The battle to overcome mental health issues does not look the same for everybody. While that is the case, it helps to know that you are not alone, and everyone can eventually come out to the other side of it. Sharing her story with us, host Timothy J. Hayes, Psy.D. speaks with Julia Britz, a licensed naturopathic doctor who specializes in supporting people who are struggling with mental health issues such as anxiety, OCD and eating disorders. Having been through her own struggles with OCD, Julia talks about the challenges she encountered while looking for treatments and how she eventually came upon the ACT therapy and naturopathic medicine that ultimately helped her. She then lets us in on her practice at Alternative to Meds Center, where she helps other people who are struggling to find the treatment fit for them through natural and integrative modalities. Tune into this great conversation that will open your eyes to the different styles of therapy out there, proving that there is no one path to healing.
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Treating Mental Health Issues Using Natural And Integrative Modalities With Dr. Julia Britz, ND
Julia Britz is a licensed naturopathic doctor who received her training from Bastyr University in San Diego, California. She practices telemedicine and can be contacted at www.DrJuliaBritz.com. She’s a Director of the Naturopathic Medical Department at the Alternative to Meds Center in Sedona, Arizona. Thanks for being here.
Thank you for having me. I’m excited to be here.
It’s a delight. We’re thrilled to have the Alternative to Meds Center and you highlighted for people because what we’re trying to do in our show is expand and rewrite the narrative on mental health and from what I’ve heard about you, you’re part of that. Thank you. Can you tell us a little bit about what got you into this line of work?
I think about it differently over time and that’s because I’ve come a different level of acceptance of where I was. I’m a doctor of naturopathic medicine and I worked with a lot of people that have OCD, anxiety, depression, bipolar, schizoaffective or whatever. They don’t want to label it. There was a time when I wanted to get as far away from that as possible. I wanted to make that as a big part of my past as I could because, for me, I was an anxious little kid. I forget how old you are when you go to preschool or kindergarten, but it was one of those little kid things and my brother dropped me off and I remember crying and thinking, “Everyone is good at handling their anxiety. Why does everyone look calm? Why am I bad at this?”
I thought it was normal to feel anxious all the time and always to feel this under the surface, this shaky, intense feeling. It wasn’t until I was about 19 or 20 when things got a lot more intense and there were times where my OCD was obvious to people and it was hard to keep it to myself. I have long showers and washing my hands until they bled, that sort of thing and housebound. I decided that I was going to go to therapy. After therapy and also seeing a naturopathic doctor, I got much better. I had many doctors tell me that I couldn’t get better and that was a motivating factor. That makes me want to try harder always but things got better and it wasn’t supposed to happen. It made me feel, “This wasn’t supposed to happen and somehow, I did it. I want to tell everybody else that they can do it too.”
I think a lot of people feel that way. A lot of people feel like, “I can’t get better. I’m beyond all hope. I’m way too messed up.” I wanted it to work and I still do. I still want to work with people that aren’t sure that they’re worth it. I’ve never wanted to go into medicine with the perspective of, “I’m going to be the doctor and you’re going to be the patient. I’ll be the one up. You’ll be the one down and I’ll tell you how this works.” To me, it was I’m always the patient. I’m always going to tell people who I am and what I’ve been through and say, “I used to do that too and I used to have that too.” In med school, they try to beat that out of you a little bit. They want you to be professional but I decided that was never going to be who I was when I practiced medicine because I wanted it to be a team effort. I wanted to walk that path with a person as much as I could. It’s something that I still practice and try to value over time. I hope that I can, whether I opened up a lot or a little bit, I hope that I can let people know that there always is something on the other side, even if they’ve never seen it before.
What would you say are some of the primary factors that helped you make such an improvement?
I think it’s two things that were huge for me. One was I did something called ACT or Acceptance and Commitment Therapy and that taught me a lot about psychological flexibility. Learning how to change the way I thought about things, instead of trying to change the world to adapt to me, I learned how to accept my thoughts as I pass through my mind, practice different skills over and over again. The other part of it was naturopathic medicine and it was cool because when I went to see a naturopathic doctor, I didn’t go because I had a CVI. I went because I had chronic strep, chronic ear infections, chronic bronchitis, all kinds of chronic infections. She stops and says, “Do you have OCD?” I was like, “Yes,” and it was shocking that she picked up on that.
