Throughout the years I have worked with several clients who were criticized or rebuked by family members or Alcoholics Anonymous sponsors for using psychiatric medications as a "crutch". Yes.... and?
If you have a broken leg you use a crutch to keep weight off the broken bone so it can heal. The same can be said of a mental illness. You use the medications to help you function while you become educated about the illness and develop coping skills for dealing with it. The medications keep you together while you heal. This is especially true in the case of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
PTSD is a reaction to a traumatic event. The only true treatment is therapy. However, if the client is experiencing symptoms so severe that they are unable to participate in treatment how will they ever heal? Psychiatric medications can be utilized to help the client function well enough to carry on with their life and participate in the counseling they require.
I've just spent more than a year working with a man who was struggling with horrible PTSD and substance abuse. The substance abuse developed as an attempt to "self medicate" the symptoms of the PTSD. When the man stopped drinking and using drugs all the symptoms of PTSD returned full force. He was totally unable to function. He had never been educated about PTSD or its symptoms. He simply assumed something was wrong with him. Since he didn't know he had PTSD, he had developed no coping skills for dealing with it. So he was left clean and sober - but coming out of his skin. He couldn't sleep because of horrible nightmares, he was almost completely crippled by panic attacks and anxiety and completely devastated by severe depression.
So he was placed on psychiatric medications. He was reluctant at first because he feared they would make him "crazy" or "high". But the severity of his symptoms required some respite, so he eventually relented. Fortunately, he had a good psychiatrist who avoided addictive medications and worked to reduce his symptoms. At first he had to be heavily sedated just to be able to stay in his skin. His family complained that he was "drugged". Yes. He was. He was heavily drugged. But it kept him calm enough to function so he could do what he needed to do to heal. He kept his appointments with his psychiatrist who regulated his medications. Once regulated, the psychiatrist insisted that he see a therapist - me.
A year later he continues to keep his appointments with both of us. He has worked through a lot of the trauma he suffered as a child. He has worked hard to build a healthy support system, to erect healthy boundaries between himself and his very dysfunctional family and to develop coping skills which help him handle his symtoms. As a result he has felt a steadily decreasing need for psychiatric medications and is working with his physician to slowly wean himself off them.
This is an entirely healthy and appropriate use of psychiatric medications. It remains to be seen whether he will need medications for the rest of his life or not. But he has a life. A life which is sane and sober. A life full of good people and good things. A life he has built for himself.
And isn't that the point?
So what's wrong with a crutch when you're crippled? If it helps you heal so you can walk?
In 2008 I posted an article comparing the administration of antidepressants to two grieving clients - one appropriately and one inappropriately. Please see, "A Case Comparison of Antidepressant Administration to Two Grieving Clients" for more on this topic.