At first thought it might seem that spirituality has nothing to do with mental health, psychiatry, or therapy (or perhaps everything to do with it?).
The word “spiritual” might conjure up a variety of feelings and images for you, perhaps some positive or maybe not-so-positive.
This week I’m sharing an interview with Veronica Couture MD, who is an integrative psychiatrist at Pacific Integrative Psychiatry.
Dr. Couture is a board certified psychiatrist who has completed fellowship in integrative psychiatry along with training through the Andrew Weil Center for Integrative Medicine.
In this discussion, we’re exploring the role of spirituality in mental health.
Dr. Couture is sharing:
✓ The vital role of spirituality in mental health
✓ Why working with a psychiatrist who incorporates spirituality into their practice can provide deeper healing
✓ How she incorporates spirituality into her work with patients
If you’d like to see Dr. Couture for psychiatry or therapy, give us a call to learn more about her services. She is able to see patients online in California and Washington state.
Nishi Bhopal: In today’s episode, we’re talking to Dr. Veronica Couture. Dr. Couture is an integrative psychiatrist here at Pacific Integrative Psychiatry. And if you’d like to learn more about optimizing your mental health and wellbeing, go ahead and subscribe to this channel. I’m Dr. Nishi Bhopal. I’m an integrative psychiatrist and sleep physician, and I’m the founder of Pacific Integrative Psychiatry.
We see patients all across California via telemedicine, and we specialize in helping people with depression, anxiety, burnout, and sleep disorders. So today we’re talking about spirituality and mental health, which I think is a really fascinating topic. So, Dr. Couture, I’ll turn it over to you. I’d love to just hear a little bit more about your background and why you’re interested in this topic of spirituality and mental health.
Dr. Veronica Couture: Yes. Thank you. Dr. Bhopal. So yes, I’m an integrative psychiatrist and I do work mostly with [00:01:00] folks that need help with anxiety, depression, sleep issues, and trauma actually find a lot of trauma deep down there. And one of the things that fascinates me about people is the mystery of what’s behind their eyes.
You know, what is their authentic self, and what does their spirit tell me? I love a mystery and I love to explore the edge of what we know. And I’ve always just wanted to know more.
Nishi Bhopal: That’s so beautiful. And I love how you put that, the mystery behind their eyes, because, you know, when we talk about spirituality, it’s such a deep topic, and it means different things to different people, and you know, sometimes when we use this word spirituality people might think of new age things like using crystals and things like that, or they might think in terms of organized religion, but those are two kinds of extreme ends of the spectrum and there’s a lot in the middle. So I’d love to hear what spirituality means to [00:02:00] you.
Dr. Veronica Couture: Well, basically it comes down to the seeking of meaning, of purpose, of connection, and transcendence. We do think about religion, like you said, and metaphysics, and those can be forms of spirituality. Absolutely. There are many paths to achieving spirituality, including religion. And in fact, the root of the word religion is legate. Which means to bind, eliga, and when religion is good, it binds a person to their authentic self and others as loved creatures of God.
Nishi Bhopal: That’s really beautiful and so interesting too about the root of the word religion meaning to bind because if we also think about other forms of spiritual practice that notion of binding or of union is quite prevalent. And so I’m thinking about yoga and how in Sanskrit, the root of the word yoga means union.[00:03:00]
And it’s about union with the mind, body, spirit, and forces greater than oneself. So it’s interesting to see those parallels there.
Dr. Veronica Couture: Yes.
Nishi Bhopal: So. Okay, when we’re talking about spirituality, as you were saying, there are lots of different aspects to it. How, and why is spirituality important when it comes to mental health and overall well-being?
What is the role of spirituality?
Well if you imagine, and we’ve all been through this, but having an illness, whether it’s physical or emotional, maybe it’s heartbreak and experiencing adversity, it can be isolating. It could be draining of your energy and your spirit in a way we can look at it that way and it can make. You wonder, why is this happening to me? It can make us feel wrong in the world and make us doubt why we’re even here. What are purposes? And I think that we need to feel that our suffering has meaning and that we have a purpose in the universe. We need to feel that we belong and that [00:04:00] we’re not alone.
