Updated: Feb 13, 2022
Many people in the psychology community, as well as some arm-chair psychologists will advocate therapy above medication. However, medication can be a powerful tool to get mentally well, when combined with therapy.
One of the leading therapies for PTSD is called EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing). In order to do EMDR though, you have to be in a calm headspace, so that it won't be too triggering that it pushes you over the edge.
You can read about symptoms and causes of PTSD here.
When I first started talk therapy with my current therapist two years ago, I was basically a crying mess on the floor. I had lost two good jobs in quick succession due to panic attacks, and I wasn't able to function much of the time.
As a mom, and someone who needed to maintain a stable job, it was important to me to get back on my feet as quickly as possible.
Since I was struggling so badly, in addition to my weekly talk therapy, my therapist recommended that I see a psychiatrist for medication also. I was able to get in after about a month, and was doing better shortly.
I struggle with panic attacks.
When I was just starting therapy for them a few years ago, I was having panic attacks several times a week and I was having trouble doing even basic things. Being on medication helped me get into a more regulated state of mind, while at the same time I worked with my therapist on coping skills.
Advocating against medication.
Many people, even within the mental health community, advocate against taking medications for mental health conditions.
According to the Drake Institute,
"In many cases, sufferers of PTSD have dysregulated brain functioning—specifically, their “fight or flight” response mechanism. In these cases, the brain is incorrectly signaling to an individual that they are in a life-threatening situation, even if the reaction is vastly disproportionate to the circumstances.
And while treating PTSD with medication can sometimes temporarily reduce symptoms, the results are typically temporary, that is, once the medication stops, the symptoms of PTSD may return.
What’s more, many of these PTSD medications carry the possibility of negative side-effects which can actually exacerbate the symptoms of PTSD."
Some with this viewpoint believe that medication use should be temporary, and have a negative view of continued medication use for PTSD and other psychological disorders.
Many detractors of medication for PTSD and other psychological disorders think that the choice of using medication means that someone isn't going to also have therapy. They see the choices for recovery as an either/or choice between medication and therapy. Those who are against medication say that people taking medication "don't really want to get well."
The problem with this viewpoint is that the choice in treatment options frequently isn't an either/or choice. Many people choose to use BOTH medication and therapy to recover from PTSD and other mental health conditions.
Choosing the right treatment for you.
There are many types of treatments that can be effective for mental health conditions, however the same treatments don't always work for everyone.
According to the APA, "Medications, psychotherapy and their combination have been shown to help people with emotional or behavioral problems. Different kinds of problems, however, will respond differently to various treatments; therefore, choosing the right treatment can be complicated. Your choice of treatment should be based on the best available scientific evidence, as well as your own willingness to try these treatments and to stick with them."
In my experience, a combination of both therapy and medication has worked well. At the clinic where I receive services, I am not allowed to be prescribed medication unless I am also working with a therapist.
That being said, there have been times when I was doing well without medications too. I have gone as long as five years without medication, when I wasn't coping with life stressors.
Whether or not you need medication is determined by numerous factors. Many mental health conditions, like PTSD, can last for a lifetime. At some times you may be coping better than other times. It may depend on if you are in situations where you are dealing with chronic stress, or other situations that are triggering. On the other hand, you may have worked to reduce lifestyle factors that cause stress, and be well regulated.
When you are emotionally well regulated, you are less likely to need medication. You can get to a point where you are well regulated through therapy, changing your lifestyle, learning coping skills, and other treatments like EMDR.
It may be the case that you take medication for a while, then gradually wean off.
As you make treatment decisions, be sure that you are well informed about your treatment options. Your therapist is a partner in your recovery, and can help to educate you about a range of treatment options that may work for you.
Whether or not you choose to medicate for PTSD is a personal choice that you can make in combination with your therapist.
As you make these decisions, you don't need to be afraid that taking medication means you aren't committed to getting well, as some people will tell you.
You can make progress in therapy and healing while taking medication. In fact, therapy and medication are often used together to treat PTSD. Don't feel forced into making and either/or choice, you can choose to do both, if that is what works for you.
Don't worry about other people judging your path of recovery, it is always your own. What works for some people may not work for others. If you are feeling better in your treatment, that is the important part.
Let me know what you think in the comments, and the type of treatment that you are getting for your PTSD. What has worked? What hasn't?
For more information on what I do for my mental health, check out these related blog posts:
For more on my story, check out the PTSD My Story Project!
If you have PTSD and Panic Attacks like I do, I have written an ebook to help in coping with panic attacks. It is now available in the shop.
As always, also let me know what other topics you would like me to cover in the future!