A Different Approach to Psychiatric Care: An Interview with Dr. Hyla Cass

by | May 1, 2023 | Issue 167, Issues | 0 comments

An Integrative Psychiatrist for over 30 years, Dr. Cass described how the practice of medicine was woven into the fabric of her life from an early age. She fondly...

An Integrative Psychiatrist for over 30 years, Dr. Cass described how the practice of medicine was woven into the fabric of her life from an early age. She fondly recalls how her father, a family doctor, included her in his world of medical practice, considered her his “helper” in his office suite at their home in Toronto, and took her along on house calls. In time, and with his encouragement, Cass chose medical school over nursing or physical therapy, which were the likelier choices for a woman at the time, and she has not looked back since. 

Dr. Cass has always been one to think outside of the box – to see what works and why. For example, during her earlier years of practice, she observed that medications were frequently ineffective, not curative, and often had unpleasant side effects, so she began experimenting with different approaches. So rather than prescribing medication as the first line of care or treating solely based on symptoms, as an Integrative Psychiatrist, she began looking “under the hood.” She has continued to evaluate individuals biochemically and physiologically to find the root cause of their problems. And the good news is most issues uncovered within her patients can be corrected naturally.

“We have a built-in natural pharmacy, and medications aren’t really contributing to the healing process. Rather, they are only suppressing symptoms and also may have side effects, some quite serious. In my niche of psychiatry, we see how people can become dependent on them, even addicted, and they’re unable to get off the medications even when they have stopped being effective. So, I’d rather start by looking for the root cause and treating accordingly,” explains Dr. Cass. 

These root causes can run the gamut from infections such as Lyme, viruses, or mold, or toxicities such as heavy metals or chemicals to any number of nutrient deficiencies. But you must know to look for them, then treat the person with the right natural products targeting the specific situation. 

“What’s very satisfying to me is that I can most often help people withdraw successfully from problematic medication, or preferably, not go on it in the first place. So often, people are on one or more medications that have stopped working but still produce side effects, such as headaches, nausea, social or work restrictions, issues with memory and clear thinking, sexual problems, and even suicidal and homicidal thoughts, which tragically, are often carried out,” she said. 

The challenge is that these individuals are unable to stop the meds without experiencing difficult withdrawal symptoms. Called discontinuation syndrome, it’s like withdrawing from any addictive substance like alcohol or heroin. However, according to Dr. Cass, by doing an in-depth evaluation, then gradually adding the correct supplements to support their brain chemistry, they can gradually taper off the medication safely and effectively.

“I must add here that going off medication suddenly is ill-advised and even dangerous. It should be done under the care of a knowledgeable physician,” she made sure to share.  

Cass’ Virtual Practice 

Dr. Cass’ work as a practitioner is entirely virtual, but more distinctive is her unique approach. 

“The mainstream psychiatrist takes care of the brain and prescribes medication to suppress symptoms. Sometimes, as in acute situations, medication may be warranted, preferably short-term, but for the most part, it is vastly overused, to the person’s detriment,” she said. “Rather than individual treatment by various specialists, my approach focuses on treating the entire person. So, for example, in mainstream medicine, if someone has gastrointestinal issues and anxiety, they will generally see a gastroenterologist and a psychiatrist, who will treat them entirely separately. In the integrative approach, we are aware of the gut-brain connection. By diagnosing the state of the microbiome (gut bacteria) and finding dysbiosis or a preponderance of bad bacteria, we treat by restoring balance with such supplements as probiotics and prebiotics. This can restore balance to the brain neurotransmitters, thereby resolving gut and mood issues.”  

Dr. Cass has written several books on her experience and treatments that uncover the mind-body and body-mind connection. For example, her popular book, 8 Weeks to Vibrant Health, deals with such topics as depression, anxiety, digestion, weight, hormones, blood sugar issues, toxins, food allergies, and stress, all of which comprise the body’s physiology. 

Dr. Cass instructs readers on how to clean up their diets, which goes a long way to creating good health. For example, food high in sugar and processed chemicals can poison the body and harm brain function. She notes that over the past ten years or so, it has become more challenging to treat patients because they eat far more chemically laden, nutrient-deficient fast food and are exposed to increasing amounts of toxins in the air and water. 

“People’s immune systems aren’t as good as in the past because the toxins actually reduce the immune system’s ability to fight infection, making them likely to succumb,” she said. 

She then helps them choose the right supplements based on guidance from specific questionnaires in the book. Finally, she advises you to consult a physician, preferably holistically oriented, if anything is more severe or persistent. 

Like many professionals in the field, Dr. Cass switched her practice to virtual when COVID hit and has maintained it that way ever since.

When asked to give us a specific example of how her approach differs from the mainstream, she recounted the case of a 42-year-old male patient with crippling anxiety and depression and serious anger issues. His pyroluria questionnaire showed a high score. This genetic and/or possibly stress-related condition is not uncommon and can be remedied simply by supplying specific missing nutrients. 

“The pyroluria caused him to eliminate excessive amounts of B6 and zinc, cofactors in making neurotransmitters, the chemical messengers in our brain that determine mood, focus, memory, and ability to think clearly. As a result, he experienced brain issues related to those deficient neurotransmitters – anxiety (GABA), depression (serotonin), and excessive anger (serotonin). Your body’s making neurotransmitters is like baking a cake. You need to have all the right ingredients, or neither the cake nor the neurotransmitter will come out right!” according to Dr. Cass. 

Dr. Cass prescribed specific supplements to counter this, and after just a few days, he was amazed and grateful (as was his wife!) to report that he felt much calmer and not anxious for the first time in forever!

“The meds weren’t working for him. So, why give somebody a strong medication when natural nutrients targeted toward a specific issue like this work much better – a simple, safe, and effective solution. But unfortunately, one contribution to this over-medication is the media marketing of meds. You watch TV, and you find out that a medication will help you to reach nirvana – then there’s a whole list of scary side effects that are repeated at super high speed and often end with ‘death,’” she explained. 

On the other hand, all kinds of excellent old remedies are coming back in style, this time with scientific proof behind their success. For example, in recent years, there has been a rediscovery of the clinical use of cannabidiol, or CBD, for various mental health and overall health conditions, from stress and worry, poor sleep to social fears, low mood, pain, and far more. Although derived from the cannabis plant, the source of marijuana that can get you high, CBD doesn’t do that but instead has many documented medicinal qualities. Cass has incorporated it into her practice with great benefit to her patients. Wanting complete quality control over the CBD, she prescribed and ensured its purity and potency; she came out with her own brand, available on her website.

“We know our organic growers, who provide the raw hemp. The CBD is then extracted in our lab, bottled, and distributed. An independent third-party lab tests each batch. So that’s how I have access to pure and effective organic CBD for my patients and readers,” she said.  

Dr. Cass has seen and studied enough over the years to truly trust our bodies’ natural chemistry. As a result, her treatments are at the forefront of psychiatry and have changed how people view modern medicine. 

“You don’t necessarily need prescription pharmaceuticals for your brain to work as it should. We have the best pharmacy inside us, and when you know how to intervene correctly, you can make it work for you in the best way possible!” she concluded. 

For more on Dr. Cass’ unique approach to mental health, you can download her free eBook, Reclaim Your Brain: Enhance Your Mind, Mood, Energy, and Memory.

Riley George

Riley George


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