So, having spiritual beliefs and practices can help. Provide this and lessen the load that we carry.
Yeah. And I like how you frame that, that it can help us make sense of things that don’t make a lot of sense in life lots of things happen that that logically don’t make any sense. So having a spiritual framework or practice can absolutely provide comfort and just a different level of intelligence and understanding, I think in life.
Dr. Veronica Couture: Yes. Yeah.
Nishi Bhopal: And it’s interesting as well to see how Spirituality in psychiatry is, is changing. There was a time when it just wasn’t part of the work that we do, and, now the pendulum is swinging in the other direction. so how do you incorporate spirituality into the work that you do with patients?
Dr. Veronica Couture: There are a lot of ways that this can be done. But first of all, I take the time to ask about it, which we don’t always do in medicine. You know, we ask a lot about the facts but we don’t take this into account. And I think it’s really important that we do. So, in my assessment and in [00:05:00] my planning for treatment, I do take this into account.
You know, sometimes folks have spiritual beliefs or practices that have given them comfort in the past, but they’ve grown away from that and just need a reminder that that relationship is still there when they need it. Sometimes a person’s beliefs can be a source of pain or fear, and, that can be explored, it can be fruitful.
Another example is if I know that my client is of a particular faith, I might suggest that we recruit a holy person in their faith to assist in their healing.
Nishi Bhopal: And that’s really a culturally sensitive way to approach care based on the person’s. You know, cultural background and their experiences and the role that spirituality plays for them.
And I also appreciate how you mentioned that for some people, it can be a painful course for them, especially if they grew up in maybe a religious household that didn’t align with their authentic beliefs.
Dr. Veronica Couture: Oh, yes.
Nishi Bhopal: Could you speak a little bit more about that? [00:06:00]
Dr. Veronica Couture: Yeah, so, you know, I come from the Catholic tradition that was my cultural religion. And, you know, for somebody it may, if they don’t fit in if they, if they don’t align, their authentic self doesn’t align with, the spiritual beliefs. It can definitely cause isolation, fear, shame, and fear of being judged, not just by their community, but by a higher power.
And that can be, that can be crucial, exploring that and, and helping a person regain or find that feeling of connection and love and, unconditional love.
Nishi Bhopal: Yeah, that’s, it’s much, that’s such a powerful process for a person to go through. And so I’d love to hear a little bit more as well about how you might work with a patient to connect with, you know, using spirituality in there, in the work that you do with them.
If they don’t necessarily have a spiritual practice or spiritual belief, [00:07:00] how might you navigate that?
Dr. Veronica Couture: Yes, that’s pretty common, actually. And what we might do is we might talk about those things that help them to feel connected, that help them find meaning in their experiences and purpose in their life.
So it could be all sorts of things. You know, it is very individual. And that’s one of the fun things about talking about this. So it could be family. It could be nature, music, art, dance. For some people, it’s animals. It’s it can be activities like surfing or rock climbing or something like rebuilding a motorcycle. I mean, you can find spirituality in amazing places.
Nishi Bhopal: That is so true that it doesn’t have to be, you know, what I traditionally think of as a spiritual practice. And again, you know, sort of using yoga and meditation as an example. One of the tenants that is spoken about is. That you become meditative, you become spiritual, that it’s not a separate practice, [00:08:00] it’s not like, okay, I’m doing my, you know, practice for 10 minutes or five minutes or whatever, or an hour in the morning.
It actually becomes a part of your life and it’s woven into everything that you do.
Dr. Veronica Couture: Yes, I agree. I’ve noticed that as well. And, you know this, the spirituality is, it’s whatever gets you into the flow, you know, that feeling when you were at peace, there was no resistance, there’s no space or time.
Nishi Bhopal: Yes, yeah, that’s, yeah, and that that’s kind of a feeling that can be quite elusive for people sometimes.
