Psychiatric Medications are drugs that work on the brain, prescribed by warranted psychiatrists. According to the APA (2017), whereas psychotherapists and psychologists are more knowledgeable about therapy and mental health, psychiatrists are more experienced in understanding both the physical and psychological effects of mental conditions and the effects of psychiatric medications on the body and the mind in tackling these conditions. As a result, psychotherapists and psychologists can refer clients to psychiatrists but they cannot prescribe medications themselves or can do so in very rare cases.
Despite this limitation of psychologists and therapists with respect to the prescription of psychiatric medications, Dr. Vella Fondacaro emphasised the importance of liaisons between psychiatrists and psychotherapists, in order to provide the best possible service for clients. Dr. Vella Fondacaro explained the transition from the older medical model to a more holistic perspective of clients, where a biopsychosocial approach tends to be taken into consideration. In fact, Havelka, Despot Lucanin and Lucanin (2009), claim that people are not fully satisfied by the biomedical model, as it only looks at the person’s disease rather than at their situation as a whole, with biological, psychological, and social factors contributing to it. To use Dr. Vella Fondacaro’s words, it is imperative that we “treat the patient not the condition”. This conceptualisation of psychiatrists as focusing mainly on the mental illness rather than the person as a whole, perpetuates the stigma surrounding mental health and psychiatric medications. This said stigma is a source of countless campaigns and promotions on social media, with the aim of raising awareness about mental health, including its treatment, both with the use of psychotherapy and medications. Nonetheless, misconceptions about mental health and fear associated with psychiatric medications remain prevalent. Enache-Tonoiu (2013), exposes the fact that the general public still fears the stigma surrounding medication as it tends to be perceived as being prescribed to people who are socially labelled as crazy. Micallef‘s study (2019), suggests the importance of therapists’ knowledge of medications and how these attitudes and beliefs about medications are transferred to the client.
It is possible that this apprehension towards medications stems from the idea that only psychiatrists are knowledgeable about them and the formality of referring a client to a psychiatrist seems to slightly breach the trust and bond created between the therapist and the client in the therapeutic relationship. In fact, Dr. Vella Fondacaro highlights the need for mental health professionals to gain as much knowledge of medications as possible. This enables better communication between different psychology professionals and the client, as well as enhances the understanding of the client’s overall condition. This is particularly important in cases where clients manifest symptoms that could be stemming from the side effects of prescribed medications, but the therapist misdiagnoses them as originating from the condition, or vice versa. Therefore, it is important that psychology professionals other than psychiatrists are also knowledgeable about the different medications prescribed and their main side effects.
Dr. Vella Fondacaro also distinguished between organic pathology which requires the use of psychiatric medications and other mental health issues that might benefit from therapy alone but medications can enhance the effects of therapy and help the individual’s well-being. An example of this latter scenario is when clients are experiencing mild depressive symptoms and would require medication in order to increase motivation so the patient would be able to develop an interest into their condition and be more open to therapy. Therefore, gaining a comprehensive perspective of treatment is necessary for mental health professionals to provide the most suitable service for clients.
American Psychological Association. (2017). What is the difference between psychologists, psychiatrists and social workers? Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/ptsd-guideline/patients-and-families/psychotherapy-professionals
Enache-Tonoiu, A. (2013). Psychiatry and Psychotherapy: A Troubled Relationship. Europe’s Journal of Psychology,9(4), 664-670. doi:10.5964/ejop.v9i4.717
Havelka, M., Despot Lucanin, J., & Lucanin, D. (2009). Biopsychosocial model – The integrated approach to health and disease. Collegium Antropologicum, 33, 303-310. Retrieved from http://file:///C:/Users/User/Downloads/8194_Havelka.pdf
Micallef, M. (2019). Psychologists’ and Psychotherapists’ Perceptions about the Benefits and Drawbacks of Psychiatric Medication Use (Undergraduate). University of Malta.
Luanne Grima is a psychology student who works as a childminder and a Volunteer with Willingness Team. She also forms part of Betapsi.