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Dr. Martin Buxton: “Heal thyself”

“Heal thyself” is a tenet for being a physician and for that matter, any healer. To accomplish this, one must know themselves first. Hence, the more insight and capacity for self-observation one has, the more they can be helpful to their patients. To accomplish this, I personally underwent an intensive and extended psychotherapy. I associate […]


“Heal thyself” is a tenet for being a physician and for that matter, any healer. To accomplish this, one must know themselves first. Hence, the more insight and capacity for self-observation one has, the more they can be helpful to their patients. To accomplish this, I personally underwent an intensive and extended psychotherapy. I associate with trusted and intimate colleagues, friends and family members who have the capacity, to be honest and straight with me regarding any surfacing issues which I might not yet observe. It’s like the old joke about the two psychiatrists who unexpectedly encountered each other in the park and greeted each other with, “How am I?” rather than the expected “How are you?” This parody reflects that ironically, we often see others better than we see ourselves. To know ourselves is a lifelong pursuit and yet a prerequisite for treating patients.


I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Martin Buxton. Dr. Martin Buxton, Pinnacle Treatment Centers Regional Medical Director, MD, FLAPA, LFAACP, ABAM Dr. Martin Buxton is an accomplished psychiatrist who is affiliated with multiple hospitals in Richmond, VA. Dr. Buxton is chief of psychiatry at Chippenham and Johnston-Willis Hospitals and medical director of Tucker Pavilion at Chippenham Hospital. He has been on the medical staff at CJW since 1994. Dr. Buxton is a founding partner and president of Insight Physicians, P.C., and a clinical professor on the faculty of medicine at the VCU Medical Center. He is a medical director and board member of the Family Counseling Center for Recovery; a Distinguished Life Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association; a Life Fellow of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry; and is board certified by the American Board of Addiction Medicine.


Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to this specific career path?

I went to medical school because I have always had a calling to be a physician. In high school, we were required to write a thesis and I wrote mine on appendicitis, particularly when done in heroic situations. At the time I graduated from medical school, rotating clinical internships were available. These entailed spending months on different clinical services, such as surgery, ED, medicine, pediatrics, etc. I found that once I understood each specialty, I could envision eventually being bored. When I took an elective in psychiatry, however, I became riveted. I was probably on the same conscious or unconscious search as others entering the field, i.e., trying to understand myself and people I cared about. I really took to it. While in all candor I was a mediocre student before I hit psychiatry, I became supercharged as a student and I was fortunate to gain access to excellent training programs, colleagues and mentors.

I discovered addiction as a major interest via serendipity. While working at a psychiatric hospital, I was the only psychiatrist available to co-lead an adolescent substance-dependent recovery group. I had the good fortune of having a co-leader who was an expert in addiction and generous enough with her time to teach me the basics. I came to see that working in the field of addiction required all the mental health training I had heretofore undergone. I became an avid student of the field and became board certified in this specialty. Given my dual training, I had the skill set to treat addiction, psychiatric illness, and patients who had the challenge of having both. My interest and energy were reinforced by watching my patients attain recovery and become the healthiest people I know.

According to Mental Health America’s report, over 44 million Americans have a mental health condition. Yet there’s still a stigma about mental illness. Can you share a few reasons you think this is so?

From a variety of cultural and religious influences, people mythologically came to believe that being healthy is the equivalent of not having any issues nor problems.

In turn, this led to the belief that it isn’t ok to have feelings and thoughts — that you’re not supposed to have. Thus, as a corollary, if you have an addiction or mental illness, there’s something fundamentally wrong with you. While this misapprehension is being challenged, thanks to public education and the numerous politicians, athletes, actors, and actresses, etc. who have come out publicly with their own stories, there is still much work to be done to destigmatize people’s suffering.

What makes you healthy isn’t not having issues but knowing and accepting that you do have issues. Hence, by accepting this premise, one is free to work on them. Health is not stagnant attainment, rather it’s a dynamic that ebbs and flows throughout our lives. One doesn’t achieve health and then un-health is gone forever. Health, in my view, and the view of recovered individuals, is more like walking up a down escalator.

Can you tell our readers about how you are helping to de-stigmatize the focus on mental wellness?

I am the Virginia Medical Director for Pinnacle Treatment Centers, and a Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at the Virginia Commonwealth University Medical School. Pinnacle recognizes that there are many barriers to treatment for addicted individuals. In the past, it was almost ritualistic that the first step in treatment was to enter a 28-day residential treatment program. In hindsight, it seems almost foolish that the field saw one size fits all. For many people, despite their desire to attain recovery, leaving their families, work or obligations is not a realistic option. Many people couldn’t afford such programs and hence, they were shut out of treatment. Pinnacle has and is ongoing in its efforts to provide addiction treatment in all different shapes and sizes. So that realistic access is available depending on the patient’s specificities, i.e., needing hospital detox, 24-hour structure, multiple clinical contacts a week via intensive outpatient programs, sober living housing, medication-assisted treatment, individual therapy, group therapy, 12 step programs, etc. By meeting patients with treatment plans that are individualized and specific to their needs, we are destigmatizing “addicts” as being one and the same. Our patient-centered treatment plans to honor and respect our patients’ individuality.

In your experience, what should a) individuals b) society, and c) the government do to better support people suffering from mental illness?

Access to healthcare is the prerequisite for health in any society. The mind and body are connected, interrelated and inseparable. Many physical health illnesses impact mental health and vice versa. Thus, there is a holism to attaining and maintaining health. Mental health illnesses and addiction are the results of biopsychosocial forces. To treat any illness successfully and in particular mental illness and addiction, basic prerequisites need to be simultaneously addressed; such as housing, transportation, counseling, safety, disability benefits, nutrition, etc. An illness cannot be successfully treated when ignoring life’s basic needs.

What are the 6 strategies you use to promote your own wellbeing and mental wellness?

“Heal thyself” is a tenet for being a physician and for that matter, any healer. To accomplish this, one must know themselves first. Hence, the more insight and capacity for self-observation one has, the more they can be helpful to their patients. To accomplish this, I personally underwent an intensive and extended psychotherapy. I associate with trusted and intimate colleagues, friends and family members who have the capacity, to be honest and straight with me regarding any surfacing issues which I might not yet observe. It’s like the old joke about the two psychiatrists who unexpectedly encountered each other in the park and greeted each other with, “How am I?” rather than the expected “How are you?” This parody reflects that ironically, we often see others better than we see ourselves. To know ourselves is a lifelong pursuit and yet a prerequisite for treating patients.

What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a mental health champion?

There are numerous activities that can be helpful to one’s health which I participate in. Including but certainly not limited to: meditation, physical activity, religious observance, intimate relationships, engaging and uplifting friendships, healthy diversions and hobbies, twelve-step programs, and sobriety.

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