In this episode, we discuss:
- Naim’s background in psychiatry
- Psychiatry from an evolutionary lens
- The Hope model
- The role of psychoactive substances in the Hope model
- Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma, by Peter Levine
- When The Body Says No: Exploring the Stress-Disease Connection, by Gabor Maté
- The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma, by Bessel van der Kolk
- Spiritual Emergency: When Personal Transformation Becomes a Crisis, by Stanislav Grof and Christina Grof
- Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging, by Sebastian Junger
- DMT: The Spirit Molecule: A Doctor’s Revolutionary Research into the Biology of Near-Death and Mystical Experiences, by Rick Strassman
Hey, everybody, Chris Kresser here. Welcome to another episode of Revolution Health Radio. This week, I’m really excited to welcome Dr. Omid Naim as my guest on the show. Dr. Naim was born in Tehran, Iran, just before the Iranian Revolution in 1978. This early childhood experience of trauma shaped appreciation of how unresolved trauma and grief can lead to chronic illness in an individual and family and how easily it gets neglected as the root cause of so much mental illness in our society.
His family experiences of being part of a large, interdependent, extended family and community also informed him of how belonging and meaning are the foundational pieces of healing and health. This is what he shares with others by building spaces, movements, and institutions that sustain our health and resilience through self-empowerment, community, and meaningful values.
I couldn’t agree more with the sentiments expressed in Dr. Naim’s bio, and I’m really looking forward to this conversation. So let’s jump in.
Chris Kresser: Dr. [Naim], it’s really a pleasure to have you on the show. I’ve been looking forward to this.
Omid Naim: Thank you. Great to be here, looking forward very much.
Chris Kresser: So let’s just start with an overview of your background and how you came to practice integrative psychiatry and embrace the approach that you’re currently engaged with. Because this is obviously a nontraditional approach in the field. And I’m curious how you got to where you are now.
Dr. Naim’s Background in Psychiatry
Omid Naim: Yeah. So there’s been a lot of evolutions. But my starting point, I always say, is going through the best universities and getting what was the best training in psychiatry and valuing it very much, but not seeing people really getting better. And I was training at the height of, still is, the height of medication and the chemical imbalance theory, as the core fundamental of psychiatric treatment and seeing the real limitation and how far that was really helping people go. It seemed like nobody was truly recovering, and this idea of becoming stable was the best we could do.
And then, I went into training, specifically to work with children and to work with high-risk youth and foster care kids. That was my main focus. And in that world, it became even more, I think, the gap in what was the hope and what were the results was even wider, where you really saw this obvious, that the histories of these kids, severe abuse, severe neglect, multiple placements out of the home, usually abuse and neglect in foster homes, as well, which people don’t know about. And there was no discussion about trauma and stress and the effects of these experiences being the root cause. And we were still just being taught to medicate for genetic chemical imbalances, diagnoses like bipolar disorder, conduct disorder, that maybe made sense of the symptoms at best, but they weren’t really leading people to get better. So the starting point for me was just that it was really clear that we were missing something. And I got into; a big turning point for me was reading a book by psychologist Peter Levine called Waking The Tiger.
Chris Kresser: Yeah, my wife is a somatic experiencing practitioner, so I’m very familiar with that work.
Omid Naim: Oh yeah. So that’s right. It’s like, that’s his field. And I tell the story all the time that I went five years through mental health training, psychiatry training. And it was only when I read that book that I was taught that emotions are in the body. We’re in a very top-down cognitive, mental-oriented culture. And we don’t appreciate common sense anymore, that feelings are things that happen in our bodies that we experience. And then to understand trauma through that lens of how we hold in our bodies experiences that were too much, overwhelming, and we didn’t have the conditions, the relationships, the environments that would allow us to move through those experiences with integrity. And so then we hold it in our bodies. And that idea of the mind-body connection and mind-body medicine, eventually took me toward integrative medicine.
Chris Kresser: What’s interesting is that I think most people have had lots of direct experiences of the mind-body connection. Let’s say somebody has to give a speech in front of a bunch of people, and they feel the butterflies in the stomach. It’s in our language, too, butterflies in our stomach, or I’ve got a gut feeling, or they have a particularly stressful week, and they come down with a cold after that. But somehow, that direct experience that most people have isn’t really translated into or reflected by the scientific literature or the conventional approach to a lot of these conditions.
