Scene: You’re in a therapy session, and your therapist asks if you’ve ever considered trying medication to help with your anxiety, depression, ADHD, or [insert diagnosis here]. And sure, you’ve thought about it, but you haven’t done much more than that because you aren’t really sure how, when or why medication might help. Should you consider taking medication for your mental health symptoms? How would it help? 

These are just a couple of the many questions people ask when deciding whether to add medication management to their mental health treatment plan. Taking medication can feel like a big decision, and for good reason: psychiatric medications (or any medication, for that matter) can have unpredictable side effects, and it’s often impossible to know how well they will work, or if they will work at all, until you’ve been taking them for several weeks. 

For many people, however, adding medication management to their mental health treatment plan can be a game-changer. So let’s unpack the what, why, and when of medication management, to help you determine whether it might be worth considering. 

What is medication management?

Because the vast majority of therapists are not able to prescribe medications, they have to refer their clients elsewhere for the medication aspect of their mental health treatment. That other provider – typically a psychiatric nurse practitioner or psychiatrist, but physician’s assistants, family medical doctors and pediatricians can also prescribe these medications – is then responsible for determining which medications to prescribe, ensuring the medications are working as they are supposed to, and checking to make sure there are no intolerable negative side effects. This is what we refer to as medication management. 

At LynLake, we have a team of medication management providers, all of whom specialize in psychiatric medications. Your LynLake therapist may refer you to one of these providers, or you can reach out to our referrals team to schedule an appointment with one of our medication management providers, even if you are not currently seeing a LynLake therapist. The provider will ask about your symptoms, your overall health, your treatment goals, and gather any additional background information they feel is important in order to determine which medications to prescribe. If you also see a therapist, your medication management provider may ask to communicate with the therapist, to get their impression as to which medications might be most beneficial, and to check in later on to see if the therapist is noticing any improvements or, conversely, any side effects.

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Why should I consider medication management?

Deciding whether to take psychiatric medication is a personal decision and one you should weigh carefully, just like you would for any medication. That said, many people find that medication improves their daily functioning by reducing the intensity of their symptoms. For example, for people suffering from depression characterized by difficulty getting out of bed, low energy and no motivation, medication has the potential to reduce or even eliminate these symptoms, giving people the ability to get through each day more easily. For people struggling with agoraphobia, as another example, medication can reduce the likelihood of experiencing a panic attack or other anxiety symptoms, so they aren’t paralyzed with fear every time they think about leaving the house. 

Of course, no medication works for everyone, and some people struggle to find any medication that works well for them. But with ongoing advances in medicine, even if you haven’t had success with psychiatric medication in the past, it may be worth asking your provider if any new treatment options exist. 

Many people also find that adding medications to regular therapy seems to make therapy more effective. One way to think of medication is like water wings: if you’re having trouble just keeping your head above water, learning how to swim might seem impossible. Water wings keep you afloat so that you can practice your strokes without having to worry about drowning. Medication can help keep you afloat while your therapist helps you learn how to swim. This also means that some people (though not everyone) are able to stop taking medication after making some necessary changes and implementing the skills they learned in therapy. 

When should I consider medication management?

There is probably no single answer to the question of when you should consider medication management. Some people much prefer taking medication over going to therapy, which means the answer for them might be different than for someone who views medication management as a last resort sort of thing. Generally speaking, however, medication management is probably something to consider if your mental health symptoms are so debilitating that you are not able to function as you need to in your everyday life, if they are creating problems in your job, at school, in your relationships, with your finances, if they are negative affecting your physical health, if you are having thoughts of harming yourself, or if you are already engaging in self-harm behaviors.  

Another reason to consider medication management is if you have been in therapy for several months or longer, and you aren’t seeing improvements in your symptoms or functioning. You are doing the work, engaging in the therapy sessions, making the recommended changes in your sleep, diet and exercise, but you still feel depressed, anxious, etc. Or maybe you simply don’t have the energy, motivation, or clear-headedness that you would need in order to make those changes. If that is your situation, taking medication – even if just for a brief period of time – might give you the boost you need to implement those changes you’ve been talking about with your therapist. 

What if I really don’t want to – or I can’t – take medications? 

There are plenty of people who are unwilling or unable to take psychiatric medications, and maybe you are one of those people. Some people belong to religious faiths that prohibit taking medications. Some people want to pursue more natural interventions (e.g., supplements, cannabis, acupuncture, etc). And for some people, their bodies seem dead set against pharmaceuticals, reacting to all of them with significant side effects and little or no benefits. 

If you are someone who is unwilling or unable to take pharmaceutical medications for your mental health symptoms, there are alternatives you may want to consider. Functional medicine is an approach to physical and mental health that focuses on identifying the underlying cause(s) of your symptom(s) and then tailoring interventions to address that root cause. Acupuncture, Reiki, Craniosacral Therapy, Yoga Therapy, and Therapeutic Massage are also non-pharmaceutical approaches to mental health that can boost the effects of psychotherapy, which is why we offer those services at LynLake, in addition to medication management. These are just a few of the non-pharmaceutical options available for people who do not want to take medications, who are unable to, or who have had little to no success with them. 

If you are interested in learning more about medication management and whether it can help you, be sure to speak with your therapist. Or you can contact our referrals team directly to ask about setting up an appointment with one of your medication management providers. 

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Written by: Terri Bly, PsyD, LP, Licensed Clinical Psychologist