She was using something called bioresonance where you hold these rods, but essentially there are frequencies go through the body and they detect different signatures of vitamins, nutrients, hormones, you name it. Something for her came up that signaled I had OCD and I said, “Yeah I’ve got OCD but I’m in therapy, we’re cool, good.” She’s like, “We can do things for that. Let’s talk about your nutrition and your hormones. Let’s see what’s going on because you don’t just have OCD. There’s something else there,” and that was the first time I heard that OCD could be more of a symptom versus an actual pathology. We started working on getting foods out of my diet that were inflammatory or things that I was sensitive to.
We started working on making sure my hormones were in balance. I had terrible PMS and my thyroid was a little hyperfunctioning. We did a lot of amino acid therapy, which is what I specialize in now is targeted amino acid therapy and it was cool. I thought someone went into my brain, took out the OCD part, and I could not believe it because I had OCD for years. It was an adjustment but it was a positive one but also a dramatic one. I had to learn what life was like after but back to the original story, ACT therapy and naturopathic medicine were the two things that worked well together for me.Many people that have anxiety have gut issues. Click To Tweet
How do you do the assessment for the amino acid therapy that you’re doing? What does that involve?
I do plasma amino acid testing. Somebody will get a blood draw. They tested a bunch of amino acids and different metabolites of those amino acids. I look at those levels from a functional perspective, meaning the ratios, like how well does tryptophan lineup with tyrosine? What does glutamine look like compared to glutamate, lysine, arginine, etc.? I see from a functional perspective how well those are balanced because the amino acids are what create the neurotransmitters. That lets me see not just what neurotransmitters might be over or under-produced, but also what cofactors like vitamins and minerals might be missing. Some of the patterns can be interesting too. If I see one of the branch chains elevated, that tells me the brain’s inflamed. Markers that I look for and I can get a lot of information. The more I do it, the more I learn but I love it and it’s a better tool than urine because I see a free state of the aminos versus the metabolites or the breakdown products.
How long have you been at the Alternative to Meds Center?
I’m relatively new there. I started in January 2020 and so far, I love it. It’s been a huge adventure because Sedona is different than San Diego, which is where I was living and practicing before that. I also do telemedicine as well because computers are valuable tools. When I had OCD, it was where I went because anxiety kept me at home. I think a lot of people know what that’s like. I do like to make sure I have the computer available but what I love about Alternative to Meds Center is that it’s multifactorial and there’s a huge team effort. There’s a psychiatrist and then there’s the detox department where they do a lot of infrared saunas, physical classes like yoga. It’s well-rounded and that’s why I like that approach because that was mine as well, naturopathic and psychotherapy. Getting to see it all together in a patient, it helps people get through things a little quicker sometimes but so far, it’s been cool.
Tell us a little bit more about the Alternative to Meds Center. Where is it located? How many can it support at one time?
Alternative to Meds Center is located in Sedona, Arizona, which is on the western side. Sedona is tiny. There are only maybe 10,000 people, something small. It’s in a pretty house that fits about seventeen patients. Each room has 1 or 2 beds and there is a private restroom, a communal eating area. In the second building, that’s where we do all of our detoxification. The sauna, the exercise, foot baths, and anything that will be in that other area so we can see up to seventeen people. Usually, we try to space out how they arrive and most people stay between 30 and 90 days for the most part. That depends on what they’re dealing with. We have a lot of people that come in wanting to get off of their medications. People that come in that have had longstanding bipolar and they want to see if there’s a way they could manage that either with a different dose or maybe something that doesn’t make them feel quite not like themselves. We try to see if we can get people in a space where they’re comfortable with whatever medication they are taking or not if they don’t want to be. I never pull people off. It’s if they want to, we can help assist them with that in a safe way because it can be quite painful to go through coming off a med without any support.
If the capacity is seventeen, how many do you normally have at one time in the facility?
I’ve only been there since January, so I’ve seen it at about ten is where I’ve seen it get as high as. It’s always cool to see new people come in. It’s sad to see people leave because I get a little bit attached to them but when they’re doing well, they are leaving then that’s a good thing.
