Question: What approach do you take for the treatment of anxiety and depression as a practitioner of herbal medicine?
In my treatment of patients with depression and/or anxiety I use a wholistic approach. I take a detailed case history and question not only about physical symptoms but also look at diet and lifestyle. Of course with these patients their emotional health is the focus and often I find these people are at crossroads in their lives and need some support with their personal development journeys, so this is also considered.
As a herbalist I cannot wave a magic wand and change unpleasant circumstances in people’s lives, however much I would like to, but I can raise their vitality and ease their symptoms to a level where they are more able to cope. So after the case history is taken a treatment programme is developed and this would include some herbal medicines in either a liquid form (my preferred option as it is better absorbed giving faster results) or in a tablet form.
The herbs I would select may include herbs with the actions of being mood lifting, anti-anxiety, energy boosting and those that can ease the individuals physical symptoms. For example, digestive problems may be associated with the anxiety and depression so that would be treated or sleep problems are often a feature so sometimes a night tonic is prepared. The other advantage, I feel, in herbal medicine is that we have herbs that have a ‘tonic’ effect and nervines are the nervous system tonics and these would also be included in a herbal mix treating anxiety and depression.
Question: Are your treatments evidence-based?
All of the herbs used have a long history of traditional use and many of these herbs have had scientific research confirm the traditional uses. For example St John’s Wort is believed to have been used by Hippocrates and now there is a vast amount of research analysing the herb’s antidepressant and anxiolytic actions. Another herb Passiflora has a history of being a sedative herb and its use in anxiety and insomnia have been confirmed by research. Piper methysticum has a history spanning many centuries in the pacific Islands ’to induce pleasant mental states’ and reduce anxiety and now is a scientifically proven treatment for anxiety and stress states.
Question: Can people take herbal medicines if they are already on prescribed pharmaceutical medications?
If they see a qualified practitioner like myself in the case history they will be questioned about any pharmaceutical medications they are taking. I will avoid using any herbal medicines that are contraindicated with the use of the various medications that the patient is taking. I treat many patients that are taking other medications. Even if the patient is taking antidepressants there are many herbs that can be used and will help support the patient and boost their vitality etc. St John’s Wort has a list of medications that it can not be given with but there are many other herbs that will be effective and can be given with medications.
Question: What can people expect when they consult a herbalist?
A detailed case taking session which looks at their current physical health and their diet, lifestyle and emotional state. For example lifestyle questions would include asking about exercise, relaxation activities, sleep patterns, work and family issues. This all gives a wholistic view of the patient and provides valuable information to help provide the appropriate treatment. 10 patients may see me for anxiety but I can guarantee they would not all get the same formula of herbs in their tonic.
Question: How long does treatment take?
That can vary and will depend on the patient’s constitution, compliance and other factors. I would expect to see some improvement between the 1st and 2nd visits which are normally, in depression and anxiety cases, 2 weeks apart. Once we see substantial improvement then we begin to lower dosages to a maintenance dose and the plan is to be weaned off eventually but this will vary from patient to patient.
Question: Are the treatments prescribed safe?
Yes, if prescribed by a practitioner that is qualified and has access to information regarding any interactions between herbs and pharmaceutical medications. I don’t encourage people to self prescribe with over-the-counter supplements as that will not be as effective as an individual prescription. Also, many of the over-the-counter preparations are not as concentrated as ones that practitioners can access and so will not give as much benefit.