So do you think that that’s, in your training in psychiatry, was that just not even on the radar, or was it on the radar, but they just didn’t really know what to do with that, so they were pursuing a more reductionist approach?
Omid Naim: Right. Not on the radar at all. It was even, you’re saying, “butterflies in the stomach,” and then the extreme of that is people who get serious stomach aches or chest pain from anxiety. And those people were further pathologized as, okay, they’re somaticizing, which means that they’re making a psychological issue. They’re making it something that’s in the body, which is really implying that it’s in your head. Right?
Chris Kresser: Right.
Omid Naim: That’s the other thing, you have people come in, and you’re invalidating their experience. They’re like, “I already feel like I have a problem. And now you’re looking at me like I have more of a problem even [than] that,” right? I do think it’s reductionism. We can be so grateful for what scientific reductionism has done in the modern world, producing angiograms and stents.
Chris Kresser: Microchips.
Omid Naim: Right, yeah. But it’s the way we reduce what you said right there, “direct experience.” The [reduction] of experience into pieces, I think, has left us more and more disconnected from common sense, actually. And you can really track technology, technological advancements, since the Industrial Revolution, and the rise and peak and now epidemics of mental illness and chronic health conditions. And I think they’re related because I think the more we reduce our experience into less and less direct experience; we’re cutting ourselves off from that feeling of aliveness and connection that helps us feel safe, and also helps us feel whole and full. And I do think the core of it is a misread [of] what human nature really is about.
Mental health disabilities have increased by more than 550 percent in the last 70 years, despite an unprecedented rise in psychoactive medicine use. In this week’s episode of RHR, I welcome integrative psychiatrist, Dr. Omid Naim, to discuss the foundational pieces of healing and health: belonging, meaning, and connection. #chriskresser #mentalhealth
Psychiatry from an Evolutionary Lens
Chris Kresser: That’s really fascinating to me because, as you may know, I tend to look at health through an evolutionary lens. And if we look at this through an evolutionary lens, and, of course, there’s a whole field of evolutionary psychiatry now. But human beings evolved in close-knit tribal social groups, where we had that sense of belonging and meaning that was built into our lives. We had traditional ways of dealing with trauma and stress that may not be recognized as valid by the current medical establishment. But certainly, there was a way that people who are going through what we would call mental illness or challenges were held and not pathologized. And sometimes, even, the unique characteristics of those experiences were recognized as not only valid but perhaps even powerful or insightful or contributing in some way.
And now, it strikes me that the way that we live in the modern world is so fundamentally different [from] the way that we live[d] for millennia, that in these fragmented nuclear family living arrangements, sometimes not even that. I’m sure you’ve seen the same studies where the average American has one or even less than one confidant that they can talk to when things go wrong, and just the profound sense of alienation and disconnection that a lot of people feel, it’s hard to believe that that’s not playing a significant role in the epidemic of chronic disease.
Omid Naim: Yeah, that’s right. I mean, the last thing you said about how few people have actually somebody to go to. I think over 60 percent [of people] feel loneliness, core loneliness in their life, and don’t have anybody to go to.
Chris Kresser: Right.
Omid Naim: There has always been in mental health a struggle to try and prove what works in psychotherapy. And anybody who’s gone out to seek psychotherapy knows that you can wind up with very different modalities based on the office you walk into. There [are] old Freudian [psychoanalysis]; there’s Jungian, there [are] so many different forms of psychodynamic psychotherapy, [cognitive behavioral therapy], [dialectical behavioral therapy], etc. And what works has always been a struggle to prove. The most reliable research study done on effectiveness across all psychotherapies has shown that the number one factor is that you feel that your therapist genuinely cares about you and loves you.
Chris Kresser: Right.
Omid Naim: So what does that say? Like if our natural state is to be in these tight-knit groups in which we have to look out for each other for our own survival, it makes sense that the way we’re living is maybe the root cause of a lot of what’s happening.
