More threads by David Baxter PhD

David Baxter PhD

Late Founder
Is Just Taking a Pill the Total Answer?
Wednesday, February 09, 2005
Debra S. Gorin, M.D.

Many emotional problems are diagnosed as physical illnesses that can be effectively treated with medications. This fact should help to de-stigmatize mental health therapy and encourage more people to seek treatment from a therapist without feeling embarrassed. However, there are limitations to the use of medications alone and the most effective treatment for emotional disorders is often the combination use of medication and therapy.

It is known that there are direct interactions between the mind and the physical aspects of the brain - the mind being a person's thoughts, feelings and emotions, reactions to stress, etc. It is the interaction between the mind and the organic brain that can stress the nervous system as well as the rest of the body. This interaction can result in a chemical imbalance. Chemical imbalances present as illnesses including depression, panic attacks, and obsessive-compulsive disorders, to name just a few. Thoughts, feelings, emotions, losses, job changes, deaths, divorces and other stressful life events can also stress our bodies and immune systems resulting in a variety of illnesses.

People with a family history of emotional disorders may have a greater tendency to develop chemical imbalances. Pills work on the chemical imbalance quite effectively, reducing or virtually eliminating the clinical symptoms. However, the medications do not address the mind part of the mind/brain interaction. Therapy helps people cope with their problems, feelings, and emotions, going hand-in-hand with the use of medications to speed up a person's recovery. Many people, particularly women, suffer from long-standing feelings of low self-esteem. Low self-esteem can be a symptom of depression and improves along with the other symptoms as the depression is adequately treated. However, in the case of deeply ingrained low self-esteem, good quality psychotherapy is the only effective treatment.

Another example is Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Pills may help a child focus and/or calm their hyperactive behavior, but they do not address the secondary problems such the low self-esteem that often affects ADHD children. Nor do pills teach a child the proper social skills or work with parents to help them with the necessary discipline and consistency so important with ADHD children.

In addition to psychotherapy and the taking of medications, exercise, good nutrition, vitamin supplements, and the avoidance of excessive amounts of alcohol, nicotine and caffeine are part of the treatment of psychiatric illnesses. Simply taking a pill can often be easier than modifying lifestyle habits for some people. I often tell patients Exercise can often be the best antidepressant-it has no side effects.

I wish it were that easy to treat low self-esteem with a pill or to help a partner in a troubled marriage suffering with Major Depression by the taking of a pill alone. But the effective combination of the right medication, psychotherapy and better health habits can help most people experience a significant improvement in their quality of life.
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