“Better than medicine!”
by Laura Petiford PMHNP, LMFT
These are the words spoken to me by a client after several years of trying various psychotropic medications to treat her depression, anxiety and inability to concentrate. After working diligently in couples therapy, she experienced a significant repair in her marriage. She was delighted to find that her mood improved and the unrelenting anxiety abated once the rift between her and her spouse had begun to mend. She felt more empowered to face the ongoing stressors of career and financial concerns buoyed by the newfound strength in her relationship.
It’s not the first time I’ve been told of such a turnaround. In fact, I’m a firm believer that the health and strength of our primary connections is foundational to our well-being and is often a precipitating factor in the deterioration of what we broadly term as “mental health.” It is perhaps among the most underappreciated influencers I encounter in my work with clients.
Relationships aren’t usually the first order of concern when I meet clients. Even when issues with parents or partners are identified as stressors, it’s rare for the troubled relationship to be seen as a significant contributor to mental distress. Sometimes clients identify a particular person as problematic, but even then, the primacy of a relationship’s impact is underestimated. By the time someone has made their way to me, they have likely attempted time and again to stand up for themselves in the ways they know how to make themselves feel better and they understandably want relief. Dragging a reluctant spouse, authoritative parent or troubled adult child into the virtual therapy room can feel like pain heaped upon pain.
So why would I, a mental health professional largely engaged in prescribing medication focus on addressing relationships? Because the more time I spend prescribing, the more I realize the limitations of medication. Yes, they have an integral role in mental health. But so do many, many other things. And no medication alone is going to make a struggling marriage or an unhealthy parent/adult child relationship better.
Medication is the protective boot on the sprained ankle, the apparatus that allows safe mobility while healing takes place. And while therapy isn’t the only avenue to healing, the focus and skills a good therapist offers can guide and perhaps accelerate this process.
Medication can play an important role in recovery from many mental health issues. But one thing is certain: nothing can adequately treat the human need for healthy connection nor replace the benefits of nurturing relationships.