Medication is definitely a hot topic in the counseling world, whether you are a clinician or a client. I recently created a survey and asked people to anonymously identify any barriers to counseling or questions they have about the profession, and one of the barriers or objections I heard was that going to counseling would mean being put on medication (fixing symptoms) rather than addressing the deeper issues. This is something I’ve definitely heard before, and I’m excited to address it here!
First of all, I have a fun fact about counselors (specifically Licensed Professional Counselors and Counselor Interns): we cannot prescribe medication. We can refer you to a doctor, psychiatrist, or other medical professional to prescribe medication, but we are not specifically trained or able to do it ourselves. We are not even ethically allowed to give advice or recommendations as far as medication goes, and we will always point you to an appropriate medical professional if you have any questions or concerns about medication.
Now, that being said, medication can and does come up in counseling, whether clients come in already taking something, or end up going down that route later on in the counseling process. Many clients never end up trying medicine, but some do. Often this is the case when doctors refer someone to counseling after giving a prescription for some sort of medication: common medications for depression or anxiety, for example. But then there are also many who seek out counseling on their own, those that haven’t thought about medication or, perhaps, are against it.
As your counselor, I cannot make you do anything. If I highly recommend you go to your doctor and talk about medication options, you have every right to say no, and counselors respect that. Counseling works, with or without medication. In many cases, medication is simply a helpful, optional tool, not a requirement for recovery.
All of this to say: medication is not an essential part of the counseling process and I won’t force anyone to take it or refuse to see them because they won’t. Nor will I, as a professional counselor, discriminate against any person or persons who do allow other professionals to treat them using medications. There are different schools of thought, but to me counseling is not just about fixing symptoms. Although that can be an important aspect of the process (through learning coping skills and other tools), the real hard work of counseling is talking about and processing through those things that you are afraid to say out loud. Those things that you’ve been judged for talking about before or that you just need to get out of your brain. It’s scary and it’s vulnerable and it’s not easy, but that is where authentic and lasting change happens.
Medication in Counseling
Sometimes medication can help with the talking part. You may be in a place that feels so low that you cannot imagine dredging up all that junk, and that’s okay. Medication can act as a ladder that helps you climb up a little bit higher so you can have enough perspective to really start working hard in counseling. And, depending on your specific situation, that may be all medication ever is. Once you’ve spent some time in counseling, you may not need it anymore. Just like my hope for counseling (as I’ve stated in previous blogs) is that you reach a point where you don’t need me anymore, my hope for medication is that it is a temporary tool, not an end-goal.
To summarize, counseling is a mixture of addressing and improving symptoms through learning and implementing coping skills and other tools (which may include medication, if you wish), as well as addressing the deeper, historical issues that may be hiding under the symptoms. Medication and counseling work great together, but medication is not essential for counseling and it is always up to you whether you want to choose that option or not.
So, that’s what counselors are trained to do! We aren’t trained to prescribe medication, but we ARE trained to listen well and guide you into thinking more deeply, helping you discover new things about yourself and figure out what to do with that new knowledge!
Disclaimer: I cannot claim to speak for all counselors. I am speaking from my own perspective and experience as a counselor and client, as well as the perspectives and experiences of colleagues and professors I’ve learned from. Additionally, any ethical or legal issues discussed are specific to the Licensed Professional Counselor license in the state of Texas, and I cannot speak to the laws or ethics in other states or other licenses.
If you are interested in starting the journey of counseling I’d love to be there to navigate that road with you! Call me at 940-222-8703×705 or email at [email protected], or just schedule an appointment online! I look forward to hearing from you.