Psychiatrist sees herself as a mental health detective

Dr. Reba Peoples (Dwight Hobbes/MSR News)

What health do you have at all without mental health? If your mind isn’t right, everything else is bound to go wrong.

“It’s important to understand health [as] a holistic concept,” says psychiatrist Dr. Reba Peoples. “People often think of health as the absence of disease. It really is the presence of wellness. Not just physical, but mental, emotional and,” she adds, “spiritual,” the last being not exactly what one generally expects to hear from a professional in the field of psychiatry.

“Without all of those in combination, health is impossible.” Dr. Peoples approaches the spiritualty component as “a human, an African American, who comes from a spiritual tradition.” She notes, “Western medicine [originates] from a reductionist point of view, which often views the body as similar to a machine.”


“Just being African American in a racist society is enough to cause problems.”


The good doctor is in a uniquely advantageous position to benefit Black patients, particularly those who understandably steer clear of her White peers who may not understand such patients or their difficulties in dealing with life. “A study was just done [indicating] African Americans experience depression differently.” This crosses social strata, from everyday folk dealing with racism and other social pressures, on top of today’s crushing economy, to — sometimes — high-salaried Black women and men in prestige positions.

“Just being African American in a racist society is enough to cause problems; nothing’s really changed,” says Peoples. “Paul Laurence Dunbar said, ‘We wear masks to protect ourselves when we are in settings that aren’t predominantly minority settings.’” She adds, “Even that word, minority — we have to think about how our use of language shapes who we are, because people of color are the majority. We use this language that reinforces the concept of us as less-than.”

Her practice includes helping mental health professionals who find themselves so focused on counseling clients that they neglect their own needs. “It’s hard for people who are in the helping or healing profession to slow down enough to take care of [themselves]. A lot of times we’ve grown up as caregivers in our families. That almost becomes an identity.

“You only have so much to give. Eventually, there’s that old saying, ‘You can’t pour from an empty cup.'” In other words, you can’t make someone else’s self-worth your self-worth? “Exactly.”

Whether treating laypersons or fellow professionals, Peoples sees herself as a detective who “figures out what’s going wrong in order to bring patients into alignment.” In 2015, Dr. Peoples devised the Imara Health website ( addressing the individual and his or her world, emphasizing how environment and lifestyle influence mental and emotional stability.

“What music are we listening to, media we’re consuming, people [with whom] we surround ourselves — all those things feed into our consciousness. We have to be careful.” Not subscribing to the field’s pill-happy propensity, she nonetheless acknowledges, “If there are biochemical imbalances that may be leading to issues…you have to understand those factors.”

The website states, “Imara Health recognizes that one size does not fit all when it comes to attaining and maintaining wellness.” The cornerstone is outlined by an acronym, SMART: (S)leep, (M)ovement, (A)wareness, (R)ecognizing identity and (T)ailoring input. This forms the foundation of Imara’s functional medicine matrix.

Each component is a major behavioral determinant of health. The SMART Wellness Overview states that, in addition to private practice, “Imara Health and Wellness is committed to ensuring that savvy leaders and employees of mission-driven organizations are equipped with the tools necessary to reclaim a sense of joy and purpose in their lives. Imara Health’s services include executive and leadership coaching, communication strategies and conflict management, wellness coaching, employee workshops, seminars and trainings (burnout, toxic stress, self-care strategies) and clinical consultation.

Dr. Reba Peoples’ principle objective empowers patients to become stewards of their own well-being by acquiring sufficient skill to proactively achieve and sustain holistic health, to assume responsibility and self-accountability for how they handle their lives — mentally, emotionally, socially and spiritually.

Have your head on straight and the rest will follow.


Dwight Hobbes welcomes readers’ responses to P.O. Box 50357, Minneapolis, MN 55403