Dr. Veronica Couture: Yes.
Nishi Bhopal: I think most people have experienced that at one point or another and, so how might you encourage someone to, or, you know, guide someone to experiencing that flow?
Dr. Veronica Couture: Sometimes it’s identifying where they felt that before, and that can trigger a memory and we can pursue that further. Or sometimes it’s in trying something new, which you know, a lot of benefits to that in itself.
Nishi Bhopal: Right. Yeah, absolutely. So, what [00:09:00] about, personally, what are some spiritual practices that you engage in or that you find helpful? I love to talk about this because I find so much benefit from it and I’ve seen so much benefit just, you know, over the years and increasing my peace of mind and feeling more present for my patients.
And even lowering my blood pressure amazingly you know, I can’t promise this for everybody, but that’s what I feel it’s, it’s really helped me win. And I’d love to share about my own one of my own practices. So most days, especially after work I go to the woods behind my house or if I really need powerful healing, I’ll go to the shore as I live on a bay. One of the first things I do is to give gratitude, for what I’ve been blessed with. And that depends on what, you know, whatever it is on that day. It’s not always the same thing. And sometimes it’s, it’s very just very basic things, you know.
And, and then I ask for [00:10:00] assistance. With whatever I need help with I do a cleansing ritual where I imagine that with The breath that I inhale, I pull up the energy of the earth, up through my feet, through my body, and as I exhale, I imagine pushing it up through my crown, up into the sky, and then as I inhale again, I pull a healing white light down through my crown, through my body, and as I exhale, I push it down through my feet, down into the earth, and next, I lovingly release any energy that I have.
It’s not my own that I’m carrying with me or that I no longer need from myself or my property. And I asked my spirit allies to heal these energies. And finally, I feel myself surround myself and my home with a protective bubble of light. And I just wrap it up by saying, and so it is, or amen. And [00:11:00] I give thanks one more time.
Gratitude is, is such a powerful practice. And as you’ve just described. It’s very simple. It doesn’t take a lot of time. It doesn’t take any special training or equipment or resources or anything like that. It’s something that people can practice on their own. And for anyone listening, who’s kind of data-driven. it is shown that practicing gratitude can actually help with sleep. it can help with reducing depression, and anxiety, spirituality in general is shown to help improve symptoms of depression and anxiety and it also helps instill feelings of awe and compassion in people, which can be quite helpful for mental health and wellbeing.
So that, that was a beautiful practice that you just shared and I’ll just also reflect, on what you were saying about what you’re grateful for. It’s different every day. And I think that’s important because sometimes when we’re doing a gratitude practice if we were [00:12:00] saying the same thing every day, it can start to lose meaning.
Dr. Veronica Couture: Right.
Nishi Bhopal: And we, we don’t pay as close attention because we’re just kind of going through it like a checklist.
Dr. Veronica Couture: Yes.
Nishi Bhopal: That’s really reflecting on the day and what’s happened and what’s been offered to you that day.
Dr. Veronica Couture: That’s right. There’s not just the saying of it, which is important. The words, and the vibration of the sound are important, but also the feeling and experiencing that gratitude.
Nishi Bhopal: Yes. Yeah. And something I recommend to people as well if they’re so inclined is to write down what they’re grateful for. Especially for people who find journaling helpful. It can be helpful just, to write that down, and then you can go back in the pages and reflect and, and remind yourself of, oh my goodness, there are all these things in my life to be grateful for, or another exercise is sometimes recommended to people is to write it down a little post-it notes. And then, like, each thing that you’re grateful for one, one per note, and then put them in a jar. And if you have a family or a partner, you can all participate in that. And then once in a while, open the jar and take the pages out [00:13:00] and, or the little bits of paper out and, and review them and it can be a fun communal activity as well.
Dr. Veronica Couture: I love that. That’s a, that would be a great thing to do with with kids.
Nishi Bhopal: Yes. Yeah, definitely. Is there anything else you’d like to share about your personal practices or maybe practices that you share, spiritual practices that you share with patients?
