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Psychocutaneous medicine: a new frontier of psychiatry

Wednesday, November 20, 2019  
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Ladan Mostaghimi, MD
Honorary Assoc/fellow of L&S/Integrative Biology
Professor Emerita of the University of Wisconsin Madison

The skin and the mind are like siblings in that they have common embryonic origins, both rising from the ectoderm. Yet, it is the means through which they interact that is perhaps the most fascinating. The skin is a sensory organ that conveys a lot about how we feel inside. It can display signs of wellness or disease, while also being our first line of defense against external threats. These multiple functions allow us to indirectly study the brain and psyche through the skin. In a way, our skin can reveal our thoughts.

Psychocutaneous medicine is a subspecialty of dermatology and psychiatry that explores the interactions between the brain and skin. For many patients, their skin disease can affect their quality of life and their mental wellbeing, and the reverse is true in that some psychiatric problems express themselves and manifest signs through the skin.  The psychocutaneous specialists offer a variety of services from treatment of emotional problems caused by chronic skin diseases to treatment of skin picking, hair pulling nail biting, and evaluation and treatment of chronic itch to name a few.

Psychocutaneous medicine could play an important role in a holistic approach to patients with dermatological ailments and in integrative treatment settings.  Training physicians to recognize and treat psychocutaneous diseases will improve quality of care.

Editor's Note: Doctor Mostaghimi is a WPA Member, has offered a psychocutaneous clinic for University of Wisconsin Madison for over 16 years and now offers training workshops for interested physicians through Wisconsin.