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Robbie Pearman  |  Counselling Psychologist

June 17 2021

In dealing with mental health issues, most people associate two treatment paths, that of counselling or talking therapy, and that of medication. What research has shown is that whilst both have a place and can even co-exist, the reasons people have for making their decisions as what kind of treatment they will opt for can sometimes be ill-informed and lead to an exacerbation of their situation, not an improvement. So what are the things you should be aware of as you consider your options:

Medication and counselling can coexist

Research shows that both are helpful, and many people would respond positively to both. Results for those patients can therefore be multiplied. So please do not think of your decision as an either/or scenario, but rather as two treatments that complement each other.

Get the right advice before making a decision

Consult with a Psychologist and/or a Psychiatrist and discuss your needs.

Understand the different roles Psychologists and Psychiatrists play

Many people are unclear about what the difference is. Remember that Psychiatrists are first and foremost medical doctors. They are specialists in using Psychiatric medication to treat people. Whilst some do use talking therapy in their practice to treat people, their real specialisation is the medication they can prescribe, and their knowledge of talking therapies is not typically as deep as that of a Psychologist.

Psychologists are not medical doctors. They have not attended medical school and cannot prescribe medication (even though they might have good knowledge of medications on the market). They are, however, generally speaking, more skilled in using evidence-based talking therapies to help patients. Your prospective Psychologists and Psychiatrists might wish to consult with each other from time to time, to make sure that your treatment goals are being reached.

Do not let GP’s be responsible for your long-term treatment goals

Remember that Family doctors or general practitioners are neither specialists in psychiatric medication, nor talking therapies. Too often I meet clients who are on the same medication regime their family doctor gave them years ago. GP’s are a critical cog in the recognition and treatment of mental health issues in the early stages of symptoms becoming more visible, but they should be referring you to either a Psychiatrist or Psychologist for your longer-term mental health needs. Discuss with them which practitioner might work for you initially as a starting point, and then let that practitioner guide your treatment program going forward.

Give the process some time

Psychiatric medications can often take many weeks before they start to make a noticeable difference. Do not judge your results too early! If you have some concerns regarding certain side effects, discuss that with your Psychiatrist, but do not make any changes to your medication program before speaking to them first. Similarly, working with a Psychologist may take some time for you to implement or even notice the changes in life. Unlike physical ailments, where we can often quickly determine whether we are getting better or not, changes in mental health and behaviour may require you to remain patient and to trust the process in order to see your improvements.

See treatments as temporary

There is a big difference between permanent and long-term treatments. When diagnosed with a mental condition, people sometimes view these labels as a permanent part of them, something set in stone that cannot be resolved. Whilst some mental health issues will require constant vigilance for the duration of one’s life, in many instances, Counselling and Medication are interventions that can be stopped indefinitely as a person achieves their treatment outcomes. In some cases, these interventions might only be needed for a short period of time. Essentially the message is that, by using the services of a Psychologist or Psychiatrist, you may very well get to a point where you are in full control of mental health and are completely self-sufficient in maintaining it. Your recovery is a fluid, dynamic process, and our goal as mental health practitioners is to get to a point where you no longer need our services!

I’m a Counselling Psychologist situated in Blairgowrie, near the northern suburbs of Johannesburg, such as Rosebank and Sandton.

I work with individuals, couples, families, and small groups to address current challenges with a solution-focused approach. These challenges may include some more common complaints such as depression, and anxiety, or those trying to come to terms with trauma or bereavement.

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