and not the client.
What factors should prospective students consider when choosing a school? What should students expect from a holistic mental health curriculum? How available are hands-on learning experiences?
Here is the main thing to remember: pick a school that has accreditation! Expect a well rounded curriculum. Make sure there is an internship involved. Make sure there is a great deal of homework. Make sure there are days and weeks, even months, when you say, “This is the hardest thing I have ever done.”
How do you feel that the naturopathic, holistic and overall medical system could be changed to better serve society?
I wish there was more malpractice insurance for us. It is difficult to find an insurance carrier specifically suited toward holistic mental health. It makes it more valued in our society. I think holistic mental health should be explored more thoroughly in the media. Medical shows, and news shows about medicine, but it is not often we focus on the positive aspects of alternative health in prime time.vWhat I really wish, though, is that more medical doctors would refer their patients to holistic health providers. It is rare to hear a doctor say “Yeah, go see Dr. Tyler Woods, she will suggest that you incorporate some Omega fatty three, GABA and follow a good diet to improve your general well-being. All I can offer you is a prescription for Zoloft.”
What are some common myths about the naturopathic/holistic healthcare profession?
Just today someone said to me, “Did you hear someone died from mixing vitamins?” I smiled and said, hmmm one person died today from taking vitamins huh, well 250,000 people die each year from adverse side effects of their medication, which means 684 people will die today from their medication. So tell me, why is it so important that we pay attention to the one person that died from a supplement? That is the myth. We are told we are quacks; that we are undereducated, that we are witches, or as someone once called it “voodoo.”My favorite myth is “supplements and vitamins just give you expensive urine.”
Has the popularity of the Internet affected your profession?
Oh yes, it has increased my services. Yeah for the Internet! It is a great and affordable way to advertise as well.
How is the job market now in the naturopathic field? How do you think it will develop over the next five years?
I live in Arizona. So of course I think it isn’t that great here. We are getting better. Since I specialize in mental health, and not just health, it is different for me because most people have such a taboo around mental health issues, now mix that taboo with holistic health…..need I say more? That won’t stop me though, because I believe holistic mental health works and so do my clients.
What other career advice can you offer future naturopathic and holistic healthcare specialists?
Be patient, excuse the pun! It is not like you go to school and come out and find the perfect job in this field. It in fact is a competitive field. There is not an alternative clinic on each street corner like there are doctors’ offices. The other important thing is to specialize. You can’t know everything and be good at it, so know some things and be the best at it. Again, it takes time to establish a name, allow yourself the time it takes be become good at what you do. If you are good at what you do, then you will succeed.
Is there anything else you can tell us about yourself, your career, or the profession that would be interesting or helpful to others aspiring to succeed in the field of naturopathic and holistic mental healthcare?
It’s a new field. It is cutting edge. The pharmaceutical companies will be going out of their way to make this difficult for us. What if proper diet prevents ADHD, or if acupuncture relieves stress, or if massage helps with insomnia, or if amino acids help with depression and fibromyalgia? The pharmaceutical companies do not want that to happen because they stand to lose billions and billions of dollars. There will be a fight ahead of us because the FDA wants to prohibit the sale of certain supplements. It could be that one day we will require a prescription for vitamin C. So the best thing we can do is be sincere to our practice, and be exceptionally informed about and good at what we do, because in a way “the whole world is watching.”
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