Chris Kresser: Yeah, and that’s not something you can fix with a pill. Right? That’s the challenging thing about it. But it’s also, in my view, the huge opportunity that’s there. That if we do approach these things from a holistic perspective, there are people like Viktor Frankl, who have written eloquently about how the challenges that we face can become these opportunities for creating more meaning and purpose in our life and feeling more connected and engaged. And that’s admittedly not, that’s a process that doesn’t lend itself to a reductionist approach. That’s not something that’s going to happen in a 10-minute office visit where [there’s] just a list of symptoms and a medication that’s prescribed.
So it does strike me that our current medical establishment is not very well configured for dealing with these, for taking the approach that’s necessary to really create healing and change here.
Omid Naim: Yeah, I think that this is part of what used to be called the art of medicine, that the family doctor or the neighborhood, the local doctor who would come to the home, and [they] didn’t have a ton of solutions that were going to eradicate with a pill or a surgery. But they needed to know the person, and they also knew the family. When you asked me how did I get to where I am, and I said there have been many evolutions, I did the integrative medicine fellowship, and I learned so much about holistic approaches and how to see the story through a holistic lens. And we were doing really great work, really focusing on lifestyle using herbal remedies, teaching meditation, yoga.
And one of the things that started to hit me was, we had this small office, like a small 900 square foot office—a little small waiting area. And the culture in our office was really warm and connected. And we had a lot of pride in that. I just noticed how many people were lingering, would linger, and want to hang out and talk with our staff. And it was around that time that I learned about the Cuban healthcare system, which has better results than the American one in terms of life expectancy and disease. And the core for them is prevention through neighborhood community center-style clinics. So every 100, 150 homes, there is a single clinic in that neighborhood that serves that community. And so all the staff live among the people they serve. If you didn’t get your shot or vaccine, you may see your nurse in the checkout stand, and she would remind you, “Oh, we haven’t seen you.”
And then I started to learn all the data that really support that community is really the most protective factor, I think. And I do think meaning and community are interrelated. Belonging and meaning are one experience I think we actually have. I think that we experience meaning through participation in relationships with other people, whether it’s animals, the environment, nature. But the experience of belonging is one in which we are co-participants in the care for each other and ourselves. And I think that’s where meaning arises, is that I have meaning. I matter. It matters what I do. It matters how I conduct myself. There is a point to my actions.
Chris Kresser: Yeah, I often have these conversations with patients, and I have the sense, and some people have even confirmed this, that, and I think this is a direct result of the reductionist view of health in our culture, but I think people have a hard time understanding that there is a direct connection, a visceral connection between things like loneliness and lack of purpose and meaning and belonging and both physical and mental health. My sense is they’re often perceived as “nice to haves” maybe or things that might contribute to sadness or depression or something like that. But it’s not understood that these can have an objectively measurable impact on health.
And my first book, I wrote about a study, which I’m sure you’re familiar with, that showed that social isolation, essentially loneliness, exceeded the health risks that are associated with obesity, physical inactivity, heavy drinking, air pollution, and smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
Omid Naim: Yeah.
Chris Kresser: And that was just such a profound finding for me because it really brought it into clear focus. Like this is not nice to have; this is as essential and even more essential than eating a good diet, and getting enough exercise, and not smoking and drinking heavily. So, I’m just curious. Of course, you have a practice where people seek you out for this kind of approach, but what has been your experience with patients, introducing this approach to them and helping them to understand that these things are real; the influences are real, and they’re not individual in nature. Meaning it’s not just about, these things are all social issues, right? They’re not just an individual’s problem. The problem exists in a context, in a wider context.
Omid Naim: Yeah. It starts with really understanding, like you said, evolutionarily what is our natural state. Our biological circuitry evolved for millions of years for us to function in those tight-knit bands and groups, and that our health, our survival, the most immediate, the immediacy of survival, which we are very disconnected from because, for most people, we’ve beat survival in the sense of day-to-day living. But we’re biologically still driven by circuitry that’s designed for that acute sense of safety, out in the wild with a group of people, where indigenous cultures have sayings like, “my health is my community’s health and my community’s health is my health.”
It’s like that pack of zebras that are running in a group, and the one that loses the pack, [they are] prey, right? Well, actually, we have that same circuitry. And when you understand that, and like you said, not see it as this exotic idea, but it’s actually what’s right under your nose; it’s actually what’s happening all the time, is that we are always seeking safety. We’re always in our body seeking peace and safety. And as mammals, primarily that’s the relationships that we seek safety as well as our own self-regulation.
