Can We Be Positive about Psychiatric Medications?

Published: December 29, 2012

He is forty-two-years-old and his physician suggested that Ritilan or one of its relatives might be helpful. So he tried it, and it was helpful.

“There hasn’t been anything magical about it, but I noticed a difference almost right away. My brain just felt clearer and more orderly. My wife has noticed the difference too.”

My first response was simple.

“That’s great.”

My second response was, “please, tell me more.” He is a biblically thoughtful and insightful man, and I was eager to learn from him.

Biblical counseling can be positive about psychiatric medications.           

It depends, in part, on the person or group we have in mind. For example, if I am thinking about my father, who was overmedicated, I would say one thing. If I am thinking about another family member, who was helped by psychiatric medications, I would emphasize medication’s usefulness.

Here I have at least two groups in mind that I want to be positive with:

Group 1: Psychotic people and their families. “Psychotic” is a general term that can include delusions, hallucinations and other severe mental experiences that make it difficult or impossible to work or have relationships.  Schizophrenia, bipolar and even depression can move into psychosis.

Psychiatric medication has quieted the voices of schizophrenia, abated the storms of bipolar, and relieved the vice-grip of depression. Medication is not always successful with these symptoms, but so what. I would argue that families and friends would be wise to encourage (plead with?) the person who is prone to psychosis to both see a psychiatrist and take the medications that a psychiatrist recommends.

Group 2: Those who feel unsure, guilty or ashamed because either they are taking medication or their children are taking medication. I would like to think that we have not compounded your pain, but I suspect that this group has overheard some comments from biblical counseling that have made them feel worse.

If medication is helping, even a little, here is what we would say.

“That’s great.”

If you feel like a spiritual failure because you are taking medication, we would say, “No way. Why do you even think that?” (Most of my colleagues would say something less abrupt.) Then we would try to reason how Scripture itself is not giving you a reason to feel like a failure.

If you feel like a failure because your child is taking psychiatric medication, our guess is that you have worked harder at your parenting than ten other parents combined. We hope you are not judging your parenting success against the parent whose child sits quietly, gets all A’s, does homework without supervision, rarely gets frustrated, and is compliant and obedient. Parenting probably had little to do with any of that!

Some kids are just hard. The strategies that worked for some parents will not necessarily work for you. To make matters worse, you will receive an endless stream of advice, which will leave you angry, because you feel like you should do everything you can for your child and the advice is often contradictory. We hope you will not add guilt over medication to that list. Rather, success is marked by “help me and my child, Lord Jesus.” It isn’t measured by having a medication-free zone in your home.

All this is to say that wisdom about these kinds of decisions can take different forms in different situations. A divine directive would be nice: “do this or take this and everything will be fine.” But our Father has a better way. We confess our neediness, consider relevant biblical teaching, seek the counsel of others, make the hard decisions, learn from what helps, avoid those things that hurt, and know God-with-us. For some of us, a positive decision for medication will be a wise consequence of this process.

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For more on this topic, see: “Listening to Prozac…and to the Scriptures: A Primer on Psychoactive Medications” by Mike Emlet in Volume 26:1 of the Journal of Biblical Counseling