Medication therapy is useful in treating many mental illnesses. Some disorders are best treated with a combination of talk therapy and medication. Medication assisted treatment, in substance use disorders, smoking cessation, anxiety and thought disorders is increasingly becoming the “gold standard” for improved life long outcomes; MAT is not the same thing, necessarily as having to stay on or be on meds for life. Some people wonder if there are not other non-traditional ways of getting help.
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To be clear medication assisted treatment, quite evidenced based, is about getting through the hardest parts of recovery with meds on board where later, assuming you and your doctor agree anyway, after talk therapy has been most effective, stopping the meds might be an option. For this approach to be most successful, your therapist and your MD will likely want to coordinate care. It probably goes without saying, but I will do so here as a matter of professional and ethical practice – plus because your safety is key – you should talk to your doctor before starting or stopping or changing medications. A talk therapist can give you certain information about how meds might work and what chemicals are affected in what way – but the psychiatrist (an MD in mental health) is the expert for meds and med changes.
A majority of mental illnesses can be treated with prescription drugs, but it is common to see combined treatments of counseling (talk therapy) and medication, and this is not necessarily a life long thing. Many people thing depression meds and anxiety meds are addictive; you may think the same about other meds in other disorders too. Some medications are addictive – but most medications are not. And the FDA requires that prescription medications have information on the web with the medication name as a part of the URL to help you find out what the side effects and the risks are. There are risks in taking any mediation and your doctor can help with these concerns too.
One of my favorite websites in looking up prescription based medications information, in part because it is easy to remember, is Drugs.com. Another of my favorite websites that looks at how the brain is affected by self administered drugs is a favorite because of their wonderful “mouse trap” video feed. Take a look at what the researchers from the University of Utah have done in their “mouse trap” scientific summary. Between drugs.com, webmd and mouse trap clients can really get allot of helpful information!
There are also homeopathic and natural remedies that are suggested for mental illness (improved diet, increased exercise, better sleep hygiene, and even clinical hypnosis are just some examples of “natural” approaches to treatment). Supplements are increasingly being marketed as “healthy alternatives” to prescription drugs. Most supplements are not regulated by the federal government in the same way that medications are. That doesn’t mean that natural alternatives should not be considered, it is just a word of caution.
Drugs are not all legally prescribed and some prescribed drugs are abused (used other than the way a medical doctor has prescribed them). The affect of drug abuse on the brain is known in the neuroscience literature (click here for an interesting tour of how the brain “high” occurs).
Medical Doctors, Psychiatrists and Advanced Nurse Practitioner’s can prescribe medications. Clinical Social Workers, Mental Health Counselors, Psychologists, Art, Music, and Play Therapists, as well as Marriage & Family Therapists do not prescribe (for more information on each type of professional go to “Who Should I See?”). Both kinds of professionals (prescribers and non-prescribers) can be effective in treating mental disorders. Many people seeking mental healthcare have questions about how disorders are diagnosed and based on what criteria.
What is important to consider in deciding who you will see, is that nearly all prescribers who can prescribe a drug, will likely do so to alleviate your reported symptoms; counselors provide other methods of therapy that do not include medications. Some people will seek meds as the attempt to determine “is my therapist any good at what they’re doing?”
It is common for prescribers and non-prescribers to make referrals to each other, in instances where combined therapies are indicated. Sometimes mental health offices are staffed by both kinds of professionals—and when the prescriber and non-prescriber are housed in the same facility records and treatment outcomes are easily monitored. The are reports showing effectiveness when the medical model (where prescriptions are primary) and the bio-psycho-socio-spiritual model (where talk therapy methods are primary) work in partnership (a clinic case example can be found here).
Regardless of your treatment preference, you alone should not attempt to determine whether or not medications are needed for what may seem like the symptoms of a mental disorder. Consulting a mental health professional should be your first step. Getting a full clinical assessment is a good way to determine what variables are impacting mental well being.
If you are unsure if your treatment plan should include prescription drugs—and you think prescriptions would be the best place to begin, consider making an appointment with a medical doctor, psychiatrist or ARNP. For more information on the most commonly prescribed medications, click here.
If you prefer treatment that does not center around prescription drugs, then a Clinical Social Worker is probably a good place to begin. Why a Clinical Social Worker?
Still unsure where to begin? Contact us for more information.