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Samaritan Counseling: Talk therapy, medication or both?

Elizabeth Myers
Daily Correspondent
Vail, CO Colorado

We all know the positive effects of exercise, good eating habits and physical health on mental health. What happens, however, when we are physically healthy and we’re doing everything we can think of to be mentally healthy but we still find ourselves living in a cloud of gloom? This was my story.

I began with talk therapy, several years of it. In those days, insurance coverage was quite good for counseling and I was earning a decent wage, so this was something I could afford. Talk therapy was great to help me figure out what it was about my past that was so affecting my emotional state. But the cloud of depression did not lift. I resisted medication because I was scared of it. I had a brother who became schizophrenic after taking acid in the 1960s. I was terrified of messing with the chemicals in my brain. However, with much trepidation, I allowed a psychiatrist to put me on Zoloft. My world changed almost overnight. I remember driving in my car and looking around at my suddenly sunny world and thinking, “Wow, is this how everyone feels all the time?” I was lucky – the first medication I was given was the one that helped. Nevertheless, I continued talk therapy because my thinking patterns needed to change now that depression was not hanging over me. I also now had the emotional energy to process the sexual and emotional abuse I had grown up with. For me, the combination of talk therapy and medication was essential.

The widespread use of antidepressants has many people choosing to pop a pill to feel better. After all, who has the money to do talk therapy? However, for many people, talk therapy is as effective as drug therapy for depression but without the side effects. Medications may work faster than talk therapy, but medications don’t give you the life skills for managing inappropriate emotions, changing negative thought patterns – indeed, finding new skills to live your life productively. These are skills that we all need and which keep a person from slipping back into depressive behaviors. Talk therapy may be perceived as a luxury, but it really is not. Some local clinicians, and all therapists at the Samaritan Counseling Center, offer sliding scale fees. Who better to invest in than yourself?

There are several other considerations about medications. There are different medications that work in different ways, and it may take some trial and error to figure out which one will work for you. Medications have side effects. So not only do you and your doctor have to figure out which one will work for you, you also have to figure out which side effects you can tolerate. You also need to figure out the correct dosage. All of this can take months. So in many ways, medications are not a quick fix. However, for people with severe depression disorders, medication is often essential to correct imbalances in the brain.

Then there is the challenge of getting off the medications, if this becomes a possibility or a traumatic event has passed. I just recently read that if you’ve been on antidepressants for a long time, as I have been, then you need to take a year to wean yourself off. I’ve tried to do this, and I found that I couldn’t. A final thought – finding the right medication can be difficult, and a consultation with a psychiatrist may be necessary. Unfortunately, we do not have enough psychiatrists in our valley.

Talk therapy is also not straightforward. You need to find a therapist you can work with. There are different types of therapy. You can read about “how to choose the right therapist” on the Samaritan Counseling Center website, http://www.samaritan-vail.org.

Referrals from friends or clergy are often helpful; human-resource departments can also give you recommendations, and employers will often pay for several sessions of counseling. It’s worth asking. If you are not comfortable with the first therapist you visit, try another. Feeling a connection with your therapist is critical in order to develop trust and respect.

Talk therapy, medication or both? There is no one answer to this question. I needed both. One would never have worked without the other. But we all must remember to do the other activities that are good for us – finding the time for self-care, eating well, exercising, nurturing our body and soul and getting the help we need, just as we would for high blood pressure, bronchitis or a broken foot. Mind, body, spirit – they all have to be healthy for us to be the people we are meant to be.

Elizabeth Myers is the executive director of the Samaritan Counseling Center. She can be reached at 970-926-8558 or through emyers@samaritan-vail.org. Visit the Center’s website at http://www.samaritan

-vail.org for more information.


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