When you see it through that really basic lens, I think you can hear most people’s story and see it for what it is. As this, like this entity that’s moving through the world, very aware of how are people around me treating each other? Do I trust these people? Do I feel safe around these people? As a child growing up, if you know the adverse childhood experiences study, you know that the early childhood environment is really underpinning so many chronic health conditions. And if you understand how exquisitely sensitive we are to how we treat each other, then you know that this is really what’s governing our behavior. And you can almost always piece together the story from people in a way that makes sense to them. And it’s really about keeping it simple. I think where we’ve gone so far cognitively or scientifically that we’ve lost touch with that basic sense of being human, which is to feel each other, to be aware of each other, and to be aware of ourselves.
Chris Kresser: Right. I think so many aspects of the modern world potentially take us away from that felt experience of life. The screens and social media and phones and sitting in front of a computer all day and looking at a two-dimensional screen [is] a challenge, I think, for many of us, depending on our circumstances and the situation that we’re in to really connect with that experience and cultivate that. It sometimes seems a little bit like an uphill battle, or at least you have to be aware of what that is, and purposely seek it out, and also put limits or boundaries around some of the things that might interfere with it.
Omid Naim: Yeah. When I said earlier that you could track the rates of mental illness rising with technological advancements. I worked at a college campus counseling center for a while, and it was between 2010 and 2013. And there was a dramatic rise in mental health service needs in the new year, in 2012. And this is documented to be true that so much intense emotionality in colleges seems to have really suddenly [come] on the scene, like in 2012, 2013. And I got curious about that. Why would that be? And then I thought about tracing back, college-age kids, 18 years old; they were born [in] 1994, 1995. Well, that’s the year that the internet actually came on. There’s a certain point at which the internet went from something that is starting to happen to something we’re all doing. Right?
Chris Kresser: Right.
Omid Naim: And that’s the year. So, like you said [about] the nuclear family earlier, it’s this, which is a reduction of our normal number of people we need to grow up around. How many eyes we are used to biologically evolved to be seen and to be witnessed as a child growing up, the number of people who are looking out for you, as well as the number of people who challenge you, and that you have to show up for, that there’s that reduction in this idea of the nuclear family is like an experiment in evolution. [We’ve] really [been] testing this out [for] the last about 70 years, since the 1950s. Well, then what happens when the only two people who are constituting the village are now so much more distracted? You can see it the same with the phones. Each stage, we lose connection, and [at] each stage, the numbers show [we’ve gotten] sicker since 2012, like, suicide rates have gone up dramatically.
Chris Kresser: Yes, that’s very, very disturbing. So with this background, and everything that you have observed from, both from your witnessing the shortcomings of the conventional approach, and then your work in the integrative psychiatry field, you’ve created the Hope model. So tell us a little bit about that model and how you employ it in your work.
The Hope Model
Omid Naim: So, when I went through my training, I did the fellowship in integrative medicine. And I learned how to work with the whole person—how to use lifestyle, teach skills. But what I was seeing was that there was no really comprehensive model. And I came to understand through the research, especially the adverse childhood experiences study that’s very well known, the high degree of trauma that’s at the root cause of so much illness and chronic health conditions. And then also, like I was saying earlier, coming to see the deep role of belonging and meaning and how we are so wired for that.
And what the whole model is really interested in is that at the time when you show up to help you piece together the story. So what we look at is the symptom presentation. But we’re not interested in figuring out how we can get rid of those symptoms for you. We don’t think that that’s really the purpose of those symptoms. We don’t see it as a sickness. We believe that if you sit and look at a person’s history, their early childhood life experiences subsequently, look at their temperament, look at their current lifestyle and behavior, look at how they work. Is their work meaningful? Are they getting to be creative? Do they experience themselves as participating in life in a way that is a fulfillment of their own inspiration and fulfillment and purpose and meaning? And to also get interested in how they see their future, what vision they have, what community they keep, [and] how their relationships [are].
