Click on the title for this important and useful article by a therapist, Jonathan Keyes, on the theme of iatrogenic illness, and the severe difficulties often experienced by those seeking to come off commonly used psychiatric drugs, such as benzodiazepines. He also comments on the lack of cultural understanding or support.
Thank you to Monica Cassani for drawing our attention to this. Here is the link to Monica’s blog, which has an abundance of useful resources whether you are a therapist, someone considering taking these drugs or giving them to your child, or someone seeking to come off these drugs:-
Every week at our person centred talking therapy service, we see clients who have been offered or prescribed these drugs by their doctor. Alarmingly often, their accounts suggest that:-
- many GPs offer psychiatric drugs as a first option,
- to people facing a wide range of emotional landscape/outward situation challenges, which could be addressed in other ways,
- doctors may say little or nothing about the wide-ranging effects of these drugs on the human system, and the potential for those effects to be harmful/destructive,
- doctors often do not explain that the interaction between any drug and any individual is unique – what may feel useful to one person can be profoundly unhelpful to another,
- doctors often say little or nothing about the commonly reported difficulties – sometimes severe and long-lasting – people can experience when they stop taking these drugs,
- little information is given about alternatives – for example there is abundant evidence that talking therapy works for presenting issues that currently routinely attract drug treatment, and there are many other alternative therapies to drug treatment,
- we also regularly hear disturbing accounts of subtle or direct pressure clients have experienced from their doctor to accept these drugs, and criticism/denigration when they refuse.
We also have experience of working with clients who are seeking to stop taking these drugs. Often they have received little guidance about how best to go about this, or what this may be like for them. Often their doctors have suggested unrealistically fast ‘taper’ schedules, and/or they experience distressing effects which they have not been warned about and are not expecting. Clients can conclude their difficulties arise from underlying emotional issues, and so decide they need the drugs and increase their dose again.
Such is our cultural silence about this and so embedded the assumptions that the medical establishment know best, that a striking number (from all demographics) seem to have no awareness of iatrogenic illness or the possibility that what they are experiencing may at least in part be about withdrawal.
There are complex issues for a therapist working with someone considering or taking these drugs, or seeking to stop taking them. From a person-centred perspective, we are seeking to offer the core conditions (empathy, congruence and love/UPR) to support clients’ own actualizing and internal locus – i.e. we seek to facilitate people walking their own paths, in their own way, drawing on their own inherent core wisdom about their own being/experiencing.
So that is clearly not about substituting our viewpoint for theirs, or their doctor’s. However, there may undoubtedly be a case sometimes for sharing information, where someone clearly has very little, or what they have seems partial and one-sided. That is about balance and empowerment.
Clients may have a strong emotional investment in how they see their prevailing interior landscape (often in terms of culturally accepted medical model standards around ‘disorder’ and ‘diagnosis’), and how they see drug treatment. It may be actively untherapeutic to challenge that, and more important for the therapist to build trust in the therapeutic relationship and trust to the client’s own healing, unfolding and growing capacities.
However there are profound political and cultural questions embedded in all of this, and a responsibility that we all hold – therapist and non-therapist alike – to speak out about, prevent and heal harm, and address the attitudes and structures in our societies that inflict, legitimize and perpetuate harm, often to those who are most vulnerable and least able to protect themselves. The biggest challenge is perhaps the – ever shifting and endlessly complex – ‘how’ of that.
We like the way Jonathan ends his piece:-
‘Ultimately, the pain inflicted by the drugs is only one aspect of the suffering. What is often worse is the feeling of being silenced, shut down, and isolated from the wider community. Greater public awareness of psychiatric iatrogenic illness can lead to a deeper conversation; a conversation that suggests that there are many ways to help people in emotional distress, and that these drugs should be last on the list.’
Palace Gate Counselling Service