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Medication vs. Psychotherapy

For far too long “vs.” has designated a combative stance which has interfered with a useful combination of psychotherapy and medication.

Medication can be a vital aid when prescribed properly especially for severe depression, bi-polar disorders and psychosis. Of course each patient needs to be carefully evaluated but medication can help reduce some of the major symptoms that can be so disruptive.

Often medication can alleviate suicidal thoughts; contain explosive and impulsive acts, calm panic, and regulate extreme mood swings.

Frequently severe problems necessitate the use of medication to assist in making psychotherapy productive. Since self exploration, for example, can and often does generate anxiety some medication on a short term basis may help someone stay with the process of psychotherapy long enough to gain beneficial results.

Medications are not silver bullets and can cause significant problems in therapy. For some people a recommendation to consider medication can leave them feeling hopeless and mentally ill. This reaction requires patience and skill to explore the personal meaning of taking any medication for emotional difficulties. Questions of side effects, family history, ineffectiveness or, on the other side, a belief that problems are beyond them and a pill will make all right with the world, are some of the areas that need discussion.

People can sometimes feel they must choose between psychotherapy and medication. It is unfortunate and ill advised for someone in the medical profession to state that all emotional problems are the result of a biochemical imbalance and that medication is all that is necessary. Some can be so convinced of this position that multiple “high dose meds” are prescribed leaving patients feeling terrified, confused, “not themselves” and “numbed out”.

On the other side some therapists believe all problems are exclusively psychological/emotional and fail to make a timely referral, which could alleviate unnecessary suffering. Someone in the midst of a manic episode or immobilized by severe depression can benefit from all the help they can get, including medication in a number of cases.

When consulting with either a physician or psychotherapist about emotional struggles it is fair and necessary to ask each about their professional experience with and attitudes about medication and psychotherapy. It is also important to look for someone who has a reputation of respecting allied professionals in order to maximize the help you receive.

Finally, by all means question both your therapist and physician if you are unclear why medication has been prescribed and how your therapy might be affected. You deserve the best treatment available.