Of all the professionals one might see for biological and psychological issues, it’s psychotherapists who are usually on the front lines of treatment, trained to spot and assess everything from changes in mood to unusual physical reactions. But given all their expertise, why don’t more psychotherapists make judgment calls when it comes to medication? And why do so many therapists show only a perfunctory interest in the ups and downs of their clients’ reactions to psychiatric medications?
According to Frank Anderson, a dual psychotherapist–prescriber, many talk therapists don’t think they’re well-informed enough to talk about medication, despite the fact that they’re plenty able to make judgment calls about whether a med is working or not.
In this video clip with Networker Editor Rich Simon, Anderson explains the fears that many therapists have about studying the intersection of psychology and biology, and what we can do about it. Take a look for yourself and share your thoughts in the comments section below.
Anderson, a strong proponent of Internal Family Systems Therapy (IFS), says that one of the therapist’s best tools for working with clients who may need medication is an awareness of their own fears and biases surrounding meds. “Therapists need to be aware of the parts of themselves that get activated when they have to deal with this intersection of prescribing and psychotherapy,” he says. “They need to bring the same internal curiosity and focus to psychopharmacology with clients that they would in discussing any other clinical issue.”
Another essential approach, Anderson adds, is a simple but important one: ask your clients questions and be an empathic listener. “These are the essential components to the success of any medication trial,” he says. “But the connection between therapy and psychopharmacology” he adds, “remains a largely untapped world.”
Richard Simon, PhD, founded Psychotherapy Networker and served as the editor for more than 40 years. He received every major magazine industry honor, including the National Magazine Award. Rich passed away November 2020, and we honor his memory and contributions to the field every day.
Frank Anderson, MD, a psychiatrist and psychotherapist in Concord, MA, specializes in the treatment of trauma and dissociation. A lead trainer at the IFS Institute, he’s affiliated with Bessel van der Kolk’s Trauma Center and advises the International Association of Trauma Professionals. His most recent book is Transcending Trauma: Healing Complex PTSD with Internal Family Systems.