How do people find out about the Alternative to Meds Center? Where’s the draw?
From what I’ve heard, a lot of it is googling but people are looking up Cymbalta taper, OCD support in-patient, holistic. Integrative is another word that people look to try to find us and I think I’ve heard from a lot of people that they’ll spend a lot of time looking because we don’t advertise per se, we have the website and people try to find it that way. There are a few centers that do the holistic approach. I think people get a little confused as well because the idea that you can be outpatient, meaning you go to see somebody and you go home or inpatient, there’s so much in the middle. There’s a fear of maybe I need more help than outpatient can provide, but I don’t know if I need to go inpatient. They think it’s this involuntary thing, but there’s so much in the middle. I think it does take people quite a while to research online and to see what they have available. We’ve had a lot of people tell us they’ve known about us for years, they’ve just waited for the right time to make sure they wanted to do it. It’s the power of the internet.
That’s a blessing these days. How do people fund it?
A lot of people will either have their insurance cover, which is fortunate. We do offer some scholarship programs to certain people and a lot of people are self-pay. There’s a whole bunch of different combinations we can do. I think it’s more doable than people think it is.
That would be good news for a lot of people. I was amazed when I first heard about it that it had been many years that I’d been in the field and not heard a word about it. Do you get pushback from other more traditional facilities or psychiatrists?
There is not that I know of. It’s cool this time we’re in because there are a lot more people moving toward the integrative model. I don’t know if it’s still going to happen, but in August of 2020, I was supposed to talk at a conference called IMMH, and that’s exactly what I’m going to discuss is this whole concept of treating mental health issues using an integrative approach. For so long, the rehab bottle has been the model and if people “failed it,” it was you didn’t try hard enough, you failed the rehab model. It’s blaming the patient for not doing well in whatever program, which I always thought was unfair because it’s definitely a two-way street.
I’ll be discussing the whole history of when did we start treating behavioral health issues and addiction in America? When did that switch to the rehab model? Now, we’re not switching but we’re progressing from that and evolving to include more things because if somebody goes off of medication, there are two reasons why they’re in withdrawal. One, it’s chemical dependency and it hurts to be without that. The brain got used to a certain thing. Also, every drug is subtractive. Every drug will take something from the body whether that’s calcium, CoQ10 or whatever. When that goes away, the person is now nutrient-deficient in something and dealing with chemical dependency. That’s exactly where I think we’re headed is how do we support that person to get them their nutrients back using functional testing and also making sure they’re tapering in a way that’s slow, safe and thoughtful.
The goal is once that medication is gone, not to get that person back to baseline because at baseline they had anxiety and depression. That’s why they went on the medication. The goal is that they have an improved quality of life after the medication has gone so that they can stay in whatever place they want to be with. There’s a medication for you on a different medication or a place that they can do therapy. I think that’s what’s been missing from a lot of these traditional programs is how do we get that quality of life back after we take away whatever it was that person needed for so long because they did need it for a while.
Essentially, what you’re talking about to my ear is the difference between trying to stamp out symptoms and move a person to the place where they can thrive and function at a much higher level. Having shifted at a cause level.
Symptoms are a huge blessing and not to say I’m happy when people are miserable. It’s nothing like that. If somebody has a symptom, then at least they know that their body’s telling them “Something’s going on. I need help with this thing.” If we can fix that or at least help alleviate that and get the body what it needs, then that can be good. Some people where they don’t have symptoms, it’s not until later when pathology hits and they had no idea because they didn’t have a symptom. It’s hard to think of it positively with mental health because it can be disheartening to feel anxiety all the time but that self-awareness could be a valuable tool going through the program. Just so that people know, “This is a little better. This is a little worse.” I go, “That’s helpful.” That means we need to go in this direction and we can navigate together, which I think is important.
Can you tell us a little bit more about Acceptance and Commitment Therapy and why that seemed to be such a good fit for you?
