A Brief Chat with Dr. Alok Madan

Dr. Alok Madan

Dr. Alok Madan is a clinical health psychologist working in Houston, Texas. He holds a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology from the University of Alabama at Birmingham where he also earned a Master’s degree in Public Health and a Master’s of Arts degree in Psychology. Dr. Madan completed 2 fellowships at the Medical University of South Carolina, one in Behavioral Medicine and another in Quality Management. He currently holds the position of Vice-Chairman in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Health at Houston Methodist.

Recently, we got the opportunity to briefly chat with Dr. Madan, and we thought you might enjoy getting to know a little about him and his work. During our conversation, we talked about treating co-occurring disorders, his work and research on the gut-brain connection, and his passionate commitment to improving the mental healthcare system from the inside.

Co-Occurring Disorders and the Quest for Better Outcomes

One of the first things Dr. Madan told me was that he is not an addictions specialist and that he doesn’t claim that his programs are addiction-focused. Dr. Madan and his team work with folks struggling with primary mental health disorders (e.g. Major Depressive Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, etc). That does not mean that he doesn’t meet people with addiction issues. What it means is that Dr. Madan and his team know their clinical focus and their limits, and they understand the importance of collaboration with professionals who do specialize in substance use disorders. 

Diagnosing and treating BOTH the substance use disorder AND any underlying mental health issues is critical for lasting recovery. Dr. Madan strongly asserted the need for focused, specialized care and emphasized that believing we, as clinicians and treatment providers, must be all things to all people is a dangerous and unnecessary error. 

The Mind-Body Connection

Dr. Madan has spent most of his career researching the mind-body connection and more specifically, the gut-brain connection. He said, 

The Cartesian Folly (separation of mind and body in medicine) continues to plague us on April 5th, 2022…so day to day, what I try to do clinically is to help understand the interface between mind and body.” 

Dr. Madan had the unique opportunity to start his career working, not in a psychiatric ward, but in a functional gastrointestinal (GI) clinic. He worked on a multidisciplinary team helping patients with severe IIrritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). It was during that time that he began to see the connection between the gut and the brain. He went on to build a program that integrated psychotherapy and medication management for people with GI issues and comorbid psychiatric concerns, to research integrated care for patients with chronic pancreatitis, and finally to research the connection between the severity of specific mental health issues (depression and anxiety) and reduced biodiversity of the gut microbiome. 

If you’ve never heard of Psychiatric Microbiology, keep your ear out for a new discipline. Dr. Madan’s making it happen!

The Passion Behind His Work

During our interview, Dr. Madan’s desire to help people lead the lives they want to live was palpable. We wanted to know how he would describe his deep passion for his work, so we asked him what drove him to keep going. Here’s what he had to say:

I feel like we can do so much better as a society, as a globe, as human beings. This (mental health/mental illness) is part and parcel of the human condition. It’s so stigmatized, shame-laden, and poorly treated, and I think we as a society have done wrong by ourselves. We’ve criminalized illness, and there’s a wrongness to that that I can’t swallow. And then our healthcare infrastructure – they’ve done no right by us. There’s not good care. Depression is the leading cause of disability across the planet. We don’t spend anything on it. It’s not fair. The injustice. Where we’ve prioritized what’s important to us. Health insurance will pay for Stage 4 cancer surgery with a 90-day survival expectancy yet a young kid, 20 years old with first break psychosis – ‘good luck, go to jail’. That’s wrong. That doesn’t sit well with me, so I’m trying to do something about it.

We love it! Thank you, Dr. Madan, for your passion and the work that you do.