So the goal for us is to actually piece all of that together at the time of the assessment, as well as looking at your physical health, your gut health, your adrenal [health], your overall physical health, and to piece all of that together into one formulation. And what we believe is that when you do that right, you can connect all the dots in a way that helps people see that their symptoms actually make sense. And this is the most important thing to me is to really help people see that most of the time, these symptoms that bring us to a psychiatrist, to a therapist, they’re actually your health breaking through. They’re your authentic self in some way, breaking through.
When we go through traumatic experiences, when we go through overwhelming experiences, or when we just move through modern life, what’s unique about humans is that we’re basically mammals with this intense circuitry—the circuitry that’s intensely driven toward belonging and connection and meaning. And then we have this thinking capacity on top of that. We have this prefrontal cortex [that] gives us this capacity for creativity, which also means we can control our emotions. And if we can control our emotions toward a productive, fulfilling experience, that creativity and control [are] fulfilling and [they’re] purposeful. But since the beginning of us having this cognitive capacity, we’ve also been able to control our emotions, such that we become alienated from our authentic selves.
That may mean in some families, like mine, you can be angry, but you can’t be vulnerable and say you’re sad. So sadness is something I might learn to then control in my body. Another person may be [angry] that they’re not allowed to have. So these controls that we create in order to fit in controlling our authentic self, and therefore controlling our capacity for creating authentic connection and belonging. That’s the sickness. That distress we feel in our body, those private ways in which we know, we hold in our body and also in our lifestyles, these coping mechanisms that we privately have to regulate that distress in our bodies from emotions we’re controlling; that’s your homeostasis. That’s the baseline that we can function in. So then some crisis comes along. Some situation, which can often be a positive experience, getting a new job or starting a new business that is fulfilling, but whatever it is, [a] crisis brings us in. But that crisis is actually often that a situation is created as such that the control is being broken down. That we can no longer control those states in ourselves. And so it’s actually your authentic self, which is your health.
So what we help people do is see their story in a way that connects all the dots and also sees it as your health breaking through. And we’ve talked a lot about how we evolved in tight bands of people. Most cultures have created transformational experiences.
Chris Kresser: Right.
Omid Naim: Native Americans have the sweat lodge or vision quests. Indian culture created yoga; [the] Chinese created tai chi and qigong. These traditions all saw trauma and stress and how we can hold in our body experiences of our authentic self, as core to what it is to be human, and that we need experiences to support transformation. We actually need to create [a] crisis in order to bring out the authentic self and to help bring out that deeper resilience we have inside of us. And so, in our clinic in our model, we see at the time of the assessment, our job is to help you connect the dots and to see the story through that lens that actually this crisis is an opportunity for transformation back to wholeness.
Chris Kresser: I love that frame. A lot of my listeners are familiar with my own personal story where I went through a profound difficult period of chronic illness. And I’ve talked about that a lot, particularly, some of the nutritional and medicinal factors that were instrumental in bringing me back to health and healing and wholeness. I’ve also talked a little bit about some of the other experiences and perspectives that were helpful. And this is absolutely one of them, like books, like Gabor Maté’s When the Body Says No, or The Body Keeps the Score, even Stan Grof’s book, which you might be familiar with, Spiritual Emergency: When Personal Transformation Becomes a Crisis. These were all really instrumental in helping me to view what I was going through as not a pathology, or something wrong, or something broken that needed to be fixed, but something that I could learn from, and that was, as you just said, an opportunity for transformation and growth, and actually a deeper connection with myself and other people around me and a greater understanding of who I am and what I might be able to contribute in this world.
And that’s what brought me to where I’m sitting, interviewing you. I had no intention of going into healthcare as a profession before all of that happened. So I don’t necessarily believe that things happen for a reason. But I believe that when they happen, we have the capacity to respond in an open and curious way. And I think this is so much more empowering of a frame for both physical and mental illness than there’s something wrong with you; you’re broken, it’s your fault, and now we’re going to give you these drugs to stabilize the symptoms, which is really the default approach, not just in psychiatry, but also with any kind of chronic physical ailment, as well.
