Two Ways to Take Psychiatric Medication

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Today’s guest blog is written by Esther Smith, LCPC and owner of Christian Trauma Counseling. She has an MA in Professional Counseling from Liberty University, a certificate in biblical counseling through the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation, and has completed advanced training in trauma-informed therapies. She is the author of A Still & Quiet Mind: Twelve Strategies for Changing Unwanted Thoughts, The Whole Life: 52 Weeks of Biblical Self-care (co-author), and Chronic Illness: Walking by Faith: 31 Day Devotional. 

Psychiatric medication is a controversial subject. It is also a very personal subject for many people. Perhaps you experience depression, anxiety, or other emotional struggles and find yourself wondering if you should consider medication. And perhaps you are agonizing over this decision.

If you find yourself in this place, I want to offer you a slightly different perspective as you make this decision. Hopefully it is a freeing perspective. I believe that how you take medication— should you choose to do so—is more important than whether or not you decide to take it in the first place. To explain this concept further, let me introduce you to two people who represent two different ways of approaching psychiatric medicine.

  1. Masking Symptoms and Ignoring Underlying Issues

Kyle struggled with generalized anxiety and panic attacks that stemmed from a difficult childhood. His parents were addicted to heroin, and as Kyle entered adulthood he maintained a deep resentment toward his mother for neglecting him as a child.

When Kyle entered his thirties, he decided to go to counseling to discuss his concerns. At first, Kyle was highly motivated to talk through his issues. He wanted to discuss how he could improve his family relationships and forgive his mother. He wanted to consider how his past was impacting him in the present and explore his own shortcomings in his relationship with his parents.

A few sessions after he started counseling, Kyle started taking antianxiety medication. Suddenly his approach to counseling changed from motivated to completely uninterested. Why? The medicine had worked! He no longer felt anxious. He felt calm around his mother. This was not because he had worked through the issues between them but because the medicine numbed him to the point of being unaffected when his mother tried to aggravate him or start a fight. Now that he felt better, he had no desire to wade back through the struggles and shortcomings that medicine was enabling him to ignore.

Kyle began cancelling and skipping appointments. As his body developed a tolerance to the prescription, he began taking higher doses of his medication to manage his symptoms. His relationship with his mother worsened. Kyle was eventually discharged from counseling because he had violated the clinic’s attendance policy. He left worse off than when he first arrived. Medication had provided him with much needed relief, but in the end, it only impeded his growth.

  1. Creating a Context for Growth

Compare Kyle’s experience to that of Bethany. Bethany experienced panic attacks that would last for days at a time. During her panic attacks, she was unable to sleep, work, or eat. Physical symptoms of anxiety consumed her life.

When Bethany first began counseling, she was unable to focus. She was visibly anxious, fidgeted in her seat, and avoided many topics for fear that they would trigger a panic attack. As much as her counselor wanted to help her, and as much as she wanted help, it was impossible for them to move forward when she couldn’t hold a normal conversation.

One day Bethany walked into her counseling session carrying a sense of visible calm. Just like Kyle, she had started taking antianxiety medication, and it was having a powerful effect. Her panic attacks were less frequent and much shorter. Her anxiety throughout the day had calmed. She was sleeping, working, and eating. Sweet relief.

From that session forward, Bethany dove into counseling. She made connections between her traumatic past and current actions. She began taking responsibility for her responses to others, when before she had felt as if anxiety controlled her. Once she had felt physically unable to pray because her anxiety prevented her from concentrating, but now she was actively calling out to God in times of distress.

Before, she never left the house because of her anxiety, but now she was spending her weekends outside—camping, kayaking, and hiking with friends. Spending time in nature was good for her body and her soul, and it further decreased her anxiety. Now that her mind was clearer, she began using coping skills that had been impossible for her to implement before. Deep breathing, exercise, and healthy eating became a regular part of her day.

Each week, Bethany took specific steps forward that would have been impossible for her if medicine had not tempered her pain and created a context for her to grow. Over time, as she took healthy steps and made various changes, she found that she needed less medication to manage her symptoms.


