More than ever in mental health and in my experience as a psychotherapist medication alone is offered to treat psychological issues.
Many people receive medication as a first treatment for a psychological complaint and only later on pursue psychotherapy. Many people are not even offered the possibility of psychotherapy as if medication alone will solve the problem. This approach ignores the research that demonstrates that the best outcomes occur when psychotherapy and medication are used in conjunction rather than medication alone.
Psychotherapy addresses psychological, emotional and relational complaints with careful investigation through talking about what the compliant is. The complaint may involve anxiety or depression or other symptoms, but all of these experiences deserve careful and thoughtful investigation to discover the beginning of the problem, earlier instances of the problem, the environmental circumstances of the problem and the individual’s unique experience that cannot be captured in a simple diagnostic term.
A psychotherapist is uniquely positioned to perform this investigation and assessment. Medical practitioners are pressed for time and focused on relieving symptoms and suffering. The psychotherapist offers a set, unhurried session of time in which to carry out a thoughtful exploration of the complaint. The psychotherapist has the skill and framework to search all corners of a person’s experience for the sources of the complaint. The goal may not differ from the medic to relieve suffering, but the path is quite different.
The call for medication is driven by the enormous discomfort at the moment when someone first and perhaps desperately consults about emotional problems. And perhaps after having put off seeking help for some time. It is understandable that one finally meets the doctor and wants relief.
When a person begins psychotherapy and resists the rush to a drug solution the urgency for medication may diminish quickly. Sometimes we discover that one is trying to medicate a very authentic human emotion like sadness or grief or frustration. Psychotherapy makes possible a growing toleration of emotion and pursues understanding of feelings and experiences rather than alleviating them with a drug. Medication may dull a depression and just as well dull pleasure and other good feelings.
Many people who consult me today are already taking medications. In addition to the help they are getting from the medications they are trying to understand their emotional life. I have noticed with some people that as the therapy progresses and provides relief and understanding they begin to forget to take their medications or actively seek to cease use of the medications. This occurs when feelings can be tolerated and when a range of feeling becomes recognized as the texture of living, uncomfortable at times, but true to life, a life of authentic experience which cannot and should not be eradicated by a drug.
Peter has a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology and maintains a private practice in psychotherapy since licensure in California in 1984. Currently he lives and practices in Portland Oregon.
He completed additional training as a Psychoanalyst in 1996 and treats individuals in psychotherapy and psychoanalysis. Peter also supervises and consults to practicing psychotherapists.
You can contact Peter here to discuss your needs and questions about a consultation.
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