what i've learned from talk therapy, psychiatric meds, and my psychiatrist
10 things i've learned from talk therapy + psychiatric meds
In my experience, now almost 20 years, psychiatrists, the medicines they prescribe, and their talk therapy -- all of it provide actual, real, and concrete benefits. And in the case of psychiatric meds, you can see the proof, in numbers, through blood work -- labs -- as you and your doctor make sure you have the right levels of therapeutic maintenance medicine.
And in my experience, you get out of it what you put into it -- if you earnestly do the work of talk therapy with your doctor, and take his or her suggestions about making small changes in your life, and take your prescribed meds -- if you do this, in my experience you'll strengthen your recovery and your hope — and soon you’ll be able to give that hope to others who need help and support too.
In my experience, this “mental illness hat trick” — getting a doctor, taking your prescribed meds, and doing talk therapy -- these three things provide a strong and resilient system to get you better and to keep you better. You have three different things to rely upon. All three come with their own daily action steps. Any two parts can keep you balanced and in the center of things even if another part is temporarily shaky or weak.
Beyond these three things — a doctor, prescribed medicine, and talk therapy — in my experience, there’s other work to be done, and it’s OK to acknowledge this. In other words, in my experience, underlying issues may need to be addressed for long-run dual diagnosis recovery and mental illness maintenance to succeed. These unresolved things can make your mental health and your recovery vulnerable, and, in my experience, they need to be worked on the right way. In my opinion, for it to be most helpful, you can't work on these underlying issues on your own, or even with a loved one or a trusted friend. You need a trained expert to help get to, and address, underlying issues, in my opinion -- it's this that lays the foundation for avoiding traps like self-medicating, or not taking your meds, or doing harmful things in the name of seeing temporary relief. It's this — the related work of addressing underlying issues — that also lays the foundation for long-run recovery and hope.
I was lucky -- I never stopped taking my meds on the claim or theory that they masked "the real me." I never felt the medicine was making me different, or hiding my true essence or personality. In my experience, it’s helpful to separate the stigma attached to psychiatric medicines with the different question of whether they’re masking you or hiding you. In my experience, thankfully, I've always been willing to take my medicine -- not just because I have to, but because, in my experience, it’s the taking of my medicine that lets the real me shine through. Not the reverse. I hope I can be a voice saying that you can have a full, authentic, happy and content life — you can be the real you — when taking your meds.
Said another way — in my experience, I truly find that I can be the real me — the truest, most authentic me — the dad my kids love, the friend my friends love — when I’m taking my medicine, and when I’m earnestly doing the work of talk therapy, and when I’m taking the suggestions of my psychiatrist. These things don't hide or alter who I really am. They don’t mask me -- rather, they let me be me, in the best, most human way.
So, in my experience, there’s nothing embarrassing, wrong, or shameful about taking psychiatric meds prescribed by an expert doctor of the brain. And there's nothing embarrassing, wrong, or shameful about talk therapy, either. That's just society's irrational stigmas talking. It's the stigmas that are abnormal and wrong, not the act of taking proper meds from an expert.
As I said, in my experience, underlying things — other issues — can be exacerbated by the mental illness and the substance abuse that you’re trying to recover from — maybe in the form of bad habits learned when young, or maybe traumas suffered, or maybe regrettable things we've done — and that's what talk therapy is for, too, as part of recovery from your mental health and substance issues. In my experience, it's all part of one big knot that is very helpful and healthy to untangle. I’m glad I do this. It’s much more healthy than secretly living in fear from mental health stigma.
In my experience, all three of the “mental illness hat trick” are needed --- (a) the experience and professional training of a medical doctor — the psychiatrist; (b) the proven biological benefits of medication; and (c) the emotional and psychological benefits of talk therapy. In my experience, they seem, together, to be the very real combination that builds concrete hope, recovery, and inclusion. When used together, in my experience, they repair shame and self-hatred. Which allows self-forgiveness, self-compassion, and redemption to take place.
By the way, in therapy, you learn how to be a better you. A better human. It's not about ego. You're helping to improve yourself — which helps not only you, but all those who love you and need you. Every time I hit a wall in therapy — and it happens — I think about why I'm doing it. It isn't just for me. It's also for my family, my kids, and my relationships with them — it’s for the growing and improving human that I want to be.