Kyle and Bethany illustrate how two people can take medication for the same type of problem, experience the same amount of relief, and end up with two completely different results. In the end, the difference came down to their different approaches. Kyle used medication as a way to avoid his troubled thoughts. Bethany used medication as a launching pad for growth. Together, Bethany and Kyle can teach us about the best ways to take medication.

Take Medication alongside Counseling

In general, medication should be used in the context of counseling. While there are exceptions, psychiatric medication should mainly be taken by people who are also talking through their unwanted thoughts in a counseling setting. Medication is not a cure. It only covers symptoms. Counseling helps to uncover and address the root issues. Even when unwanted thoughts have a physical cause, there are typically spiritual or relational issues surrounding the thoughts that should be considered. Kyle’s choice to disengage from counseling was a major reason he didn’t improve.

Take Medication to Help You to Engage with God

Before medication, Bethany’s anxiety impaired her ability to concentrate. So many thoughts were racing through her mind that she felt unable to pray. After medication, she actively talked with God when she was distressed. The same can apply to a person’s ability to read and engage Scripture.

Take Medication to Help You to Connect with People

One of the biggest mistakes Kyle made was to use medication to disengage from his mom. Before medication, Kyle felt forced to engage with his mom because her choices and words bothered him. His uncomfortable thoughts nudged him to act. But when medication numbed his feelings, he didn’t care anymore and stopped trying.

In contrast, Bethany found that medication provided space for her to think about her relationships more clearly. Because her emotions were tempered, she could be more objective. She was able to approach broken relationships that had once caused her to panic. She was able to seek restoration where that had once felt impossible.

Take Medication to Help You to Dive into Deep Issues

In Kyle’s mind, his only problem was his anxiety. He felt anxious. Full stop. He wasn’t willing to see that his anxiety was only one issue in his life. In addition, he was unaware that while his anxiety was partly caused by physical factors, it was also a symptom of his unhealthy response to current life stressors. One of the reasons he didn’t improve was because he was unwilling to address these other issues. Bethany took an opposite approach. Medication helped her talk about things she had never discussed before. She used the relief she experienced to dig into and find solutions to past and present issues in her life that had been worsening her anxiety.

Take Medication to Help You to Make Practical Lifestyle Changes

Medication can open up a toolbox of coping skills that weren’t available to a person before. Activities that once seemed impossible become options when medication provides relief. Lifestyle changes such as exercising, eating healthily, sleeping more, socializing, and being outdoors can all have a positive impact on unwanted thoughts. When Bethany began to do these things, she started to gain some control over her anxiety through natural means. Because of this and the other work she was doing, she was able to decrease her medication over time.

Take Medication to Create a Sense of Relief and Normalcy

Sometimes medication should be used simply as relief from suffering—sometimes no other reason is needed. At times, people endure severe symptoms for years without a break. When they are finally prescribed the right medication, it works! Their symptoms ease, and their conditions improve. What a reminder that God cares about our suffering and sometimes works through medication to alleviate it. When Jesus saw crowds of sick and disabled people around him, he had compassion on them and relieved their pain (see Matt. 14:14). Jesus cares when his children are hurting. He cares when you are in pain.


Medication may not be the right option for you. It isn’t the right option for everyone. It’s also possible that medication could be an important piece of the puzzle in your efforts to change your thoughts.

When used wisely, medicine can be a gift from God that allows people to hear him, see him, and respond to him more clearly. Medication can increase our ability to function, which likewise increases our ability to serve, worship, and live a life of active faith. When suffering is lifted, people are more equipped to pray, read Scripture, and receive help from others. They are more able to think logically, trust God when life is uncertain, and process the deeper heart issues that surround and underlie any mental health diagnoses that they might be experiencing.

If you decide to take medicine, move forward boldly. Taking medication does not equal weakness or lack of faith. God can use medication to relieve your symptoms and reorient you toward him. If people have tried to shame you away from medication or convince you it is unbiblical, you can put their opinions aside. Receive this good gift. Know that taking medication can be righteous and pleasing to God if you follow after him as you do so.

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