I love Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. I had a choice. I was sitting in my psychologist’s office and he said, “I’m awesome at both. We can do CBT or Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or we can do ACT. It’s up to you. The success rates are about the same, whatever jives.” I was like, “I don’t know if I want exposure therapy. That sounds terrible.” He’s like, “It’s involved in both so don’t let that be a factor.” He explained both to me and the differences. What I liked about Acceptance and Commitment Therapy was that it had this spiritual quality to it where it was less about let’s get rid of the thoughts, let’s get rid of the behavior because I didn’t think that was possible. I thought it was more doable and more realistic to get to a place where I could accept what I was thinking without unraveling because I was thinking about it.No matter what level of therapy you need, you are worth the help. Click To Tweet
I believe that if I could eventually accept what I was thinking except the ruminating thoughts, if I didn’t bother me so much, then I naturally wouldn’t have a behavioral expression. I wouldn’t compulse. I wouldn’t feel the need to because I would be more centered within myself. That part sounded good. I was like, “It makes more sense since. It’s more doable to me.” The biggest surprise to me about it was that it was gentle. I’d seen all these TV shows and heard these stories where people go into exposure therapy and they’re expected to do intense, crazy things immediately. I was scared of that, but that was not the case at all.
It was at my own pace. I was in charge of my program. I was willing to work it. I had a lot of support and a lot of compassion. Seeing the compassion from my therapist helped me have compassion for myself and that was huge. It took me a long time to learn that much of the OCD came from me believing that I was worthless and unlovable. It created a nice breeding ground for anxious thoughts to come out and wreak havoc in the brain. I remember sitting in therapy thinking, “I hate my brain. It’s a bully. It’s mean to me.” I felt like two people because I was against that part of myself and that was a hard thought because I didn’t understand that meant that I hated myself. I thought that I just hated OCD. It was super challenging to come around and I find a way to truly accept and have compassion for that person in me that felt anxious. It had many obsessions and compulsions and find a caring way to hold that space in myself and not trying to fight it. That’s why I liked the ACT because there was compassion there. I think a lot of people need that, but I needed that.
That’s an excellent example for people. I think it’s one of the reasons why we’re blessed these days to have many different styles of therapy out there and real committed people doing it. What’s an aspect of your work that we haven’t even touched on yet?
It seems fluid the way I do things but I do like a lot of functional testing. I work with that a lot. I like to look at people’s hormones. Anything I can look at because for so much of that whether it’s thyroid lipids out of, I don’t care. I’ll look at all of it, but many of those ranges in terms of, “You fall into this range,” if your TSH is 1.9 or whatever. Those ranges were created such a long time ago. I like to look at, “Where do you fall in the range? Where does that tell us you’re headed?” That gives me a better sense of how the body is transitioning to a state of health or disease. That to me is so much fun and way more interesting versus seeing, “You’re fine, your levels are okay now. The liver enzymes are good for the minute. We’ll deal with it when they’re out.”
I want to deal with it now so that they don’t get out of range. I think hormones are a huge part of that, especially for men too, not just women’s female hormones. We look a lot at that. I work with detoxification. If I’m doing telemedicine, I work with that from a specific perspective. If someone’s at home and they only have access to a few things or the sensitive that takes part and I do a lot of IV therapy, which I think is essential because many people that have anxiety have gut issues. I’ve never seen a patient that didn’t have gut issues with anxiety.
I do a lot of IV therapy because the benefit is that we can get 100% absorption into the tissues. You don’t have to worry about the gut not being able to tolerate something. I found a lot of value in that. What I’ll do typically is I’ll look at someone’s blood work. I’ll get a sense of what nutrients they need because for me with naturopathic medicine, it’s not about, “You’re anxious. What supplement is good for anxiety?” I don’t think of it that way. Supplements aren’t “good” for anything. It’s more like what does this person need? I give them that. That’s as simple as it gets. One therapy I’ve been using a lot because I’ve seen many people low in that, is something called NAD therapy, Nicotinamide Adenine Dinucleotide. That’s been a game-changer for a lot of people. That one is interesting.