Omid Naim: Yeah. Now, one thing that guides us in our work is, like, the real core of it is empowerment. And if you’re exercising, or if you’re lifting weights, you always are shooting for that edge where you’re challenged, but you can do it, right? You lift a weight that’s just hard enough, that you can barely do it. And so, even when we, I do use medications sometimes, although most of the time I find natural remedies that just work better. But even with natural remedies, I let people know at the first visit [that] I’m not a doctor who’s going to fix you with natural remedies. I’m interested in supporting your functional systems in a way that doesn’t override that innate resilience that’s trying to come out in you. We need [to] struggle to tap into that deeper sense of aliveness. And when we keep reducing and stay controlling symptoms, I think we keep disconnecting people from that experience of fulfillment that only arises when you participate in something that is challenging.
Chris Kresser: Yeah, it’s a fundamental experience, or was throughout most of human history to address those. And, as you pointed out, most traditional cultures have practices, like you mentioned, Native American sweat lodge or yoga or things like that, and they also almost universally have rituals and rites of passage, ceremonies or ways of acknowledging and recognizing the value of approaching crisis or difficulty or challenge as an opportunity for growth and transformation. There’s this frame now in psychology literature of post-traumatic growth. Not just, we hear a lot about [post-traumatic stress disorder] (PTSD) and, of course, trauma can create stress, and it can be embodied for long periods of time, and it can really wreak havoc. But trauma can also create growth, right? That’s probably a frame that is less familiar for a lot of people.
And I think, for me, it was really important. That was one of the turning points in my own story, my own experience, was seeing what I was going through not just as something that was wrong or broken, but an opportunity for a positive transformation. I think that you mentioned that. That’s the big shift in how you see it with your patients. And for me, that was transformative. I don’t know if I could have made it through what I was going through without that frame.
Omid Naim: Yeah. I think that some of these ideas, like in Christianity, the idea that suffering is grace had been abused and used as a weapon toward people who are struggling. And there is a history of seeing illness as something that we manifest. And so there’s a danger to that. But I think that we threw the baby out with the bathwater when we took away people’s opportunity for discovering meaning and purpose through their struggles.
Chris Kresser: Yes.
Omid Naim: And that’s why I like that. It’s an educational idea, the zone of proximal development, [which] describes that zone in which we’re getting. There’s a proportionality to suffering, where that weight that you choose is just hard enough. Well, that’s what it’s like to work in a group of people where you have to give and take. You get support, but you also have to be accountable. I think we have a lot of really similar core teachers like Gabor Maté and (inaudible 36:46). I also really got a lot of influence from a journalist, Sebastian Junger, who wrote the book, Tribe.
Chris Kresser: Yes, I’ve read that.
Omid Naim: That was the big influence for me when I was seeing, it was when I read that book, I learned about the Cuban healthcare model, and I was then seeing people in my office linger and connect, and I was like, that’s what’s really going on here. People are deeply lonely. And people are really seeking connection. But he showed that mental illness rates go down after crises, right? And that’s really profound to think about that. And he said he shows that it’s through struggle for each other that our innate resilience comes out. So when I meet with people, it’s really trying to help them see what’s really trying to break through in them and how much is inside them that is untapped.
Chris Kresser: So I could go on for hours and hours. I know we’ve got to finish up here. But I want to briefly touch on the role of psychoactive substances in your work. We had Michael Mithoefer as a guest on the show. I’ve talked to a number of different people about this, and I’m a big believer in the potential role, when they’re used appropriately, of psychedelics and pathogens and other psychoactive substances for helping people to … Well, let me just stop there. Let me ask you what you feel the role of those substances is within your model, the Hope model, and the work that you do with patients.
The Role of Psychoactive Substances in the Hope Model
Omid Naim: Yeah, we’re at a time that the psychedelic movement is really coming back, and there’s amazing research with psilocybin, LSD, [and] MDMA. I trained with Michael Mithoefer. An institute [in] Iran was hosting the study on MDMA for PTSD in Los Angeles. I see psychedelics as part of the ancient traditions like yoga, sweat lodge. These substances, MDMA is a little bit different, but [what] they all share, when you look at the brain imaging studies, they don’t add anything to the brain. They seem to mainly stop certain parts of the brain from functioning, especially the default mode network.
Chris Kresser: Right.
Omid Naim: We talked earlier about this human capacity to control our experience. It’s that default mode network that mainly is at the hub that blocks connection in the brain, which is great. If I want to be here for our phone call, I have to block out a lot of things, right? And that’s what gives me creative potential. So I think that the way psychedelics can really be transformative for society is that we see them with that humility and with that reverence as something that we can bring into a ceremonial experience for transformation. And I think that what’s really important is for the preparatory work, and the post-integration work, to really be interested in helping people make connections around purpose and meaning and belonging. I think that’s where it can go really two different ways.
