As a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, whether or not someone needs medication is perhaps one of the more common questions that I get asked by clients and friends alike. Next to the stereotype of therapists asking their clients to lay down on a couch, I think the stereotype of therapists recommending medications is the next most common stereotype. I don’t really know why. As a Marriage and Family Therapist I can’t prescribe medications. Maybe it has something to do with all the Looney Tunes cartoons where Bugs Bunny would pretent to be a Therapist for Elmer Fudd and tell him to “Take two of these, and call me in the morning”.
Do I Need Medications?
Anyway, if you’re struggling with mental health difficulties does that mean you should also take medications? The short answer is ‘no, not necessarily’. There are many mental health difficulties that don’t even have medications for them such as grieving the loss of a loved one or dealing with an addiction. There are even some mental health diagnoses that do have prescriptions for them but the prescriptions are shown to be only minimally effective. For example, depression (which is the most common mental health difficulty in America) has been shown to be resistant to medications unless it is moderate to severe.
So why do we see commercials all over night time T.V. with doctors recommending medications for for bi-polar and depression and all sorts of other mental health diagnoses? Well, it’s simple. The same reason we see commercials for cars and air fresheners. It’s not that we truly need them, companies are just trying to make people aware of their products to inform us of them in case we may want them. They’re not meant to be public service announcements informing the public of services available to them for the better good of society.
Medications Can Be Helpful and Often Are
Being a good mental health provider I have to say that there are times when medications are absolutely appropriate and are very helpful to people struggling with mental health difficulties, but it all depends on the specific diagnosis and your individual medical history. Which is why at the end of every one of those T.V. commercials you’ll always hear the voice-over say “ask your doctor if (insert name of medication) is right for you”. Then it goes on to list a bunch of other medical histories that you should tell your doctor about when asking them about the medication.
Medication Is Often More Effective When Coupled With Psychotherapy
Too many Americans assume that medications alone are the only answer. But most studies which have examined the efficacy of medications for mental health difficulties has determined that these medications are most effective when coupled with psychotherapy. Why is this? Because medications can affect the biological component of mental health difficulties by increasing or decreasing chemicals in your brain but they don’t do anything to solve the human component of mental health difficulties. For example, they don’t help you grieve the loss of your loved one or help you identify the triggers behind your addiction.
So I hope you ask your doctor about medications that may help you with whatever mental health difficulties you have. But I also hope that you ask a good psychotherapist about treatments that may be helpful for you too. If you really want to make an impact and improve your mental health, the appropriate combination of medication and psychotherapy is just what the doctor ordered.