I have had many clients over the years come to see me to get help for Depression, Anxiety, and Panic Attacks, and they tell me they do not want to take medications. Some say they fear getting addicted, others worry about side effects.
As a therapist, I respect a client’s self determination to make decisions that they feel are right for them. If I have a client whose symptoms are mild to moderate, I would agree with the client, that he or she start with Therapy first and see how much improvement they are able to get.
However, If I have a client that has moderately severe to severe symptoms, such as Panic Attacks that are interfering with academic or occupational activities, or depressive symptoms that make it difficult to get out of bed, I like to gently encourage that they consider medication to help relieve their painful symptoms.
My support of medication in these situations is for several reasons. First of all, if symptoms are so severe they can impede the therapy process. In order for therapy to be effective, the client’s symptoms should be somewhat manageable so that he/she can actively participate in therapy and be able to process the content of the therapy session.
Secondly, these medications work! Why wouldn’t you take a medication that will help you feel better? I like to use the analogy with clients that if they had Diabetes, they would take the Insulin they needed to fix the problem. Why should depression and anxiety be any different? Studies have clearly showed that depression and anxiety result from chemical imbalances in the brain. That is why the medications work; they fix the problem in the brain.
For both Anxiety and Depression most Primary Care Doctors or Psychiatrists will prescribe a Selective Serotonin Uptake Inhibiter. This class of medication addresses both Anxiety and Depressive symptoms. One downside is that it can take up to 6-8 weeks for clients to experience improvement. However, in my experience many of my clients start to see improvement sooner than that.
Anti-Anxiety medications such as Ativan or Xanax can also be helpful for managing Anxiety and Panic Attacks. This type of medication is not meant for long term use, as people can develop tolerance, which can lead to addiction. However, if used as needed, it can provide clients with some relief knowing they have something if they need it.