I recently ran across this article, entitled “I didn’t ask for your opinion on my psych meds”. It provides a very important glimpse into the world of somebody who takes psychiatric medications for bipolar disorder. The author is both vulnerable and bluntly honest, and I know several people who have said they relate to how they feel. It is extremely frustrating to be told how to live one’s life, without respect or regard for what it’s like to actually live it. The author’s argument is that since nobody else is living inside their body and brain, nobody else has the right to make decisions for them.
I strongly agree with the author’s sentiment. Unless you are going to a medical professional for the purpose of getting advice on medication, nobody has the right (or qualifications) to give you advice on your medication. I don’t even give advice on medications. My profession is counseling, and my professional integrity dictates that I do only counseling, and do it well. I encourage clients who are considering medications to get an evaluation from their doctor. If they are experiencing serious side effects or the meds do not seem to be working, I encourage them to call their doctor right away, so they can adjust the prescription and find one that works.
Finding the right meds is often a process of trial and error, and a doctor may not know what works best until they have tried several things. Everyone’s brain is different, and there is no “one size fits all.” It is important to be patient with oneself during this process, and have a good support system as one navigates the ups and downs of adjusting to medications.
As you can see, getting on meds is NOT an easy process, or an easy decision. Nobody wants to admit that they need medications, resigning themselves to a life with possible side effects in addition to the social stigma. I have never once seen a client jump into taking medications without careful consideration. Generally, when people consider meds, they have exhausted all other options that may include natural remedies, diet, exercise and therapy with multiple counselors who have tried a number of different methodologies. Nobody. Likes. Meds. People take them because the alternative is unbearable, and most people who demonize meds have no idea what it’s like to live an unbearable life. It is very important to respect the decision of someone who is taking medication, whether you are their therapist, their family member or their friend.
Can therapy, meditation, diet or exercise cure mental illness? In some cases, yes. There are plenty of people who come to therapy and are eventually able to reduce their dose of medication, or eliminate medication altogether. I’m not someone who makes promises to that effect (again, I’m not a doctor), but I do allow for the possibility that it will happen. That said, I don’t hold that up as a goal.
When somebody comes to me for counseling, my hope for them is that they will become more comfortable in their own headspace, so that they can become well-resourced enough to create a life filled with love, support and a sense of purpose. People can have all of the aforementioned things and still take meds. In fact, sometimes taking meds (at least temporarily) helps people achieve those things, because they are getting more benefit from therapy. They feel a greater sense of stability and resiliency, so that they can face their personal demons without feeling overwhelmed. Eventually, the meds may no longer be necessary. That’s always a nice result. I’m equally happy when I see the person coming to a place of fully accepting themselves, meds and all.
I hope that everyone who has read this will also read the original article. It’s good stuff. And please, before you give advice to somebody who is taking medication, take time to consider that they’ve probably already gotten that same advice many a time, and have come to the same (very difficult) conclusion…that the meds are necessary. Remember too: this person already has a doctor, and they do not need you to be another one.
What they need you to be is a friend. So put your advice aside, and do what friends do: Listen.