NAD, we make that chemical. It’s part of the niacin of the vitamin B3 family. We make it to about 25 and then all of a sudden it starts to slow way down. Those levels get depleted further from drug and alcohol abuse, medications, chronic illnesses, chronic emotional stress, poor sleep cycles, oxidative stress and even UV sun exposure. Most of the time when those levels dropped and we need NAD to give electrons to the electron transport chain, which helps the mitochondria turn out ATP, which is energy. In short, NAD is what we need to help ourselves get energy. When we don’t have a lot of cellular energy, we don’t feel good. We don’t sleep well. Our mood’s unstable. Our energy levels are poor. We have physical pain. I’ve been using that in different ways for every person. There’s no set protocol I use. I don’t even use the word protocol as much as I can because everyone’s different, but I’ve been using that quite a bit. That’s been cool.
It’s exciting to hear your approaches to look at what the individual needs, either what they’re taking in or they’re absorbing. If it was something like NAD after you’ve done the IV therapy, then how do you help maintain their production or supplement of NAD after the therapy?
The cool thing about NAD is that we’re trying to rebuild the stores. The storage of it will last quite a long time for a lot of people. I don’t do oral NAD supplements too much because they get broken down easily. I don’t think they do a ton, but for some people they do. We can use that a little bit if someone needs to keep it going. We don’t need to keep the doses super high when we’re working on maintaining but overall, what happens is something that’s called the bookend effect. Typically, when someone starts dripping their NAD, it is not pleasant. Rapid heart rate, shortness of breath, flushing and nausea. They don’t feel good. We can monitor that to make it better but the point is people drip a long time. It can drip hours. What I’ve noticed is that people will drip a certain amount of time, say 6 hours or 7 hours.
After a few days, they’ll start to drip quicker at about maybe 3 or 4 hours. Once they start dripping slow again, that’s the bookend effect and that’s where I noticed, “Their body’s starting to reach its limit of how much NAD they want.” Even for me, I haven’t been able even to take a NAD drip in quite a few months because my stores are still up. If I try to give myself a NAD IV, the side effects are so much that I drip slowly and I can’t even get the fluid in. It’s cool that the body will tell you and that’s what my job is to help people listen to their bodies, to create an environment that’s conducive to where they feel safe enough to listen and go, “What do I need? What does that mean?” NAD is a great example of that when you can see something dramatic in that way.
A lot of people don’t have anxiety to the level that they would say is OCD but they are, I’ll call it riddled with anxiety. Their lives are strongly influenced unpleasantly. Are they good candidates for a program like yours?
Jeffrey Young is the guy that came up with the Schema Theory. He wrote a book and talked about how he noticed people that had more severe depression did much better than people with mild depression. He started to wonder, “Why are people that aren’t as severely anxious or depressed not getting better? Why does it seem to stick around? This gray cloud doesn’t seem to go away.” The book is all about that. My point is that’s accurate. I think a lot of people that are dealing with more of this mild, low-grade, dysthymic anxiety and depression picture. It can be stubborn and resistant. If somebody is finding that traditional, and not even traditional, but outpatient therapy going once or twice a week, it isn’t working enough and that on the daily they’re not doing that great. There’s something between outpatient and involuntary inpatient.
I think that’s where our center is a great alternative because it’s voluntary and it’s gentle. There are no forced meds. We don’t hold people down and make them quiet. There is nothing like that. There is nothing scary. I think it can be a good alternative for some people that are looking at and that’s the thing. There’s the conception people have when they experience mild symptoms is they feel that, “I’m not that sick. I’m not worth it.” Whether somebody’s symptoms are extreme, mild, whatever, they are as valid. There are a lot of levels of wondering where you fit into what kind of therapy or program and then also believing that you’re worth the help as well.
That’s a big issue for a lot of people. If it isn’t crippling, then am I worth the money? Am I worth the time? The other thing is what you were talking about before. If you don’t have the compassion for yourself and what you’re struggling with, you can end up beating yourself up and thinking, “What’s wrong with me? I should be able to tough it out, change my thoughts, or have a better energy level, or whatever it is.” Aside from yours, which is a phenomenal success story, is there a story that you like to tell people to give them hope about the potential for change or improvement?
