Mental Health Care: Therapy and Prescribing Medication Misconceptions

Access to mental health care is a significant issue across the country. Affordability, location, stigma, negative past experiences, and so much more prevent people from seeking the mental health care they need and deserve. One barrier some cite as a reason they delayed seeking mental health care is confusion around medication and therapy. Mental health professionals wish the general public better understood the roles of medication and therapy in mental wellness.

Most therapists aren’t licensed to prescribe medication

There are many kinds of mental health professionals who provide therapy: mental health counselors, marriage & family therapists, psychologists, social workers, psychiatrists, etc. Currently, in all but two states, psychiatrists are the only mental health providers licensed to prescribe psychotropic medications. Rhode Island and Louisiana allow some psychologists who have acquired additional education to prescribe medication. Mental health professionals without prescribing privileges can refer you to someone who can prescribe medication. Most therapists who work with clients taking medications should be seeking out knowledge regarding these medications. Therapists should also be contacting their clients’ prescribers to ensure quality coordination of care.

Therapists can start by encouraging lifestyle changes before recommending other tools

Your first therapy sessions should center on why you sought out therapy and what you hope to accomplish. In concert with your sessions, therapists may suggest lifestyle changes such as utilizing sleep hygiene protocols, increased exercise, and mindfulness practices to assist in meeting your goals. As the client, you are encouraged to tell your therapist your preferences as far as tools that work, do not work, or your fears around trying new things. This is also true when working with a medication prescriber.

There are many kinds of therapy and therapists to try

In your mental health journey, you may find that every therapist has different knowledge, specialties, and style. If you aren’t feeling comfortable or connecting with a mental health professional, it is your right to seek out another provider that does make you feel more comfortable and/or connected. Furthermore, therapists have an ethical and professional duty to refer you to another competent provider if they are not the best person to help you with your concerns.  

There is a wide array of therapeutic modalities that have been studied and proven to be evidence-based and effective. Dealing with traumatic memories? Trauma Focused CBT (TF-CBT) or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) may be right for you. Are you feeling like your emotions are ruling your decision-making, and you are feeling regret after acting on a strong feeling? Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) may be appropriate. Therapy is not a one-size-fits-all form of health care. It might take time for you to find the most effective form or a combination of therapies that address all of your needs. Openness with your therapist is key to understanding what does and does not work for you.

Medication is sometimes necessary, and can be very helpful

Therapists want to relieve suffering. It is their goal to empower their clients to be in the driver’s seat of the best version of themselves. For some clients, after trying many types of therapy, therapists, and/or lifestyle changes, medication is their best option to live a more fulfilling life. In many instances, taking medication is the client’s choice after many of the client’s efforts have not yielded the desired results. Mental health professionals are in the business of helping their clients feel better and empowered, not controlled or manipulated.  If a client has decision-making capacity and is not a danger to themselves or others, therapists have an ethical duty to respect a client’s self-determination.

A large reason why many clients seek a psychiatric evaluation for medication is because it can create the emotional stability and focus which will allow a client to effectively utilize talk therapy and other therapeutic interventions. Medication can help relieve intense symptoms, and this often allows clients to do deeper work with their individual therapist. Often, medication is complementary to the work done in talk therapy, and not a replacement for the hard work of behavior change. Additionally, rigorous scientific research and years of practice knowledge demonstrate psychiatric medications to be effective, particularly in treating severe and persistent mental illness- including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, generalized anxiety, or persistent depression. Such mental health conditions that may not respond fully to other therapeutic methods or lifestyle changes can improve with the help of modern science. Along with therapies such as CBT or EMDR, medications may be able to return the client to regular and sometimes increased levels of functionality. We take medication for headaches, heart disease, infections, and all sorts of maladies. Why wouldn’t we also take medication for our mental health when it works?

Don’t let stigma keep you from care

For some potential clients, they hesitate to seek out mental health care due to the stigma associated with therapy and medication. We have come a long way in normalizing mental health, but there is still much work to be done. Many who are prescribed medication lead perfectly normal lives. You probably already know someone! We must overcome the impression that mental health is separate from general health care. We are blessed to live in an age with copious therapies to treat our ailments. Taking medication and attending therapy for mental health conditions is no different. 

If your hesitancy to seek out mental health care is due to fears around medication and therapy, please don’t delay care! The only thing you will need as you start your mental health journey is patience. Take your time in trying out different forms of care and give yourself the grace to move at your own pace. Therapists at JFS can help you craft a plan that you are comfortable with, so get in touch today! 

Call (504) 831-8475 or email jfs@jfsneworleans.org.

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