One of the most common questions that clients ask us in counselling is whether they should take medication for anxiety and depression.

Some clients seem adamant they do not want to take any form of medication for anxiety and depression because they see this as either being weak, or because they are weary of taking any mood altering substances that may have side effects and leave them feeling out of control. Other clients are more inclined to use drugs as a first line of attack.

Clients generally enter counselling because they are experiencing physical and psychological symptoms that are troublesome and sometimes overwhelming. Most of them come to therapy because they are motivated to work on themselves, face their fears and examine their thoughts, attitudes and behaviours. Counselling alone can often help them achieve their goals.

For others however, sometimes in spite of their valiant efforts at therapy and the efforts of their counsellor continue to find themselves paralyzed or overwhelmed by their symptoms.

They may get to a stage where the physical symptoms resulting from anxiety and depression seem uncontrollable, and they may lose their determination, and the willingness to trust in their own capacity to heal.

Medication for anxiety and depression can play an important role here in helping clients quiet their anxious and depressive symptoms to the degree that they are more able to utilize the counselling process more effectively.

Medication for Anxiety and Depression – take or not to take!
For example, Heidi is a high achieving and successful professional. She is self-aware and self-motivated but in spite of her efforts to combat her recurring obsessive thoughts she continues to struggle. She has come into counselling with the hope that it can provide some strategies to relieve her anxiety. Heidi works diligently with the counsellor and appears to be doing all the right things but in spite of her efforts she finds herself stuck in her obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviours. The counsellor suggests she talk to her doctor about trying some medication, which she does. Heidi finds that after several weeks her obsessive thoughts have slowed down sufficiently that she can now focus on the underlying issues fueling her OCD. Over time, she is able to slowly withdraw from the medication. The insights she has gained in counselling have helped her address the underlying cause of her symptoms. The skills she has learned will serve her should any of the symptoms re-occur in the future.

One question that often comes up in counselling is whether anxiety and depression are a result of some chemical imbalance.

Candace Pert’s research on the molecular basis of emotions concludes in her book “Molecules of Emotions” that: “molecules of our emotions share intimate connections with, and are indeed inseparable from, our physiology”. This appears to be a powerful testimony to the inextricable connection between our emotions and chemicals.

While there is no doubt that a chemical imbalance is present with anxiety and depression, there is a chicken and an egg controversy that remains unsolved as to which one came first. Did the exaggerated despair and depressed mood experienced as a result of a co-worker’s comment deplete the chemicals in your brain or was an already deficient ‘happiness’ chemical responsible for your depressed reaction? We simply don’t have the definitive answer to this.

What we do know is that anxiety and depression are most often associated with certain unproductive ways of thinking including, catastrophic, negative, pessimistic and defeated habits of thinking.

Pills or no pills those thought patterns need to be addressed, and pills themselves won’t change your thoughts. They may however calm down the fear, worry and sadness that are associated with those thoughts to the degree that you will be better able to focus and address any self-defeating patterns of thinking and behaving .

Among clinicians who specialize in anxiety and depression there is general agreement that medication is most beneficial when used in conjunction with a therapy that helps you alter your unproductive habits of thinking and give you more control over your own reactions.

For some clients anti-anxiety or antidepressants can act as a valuable short-term aid while they try to heal themselves, while for others,medication for anxiety and depression offers a good long-term support for a disorder that can be chronic and cyclical in nature. Without it some clients seem to relapse too easily into troubling symptoms.

Medication for Anxiety and Depression – take or not to take!
In the end the choice to take medication for anxiety and depression is a very individual one that depends on several factors including: a person’s drug tolerance, current level of functioning, family history, current and past stressors, support systems and resilience.

Pills are not a panacea. They can however be, an immeasurable aid in helping get through symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Ultimately, the key to healing lies in your confidence and ability to face the fearful or challenging situations in your life and master your symptoms.

It should be noted that medication for anxiety and depression does not work for all clients and for some the side effects which can be variable are not worth the results. Your counsellor can help you make an informed decision.

A word of caution. It is estimated that about 24% of people with long-standing anxiety and depression also have drug and alcohol dependency. If you are having trouble of this kind, it’s best to get treatment for your dependency first before you decide on medication for anxiety and depression.