Dr. Melanie Malloy of Ember Health brings a patient-empowerment lens and a philosophy of holistic care to the therapeutic ketamine experience offered at Ember Health. Watch the video or read below to learn about her work in Haiti and how she brought ketamine into her therapeutic practice.
Getting to Know Dr. Melanie Malloy
Dr. Melanie Malloy is an emergency medicine trained physician whose path to medicine has fulfilled a childhood dream. Dr. Malloy pursued an MD-PhD degree at Meharry Medical College focused on the molecular biology of battling oxidative stress. She trained in emergency medicine at Kings County Hospital and served as an attending physician at Mount Sinai Hospital, where she was known as a friendly face whose patients instantly felt comfortable in her presence. At Ember Health, she feels gratitude that her career has again led to wellness education and helping people in their path to wellbeing.
According to Dr. Malloy, “serendipity” brought her to this field of practice within mental health. “I wrote about psychedelics for my senior thesis in college. I was a philosophy major, and I got interested in psychedelics as a way of looking at transcendence as a philosophical concept. And so, I did a lot of work, a lot of reading, and a lot of research… I realized that there was a way in which these medications were helping people transcend their normal songs of self and how that could be beneficial for mental health.”
Dr. Malloy has had a diverse career since then. Growing up with a physician mother and a healthcare administrator father, Dr. Malloy worked before medical school in Haiti – where her family is from – as the co-director of the Kellogg community education program at the Hôpital Albert Schweitzer. This experience helped form the philosophy that underpins her healing work.
“It was such a life changing experience working in Haiti as a Haitian American who had very little experience with the country… To find myself living in the mountains with no hot water and limited access to electricity while I was studying for my MCATS changed my perspective on what the scope of medicine really is. My mother sent me an article from a surgeon who became a water engineer and said, ‘Listen, as a surgeon, I was saving one life at a time; as a water engineer, I’m saving 10,000 lives at a time.’ It really gave me a wider view of what health and wellness is, and what it means to be a healer… And so, 20 years later, after a career in emergency medicine, I needed a different career path. I was lucky to reconnect with Dr. Grundmann [of Ember Health] and find this work where I’ve come full circle from what I studied in college. I’m thrilled to be in this space again.”
The Ketamine Experience
“Ketamine is different in a lot of ways from traditional antidepressants. For one, it doesn’t need to be in your system for a prolonged amount of time to affect the brain. Whereas an SSRI needs to be taken every day and requires a steady state of a medication in your system to affect change, ketamine does not depend on the chemical staying in your body over time to work. This is because treatment leads to a structural reset of the emotional reward system in the brain.
Patients who have a generally low baseline mood are now at a new neutral – it’s not a euphoria, it’s not numbness, and it’s not because ketamine is still in the system. It’s because ketamine has come in and has triggered these changes. Over about 72 hours, you have structural changes that lead to this reset. So, patients have a new baseline from which they can appropriately feel good when good things happen and appropriately feel bad when bad things happen. When bad things do happen, they don’t spiral as deeply, and it is easier to stop the depressive thoughts and ruminations.
Patients feel more motivation, more lightness and this is a durable, though not permanent effect. Because stress does prune away at the connections that ketamine helps rebuild over time, this emotional reward center reset can be overcome. That’s why we provide booster infusions. The average patient comes back about every six weeks, and we work with each person to create an individualized care plan that works for them.
The ketamine experience itself can be quite psychologically fruitful. It can lead to experiences of joy, of harmony, of peace that can be really helpful for people who haven’t felt this way in a long time. It can lead to perspective shifts, insights, and changes that people can bring back to their therapists and work with… It opens up a neuroplastic window in which patients are going to have an easier time building new habits, making new brain paths, and internalizing therapy more deeply.”
Healing & the Ketamine Experience at Ember Health
Ember Health is focused on helping patients get the most out of the ketamine experience by creating a safe environment. “We use a holistic approach which pays attention to the set and the setting. We use aromatherapy to help people focus on a state of mind – calming, centering, uplifting, and grounding – that may be supportive of their goals for care… We help people set an intention before every session. A
n intention is really a way of focusing energy and attention. If you’re pointing your thoughts in a particular direction of where you want to go and where you want to be at the end of this experience, then your thoughts are going to start associating from there. And the likelihood is that you’ll have a more interesting, profound, positive, psychologically fruitful experience.
In order to make patients feel safe, I talk to them before each session to find out how they feel. What are they expecting? What do they not know? What is causing them anxiety? We spend a half hour in our first visit just talking, making sure that they feel comfortable with me as a person and with what’s going to happen.
It’s important to me that people feel like they have a good understanding of what’s going to happen. When you sit in a room with a patient and they know that you’re there, that they will be able to speak and gesture, and they will be able to ask for help, it can really make people feel more comfortable undergoing an altered state. The basic elements of human connection – a touch to the ankle – can let somebody know that you are there for them, that they’re safe.”
Empowerment & Optimal Wellbeing
One key way that Dr. Malloy makes treatment different – and impactful – for her patients is empowerment. “I’m a parent, and my whole goal with my children is to allow them the space and the structure to become the best version of who they could be, not who I want them to be. Ever since my teaching days, I’ve always been about helping people with their potential.
How can you improve yourself to be the best version of you? Everybody has a particular talent, purpose, and way of engaging in the world that’s going to be helpful and important. It really benefits everybody if we’re allowed to be ourselves in the best way possible.
For me, it’s about supporting the mental health field, where we have a huge opportunity to see patients who are often impaired by depression. And once you start to lift that, once you help people craft intentions that are meaningful to them, it allows them to open up and become healthy. Then you have people who are more productive and who are helpful and who are kind, and who are able to engage in the world in a more positive way. And so, it’s just a rising tide.
The more that I can help somebody become the best version of themselves, the better they can serve the world. You help somebody who is now able to manage their life better, engage with their children better, able to heal their family, able to be productive in their workspace… I mean, we work with people who are doing extraordinary work. So, the idea that we can help them optimize their wellness and mental health in a way that will make them even better at what they’re doing in their purpose, then that helps everybody.
Living in Haiti as I was preparing to become a clinician, and working on community development projects that had a wider scope of public health – for example building latrines in the mountains – helped me look at health from a perspective that was bigger than one-on-one clinical care alone. This perspective has helped me understand how profound the work we’re doing is – to help people realize their full potential.
Supporting the Ketamine Experience for Patients
In the ketamine therapy field, I would like to see more support for patients. Some of the other models of care are less high touch, and patients can be left alone in a room. I’ve heard from patients who had to press a call button for a clinician to come, for example, and the time distortion that happens during the altered state felt really scary and retraumatizing.
I want every patient who undergoes ketamine therapy or psychedelic therapy to be under the care of somebody who is immediately available to help support them through what can be very scary or a difficult experience.
Connecting with Ember Health
People interested in care should go to our website – emberhealth.co. Within two clicks, you can set up a free consultation call with a doctor on our team. I would encourage people to spend 20 minutes talking to us about who you are and what your goals are.”