If this is, like ketamine right now has really tremendous capacity, and the research supports how effective it can be one, two, three months down the line if people seem to relapse. In our clinic, what we see is that the people who relapse are the ones that came to the medicine thinking that it’s going to fix them. And while temporarily, it led to feeling better as well as maybe insights, it didn’t lead to connections made around how do I want to live my life? What relationships do I want to establish differently? What relationships do I need to create? What relationships do I need to end that are not healthy? How am I living my life that’s fulfilling? And that’s what we try and do in our clinic is to, at that time of the assessment, help you piece together the story. So then the psychedelic, the ketamine, which is what we use in our clinic, is not seen as the fix; it’s seen as what’s going to help reveal for you what is true. Take away those control centers for a period of time where you can really have that direct experience of what’s real and true, and then work with you on making those changes in your life.
Chris Kresser: Yes. That’s very similar to how I view it. I’ve even often used the analogy of these kinds of medicinals being a doorway, a door. They open the door, but they can’t take you through the door. You have to walk through the door yourself. And having that support that you offer is really critical, I think. Because a lot of people, understandably, because there just up until recently has not been support for that integration phase. And people have just been kind of on their own to obtain them and use them and not really know how to use them effectively. So I’m really excited about the research that’s being done and the growing number of folks like yourself, who are really supporting people to use these in the most appropriate and effective way.
Omid Naim: Yeah, I think that the way you interpret the experiences is really the key. There’s a person who wrote a book called DMT: The Spirit Molecule. And he was the main researcher on Ayahuasca. And he then came back and redid his research, and what he said that I thought [was] so interesting, is that psychedelics came into Western culture in the ‘50s at the same time as Eastern mysticism. And Eastern mysticism talks about spiritual experiences, mystical experiences, through the lens of the unit of experience, of the experience of oneness. Versus Western culture, Western theology sees spirituality and religion through the lens of a relationship with spirit and a relationship with something higher.
If you look at Western, like the Torah, the New Testament that we experience, we have spiritual experiences, that we are given information about how to live or how to act and what to do. So it’s this relational versus the unitive, the oneness. These are two different ways we can experience spirituality. And what he was saying is that all the research that’s been done, sees the spiritual experience that everyone’s seeking as this oneness experience. And that’s true, I think, is that if you look, most people [are] interested in the experience of oneness as the profound experience when on a psychedelic. I think that if you help people dissect what they experience when they take these substances from that relational prophetic lens, where it’s in, there is information there on how do I need to act in this world? How do I need to conduct myself? What changes [do] I need to make? It’s this relational experience that I think you can extract much more toward a path for complete healing and not needing to use the substance again.
Chris Kresser: Yeah, I get so many requests from people about where they can access this work, and people see the value of it and want to get involved. But there aren’t that many, at this point, ways to do that. But I’m happy to know that you’re incorporating that into your model when it’s appropriate and when it’s necessary. So I definitely want to have you back, Dr. Naim, for part two. I feel like we’re just getting started, but we’ve got to wrap it up now.
Where can people learn more about your work? I know you have your own professional practice, but also the La Maida, if I’m pronouncing that right. Why don’t you tell us a bit about that and give us the link there, as well.
Omid Naim: Yeah, so my clinic, you can find us at HopePsychiatry, H-o-p-ePsychiatry.com. I started out doing work in foster care, and I founded a nonprofit called La Maida project that we’re working in foster care to implement the Hope model as well as creating other scalable approaches to change how mental health is delivered in schools and communities. And the mission is to rewrite the story of mental health and well-being. And you can find that at LaMaida.org.
Chris Kresser: Great. Thank you so much, Dr. Naim. It’s been such a pleasure to chat with you today. And I will definitely have you back for another conversation.
Omid Naim: Absolutely. I would look forward to that. My pleasure. It was great to talk to you, Chris.
Chris Kresser: Okay, everybody. Thanks for listening. Keep sending your questions in to ChrisKresser.com/podcastquestion, and we’ll see you next time.