I have a few stories and they are all different, so I’m going to pick. I always pick the story depending on the person but I had one person, a sweet girl, irritable, sensitive to people’s energies in terms of being in her own space a lot. She has a baseline anxiety all the time at about a 6 out of 10. We looked at her blood work and I see that she’s got okay iron levels, but the rest of her red blood cells look a little off. Most of the time, that’s a B12 problem. I look at our copper levels, it’s so low. She has major copper deficiency, which can imitate a B12 anemia.
I was like, “This is what’s going on,” because when we think of copper deficiency, that’s depression, anxiety, fatigue, poor energy levels, all across. That to me, I love that story. We gave her a lot of copper, it took about a month, but she sprung up like a little daisy in the spring. I love that because it’s a classic example I have of where it’s not up to me to decide what the body needs to go, “You’re anxious, you need this. I listened. I looked.” We go, “It’s copper. Let’s do that.” It’s a challenge. It’s fun for me to try to think about what the person might benefit from, but when we can listen to the body go, “This is it,” and it can be that simple sometimes, which is cool.
I can’t thank you enough for what you do for people and for sharing it with our audience. The Alternative to Meds Center is what we’ve been talking about. Is there a website that you maintain or your blog that you want to let us hear about?
My website, if people want to go and check that out, is DrJuliaBritz.com. I’ve also had a blog that I’ve run for several years and that’s called MyOCDDiary.com. I started talking about things that I used to try when I wasn’t in therapy and I’d make little videos about, “I tried this herb. This is what happened. I went to free group therapy. This is what happened.” There was nothing like that at the time. It evolved into other people saying what they were trying, it became more of a community and became supportive for me too. That’s when I learned we are not alone in this thing. It feels that way, but we’re not because that to me was the definition of truly suffering was when you believe you’re alone. I do keep that going. It’s called the AlternativeToMeds.com is the Alternative to Meds website. We’ve got honestly such a beautiful staff there. I’m super happy. Everyone is passionate. Most people have experience in mental health in some way. I get it. We all do and that’s part of it is breaking the stigma and knowing that we’ve all got our thing and we’re not alone.
Thank you for being with us. I will look forward to following your career and see what else you’ll learn that helps yourself and others.
Thank you. It’s been a pleasure.The true definition of suffering is when you believe you're alone. Click To Tweet
Julia Britz is a licensed naturopathic doctor who received her training from Bastyr University in San Diego, California. She specializes in supporting people who are struggling with mental health issues such as anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder and eating disorders. Her passion for working with individuals suffering from these lonely conditions is that she too was once a “hopeless case” but she got better. Dismissed by doctors, she was told over and over there was nothing else she could try beyond pharmacotherapy and so was inspired to create MyOCDDiary.com. It is a site dedicated to documenting the daily life of obsessive-compulsive disorder and related disorders.
Through this project and holistic therapies, she found new levels of wellness and in 2014 did a TED Talk titled, My OCD Diary — An Imperfect Story. Julia utilizes natural and integrative modalities including targeted amino acid therapy, peptide therapy, micronutrient therapy, NAD plus and IV therapy, botanical medicine and epigenetic analysis. She practices telemedicine and can be contacted at www.DrJuliaBritz.com and is the Director of the Naturopathic Medical Department at the Alternative to Meds Center in Sedona, Arizona.
- Alternative to Meds Center
- My OCD Diary — An Imperfect Story
About Dr. Julia Britz, ND
Julia Britz is a licensed naturopathic doctor who received her training from Bastyr University in San Diego, CA. She specializes in supporting people who are struggling with mental health issues such as anxiety, OCD and eating disorders. Her passion for working with individuals suffering from these lonely conditions is that she too was a “hopeless case”, but got better.
Dismissed by doctors, she was told over and over there was nothing else she could try beyond pharmacotherapy, and so was inspired to create myocddiary.com, a site dedicated to documenting the daily life of OCD and related disorders. Through this project and holistic therapies, she found new levels of wellness, and in 2014 did a TED talk called “MyOCDdiary: an imperfect story.”
She utilizes natural and integrative modalities including targeted amino acid therapy, peptide therapy, micronutrient therapy, NAD+ and IV therapy, botanical medicine and epigenetic analysis. She currently practices telemedicine and can be contacted at www.drjuliabritz.com and is the director of the naturopathic medical department at Alternative to Meds Center in Sedona AZ.
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