Jagged little pill? – Therapy and medication

“I’m fine, but I’m bipolar. I’m on seven medications, and I take medication three times a day. This constantly puts me in touch with the illness I have. I’m never quite allowed to be free of that for a day.”  Carrie Fisher

It’s becoming clear that we’re unfortunately facing two pandemics at present (as if one wasn’t enough for us to deal with). The first pandemic is the virus and the other being more silent, a crisis concerning the state of our mental health. 

A very common and obvious first step when we’re not feeling our usual selves is to visit our GP. And this is often where medication is first discussed and presented as an option for immediate relief. 

Our use of medication to help with psychological and emotional issues has been on the rise for some time. In 2017, prescriptions for antidepressants were up by 100% since 2015 and 500% since 1992 and there have been similar increases with other psychiatric medications. Psychotherapist and leading commentator, Dr James Davies says we are in the middle of a psychiatric drug epidemic stating that over 15% of the adult UK population is psychiatrically medicated at any one time. 

The role of therapy

So how can your therapist support you in all of this? First of it is very very important to be aware that counsellors and psychotherapists are NOT allowed to prescribe psychiatric medication to their clients. Those who can prescribe include your GP and psychiatrists. It is NOT our role to tell you to take or not take medication. 

Second of all, taking psychiatric medication does not prohibit you from entering therapy. You can absolutely do both and often they work well together. The medication helps to relieve symptoms  whilst allowing the therapy to work on the root cause. 

What therapists can do is provide the space for you to consider, debate end explore your attitude, feelings and overall relationship to medication. I reckon given therapists aren’t prescribers, we can have a really honest, no pressure conversation considering the pros and cons of medication. 

It is integral that as a client you arrive at an informed decision in regards to your mental health and your treatment. As therapists, we can support you in making this empowered decision or what is generally called informed consent. We can also support you throughout your treatment journey, including when deciding to take medication, or when to possibly change your dosage.  Withdrawal from medication can be just as complex as starting out and sometimes the side effects of withdrawal can be mistaken for the original issue recurring, so talking this through in therapy can be very useful. 

Another important point is that your relationship with your psychiatric medication can change over time and so its important to keep having regular reviews of your prescription(s) with your GP, or other prescriber. Reviews can include how the medication is working (or not), side-effects and dosage. In the absence of such reviews, people can end up staying on medication far longer than they need to.

With the mental health impact of Covid-19 not fully realised, it’s important for us to be informed as to the use of medication in treatment of mental health issues. As you can probably work out by now, the key to all of this is to talk, explore and consult (and keep repeating just as often as the subscriptions themselves). 

Photo by Christina Victoria Craft on Unsplash

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