Research Conference Examines Integrative Mental Health Therapies

Man talking to homeless woman.

When it comes to treating mental health issues, an upcoming research conference at Bastyr University aims to prove that effective therapies often come down to one simple concept.

“All of the molecular therapies in the world don’t matter unless we’re nice to each other,” says Lizbeth Adams, PhD, CIP. Dr. Adams is director of Bastyr’s Office of Research Integrity and the organizer of the fourth annual Building Research Amongst Northwest Complementary Health Experts (BRANCHES) research conference, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday, April 13, at Bastyr’s Kenmore campus.

Conventional treatment already embraces that concept by focusing on lending an ear and being an advocate for those with mental health issues. Conference speakers addressing the theme “Integrative Therapies in Mental Health” will take that theory to a deeper level with presentations on such topics as companionship, mindfulness and homeopathic approaches to mental health.

“A lot of mental health issues are very resistant to conventional treatment,” Dr. Adams says. “So it’s really important that up-and-coming health providers learn about the different ways to treat these conditions.”

Craig Rennebohm, DMin, director of Seattle’s Mental Health Chaplaincy, will discuss one of those approaches during his talk “Healing: Companionship, Congregation, Community and Cosmos,” which largely focuses on offering friendship rather than just acting as a service provider for people with mental illnesses.

In his work, Dr. Rennebohm reaches out to people with mental health issues, many of whom live on the streets, to form an ongoing relationship and offer them companionship. He’s there for them as a friend and as an advocate, and he also trains laypeople to follow in his footsteps.

 “Research shows that it helps people stabilize and improve their self-care,” Dr. Adams says. “This is a powerful model.”

Link Between Mental Health and Neurological Disease

In addition to talks on preventing and treating mental illness, presenters also will discuss the role of environmental toxins in neurological diseases and mental health issues.

 “Exposure of fetuses or very young children to environmental toxins can cause problems in the development of the brain,” Dr. Adams explains.

One of the presenters,  Jason Allen, ND, PhD, a clinical research assistant professor at Bastyr University, is in the midst of a sauna detoxification study that examines whether sauna treatments can help cleanse the body of toxic chemicals.

"Every human carries what we call a 'body burden' of chemicals," Dr. Allen says in an earlier article about the study. "There's no way to completely avoid exposure."

During his talk “Strategies for Detoxification,” Dr. Allen will address ways pregnant mothers as well as the general public can avoid and even cleanse the body of these harmful toxins in an effort to prevent mental illness and neurological disease.

Origins of BRANCHES Research Conference

The BRANCHES research conference began as part of a three-year curriculum grant shared by Bastyr University and the University of Washington to increase research training in the Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine program.

The grant has run its course, but the Bastyr University Research Institute decided the opportunity to bring together area health experts to discuss research in complementary and alternative (CAM) medicine was worth preserving.

The previous three conference themes were “Collaborative Research in CAM,” “Healthy Mind, Healthy Medicine” and “Nutrition Research: Improving the Health of Our Bodies and Our Planet.”

 “Integrative Therapies in Mental Health”

This year’s conference is sponsored by the Bastyr University Research Institute and the Department of Counseling and Health Psychology.

With a focus on  mental health and neurological diseases, this year’s topic is likely to interest students, faculty, mental health professionals, health care professionals, researchers and members of the general public alike. Adams also hopes that representatives of law enforcement agencies will attend and learn about compassionate models of interacting with the homeless and mentally ill on our streets.

In addition to Drs. Rennebohm and Allen, featured speakers at the conference will include:

  • Tracy Simpson, PhD, associate professor, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, University of Washington and VA Puget Sound Health Care System, discussing “Teaching Mindfulness and Self-Compassion to Veterans with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder.”
  • Richard Mann, ND, Bastyr University, discussing “Homeopathic Approaches to Mental Health.”
  • Leanna Standish ND, PhD, LAc, Bastyr University, discussing the “Future Promise of Integrative Therapies in Mental Health.”
  • Catherine Karr, MD, PhD, MS, director, Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit, University of Washington, discussing “Environmental Toxicants: Making the Link Between Exposure and Neurodevelopmental Disease.”

For registration details, see the event listing. The cost is $35 for the general public; $15 for students. Lunch at the Bastyr Dining Commons is included for those who register by April 9.