I was an English major at Yale, and somebody could have saved me a lot of trouble and soul searching if they had just told me that nearly all English-major pre-meds go on to become psychiatrists. Part of me wanted to just stay in the humanities, and psychiatry is the most humanities-adjacent medical specialty. The gray area of human existence captured in literature was absolutely the right fit for me. When you approach medicine in this more narrative way—where symptoms are sometimes the physical body communicating something about somebody’s more psychospiritual needs—we’re all psychiatrists.
You became a yoga teacher as well as a doctor. You also became an acupuncturist. How did that fit in?
In my fourth year of medical school, I had this intuitive hit that I must study acupuncture. I didn’t know where it came from. I had never gotten acupuncture. I really knew nothing about it, but I decided rather than push away the intuition, I would see it through. I remember it as my first conscious relationship to my intuition. Until that point I didn’t embrace my intuition; I didn’t want to be seen as irrational. I didn’t want people to mock me. It was also my first experience that when you heed the call of your intuition—when you step onto that path—you tend to find that the pieces you need fall into place.
Almost immediately, someone introduced me to an internist at Mount Sinai who liked to teach med students acupuncture. Then she connected me to a hospital in the Bronx that had a training program for a substance-abuse protocol with acupuncture. In exchange for helping out in their detox clinic, they taught me the protocol. It was such a refreshing change from how my regular medical training was going. Acupuncture felt so humane and slow and patient—and patients always left feeling a little bit better.
Do you use acupuncture on your patients?
Yes. Absolutely! What works best when you’re sitting in chairs, face to face in therapy, is auricular acupuncture: needles in the ear. If you look at the ear, it’s what’s called a somatotopic representation of the whole body—like a homunculus. The ear is essentially the fetus in the womb upside down. That’s how it maps to the brain, and it’s a validated system. For example, you can stimulate the so-called knee point in the ear and it will light up in our parietal cortex in the area associated with the knee.
Acupuncture is a really helpful tool in therapy. If someone is anxious or panicking, it can be calming and grounding. If they’re inhibited or blocked, it’s a sneaky little trick to help disinhibit somebody. A person may come in saying, “I’m fine, I’m fine. Everything’s fine.” Then, after the needles, suddenly tears are flowing and they’re talking about something their brother said when they were eight that’s still painful.