Dr. Veronica Couture: So as I work with folks, I do use spirituality in a variety of ways that you may not even know that I’m doing it. And in the sense of. What I do is much more than occupation. It’s a calling, right? And I believe that the relationship between doctor and patient, which is an ancient one, is a sacred relationship.
So I see a whole person in front of me, mind, body, spirit. Here now and everywhere and every time. So, I recognize the eternal spirit within you within your physical body. And I think that’s really important. [00:14:00] I’ll be sure that I’m right spiritually when we work together so that I’m not carrying the emotional energy from myself.
From other clients that I’ve had during the day, I can best hold that space for you and only you when we’re working together. And, we would work within, you know, a person’s spiritual or religious beliefs and integrate that into the healing plan. Otherwise, we might discover new beliefs or practices together.
So, for example, we can create together a spiritual practice, rituals, or ceremonies that are meaningful. We can explore spiritual experiences that a person has had, whether they were positive or negative.
Nishi Bhopal: And it truly is a personalized approach. There is no one-size-fits-all approach that, okay, everyone needs to do a gratitude jar now, or anything like that.
It really, It’s tailored to the person in front of you. And as you said, the person might not even know that it’s a spiritual practice or that you’re incorporating those elements. But you’re really looking at [00:15:00] how to leverage the tools that the person has already and how to build new ones that are aligned with their lifestyle and their beliefs.
Dr. Veronica Couture: Yes.
Nishi Bhopal: So what are the benefits of working with a psychiatrist to understand spirituality? Because after discussing this is not something that, you know, is necessarily part of psychiatric treatment or therapy not all doctors take this kind of approach. So what, what’s the benefit of working with a doctor who does take this approach?
Dr. Veronica Couture: Well, we go deeper into the root of whatever it is, my client is working on. So if it’s depression, you know, what is the root cause? And a lot of times you know, events that may have happened in childhood that may have affected their attachment with their primary caregiver, their parents, for example, or maybe a traumatic event it helps to view it, not just As how is this affected the nervous [00:16:00] system? The nerves, the chemicals in the body. How did it affect the heart? I think that is the basis of really what we’re doing in psychiatry is we are treating the heart. Not this physical heart, you know, so we need a language and a system to talk about these things that are not physical, that are not tangible, but yet play a role in our well-being and in our illness.
Nishi Bhopal: Yes. And, absolutely. And, you know, again, tying that back to concepts in yoga and Ayurveda, in traditional Chinese medicine as well, they say that the mind is actually in two places. Like in Western medicine, we think of the mind as being in the brain, right? In the head. Whereas in traditional systems, they say the mind is in two places, it’s in the head and it’s in the heart.
Dr. Veronica Couture: I have no doubt.
Nishi Bhopal: Yes. So, if people are interested in learning more about you or are working with you because you see patients across California by [00:17:00] telemedicine, how can they find out more?
Dr. Veronica Couture: Yeah, so if folks are interested in learning more about how I work with clients and utilize spirituality in healing you can go to our website, the Pacific Integrative Psychiatry website, and find out more.
Nishi Bhopal: Excellent. Yes. So we’ll put the link in the video description below and we’ll also put the link on the screen here.
So it’s pacificintegrativepsych.com. Dr. Couture is accepting patients for integrative psychiatry, which is really a whole body, whole person approach to mental health. It includes medication management when that is appropriate and it includes other modalities as well including some of the ones that we’ve spoken about today. We do offer a free 20-minute call.
So if you’re not sure if this approach is right for you, you can schedule a call with our intake coordinators and they will help you assess your situation and see if we’re the right fit for your needs. So again, [00:18:00] you can check out more on our website. Dr. Couture, thank you so much for being here today.
I’m really grateful for you and really grateful that you’ve been able to share some of your experience and wisdom with us today. So I appreciate your time.
Dr. Veronica Couture: Thank you so much. I’m grateful for having this opportunity