Integrative Psychiatry With Katherine Kessler, D.O.

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Integrative Psychiatry With Katherine Kessler, D.O.

I’m continuing my series highlighting the amazing health practitioners we have here in the Portland area. This month, I interviewed Katherine Kessler who is an osteopath psychiatrist with a functional medicine approach, specializing in women’s health.  You can learn more about her background, osteopathy, and functional medicine at


So you are an osteopathic physician who is a psychiatrist and you offer a holistic, functional approach.  Many psychiatrists just prescribe medication.  What is functional medicine and how is your work different from that of a typical psychiatrist?

I combine the different limbs of my training into an integrated approach seeking to treat the whole patient.  The osteopathic philosophy lends itself to assessing and treating all of the systems of the body with the goal of whole health. Many osteopaths who specialize in psychiatry wind up doing so in allopathic medical programs and lose the osteopathic part of their training.  I trained somewhere that emphasized an approach called the “biopsychosocial approach” which looks at the biological, psychological and social factors that contribute to illness and wellness.  We were trained to use medications, therapy and partner with other providers to offer a team based integration approach.

I also incorporate integrative medicine modalities including functional medicine in my work. Functional medicine addresses the underlying causes of disease and aims toward treating root causes, preventing further dysfunction and moving towards whole heath using nutrition, diet, lifestyle, medical therapies and other therapeutic modalities.


How did you become interested in functional medicine?

One of my greatest mentors, my father, has practiced from this approach for 30 years, and it has influenced how I see health and wellness tremendously. I also studied and worked with various other physicians who use and teach this approach and it is influential in my assessment of patients, how I frame their situation, and how I come up with a plan for us to work towards their wellness. It is a piece of the matrix that I use in my practice and is constantly helping me to learn and grow in how I understand health.


What kinds of talk therapy do you provide?

I provide various types of talk therapy on a spectrum from supportive, coaching like work, to more psychodynamic or psychoanalytic approaches (my psychoanalytic training is limited to my 4 years of residency). I also use approaches called cognitive behavioral therapy and mindfulness based therapies.  I trained at the Benson Henry institute and with a meditation teacher named Christopher Germer during my residency and learned various approaches to mindfulness and meditative based therapy.


What are the most common reason that mothers come to see you?
(Note: This interview was originally done for the group Mom 2 Mom of Maine)

Well, sometimes moms come to me when planning pregnancy, are facing issues with infertility, are struggling during pregnancy or having post part issues.  Moms also come at other transitional times for themselves or their families, or later in life when they are going through peri-menopause or menopause.  The role of a mother is so broad and expansive, and it offers so many rich opportunities for personal growth and evolution.  This is one of the reasons I love my sub-specialty so much.  I feel so fortunate to share these times with patients and to offer them the tools to apply in their daily challenges and joys.


Do you work with women who are taking medication and pregnant or wanting to get pregnant?

Yes, absolutely.  This is always an opportunity to weigh the risks and benefits of medication and to review all of the literature on the subject with women and their partners.


How do you support women dealing with infertility or recurrent loss?

Women have infertility and recurrent loss for many different reasons.  The first part of this approach would be to make sure they are getting the appropriate medical care, and help to assemble or integrate into an already existing team of practitioners to support them.  I would bring my perspective of holistic care to this assessment and treatment plan as well.  We would also address the psycho-social issues that arise in these cases and I would offer appropriate therapy that fits their needs.  Often there is a component of assessing questions about medication continuation, discontinuation or initiation.


Do you incorporate any osteopathic manipulation in your work?

Not at this time.  It is not typical in the psychiatric community that a doctor who is engaged in therapy would use physical modalities of treatment in that setting.  It is something that I really respect and loved learning, but I refer my patients to respected practitioners in the community who specialize in those therapies.


You can see why I think that  Dr. Kessler is a great resource for the Southern Maine community.  I love how she incorporates many approaches to treat the whole body, while also being able to manage psychiatric medications.  I hope more psychiatrists will start to take this approach!

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