Frequently clients attend therapy to seek relief from emotional or psychological disturbance.  They may come because they are overwhelmed with daily stresses, in which there is too much to do, too little time, too many decisions or responsibilities, or they may be facing a major life crisis such as grief, job loss, or relationship problems.  Many want to understand or reconcile past events or to just improve themselves in some way. Others attend therapy for a combination of many of these things or a severity of psychological, emotional and/or physical symptoms which may require medication.

One aspect of therapy is to assess whether a client needs or would benefit from medication. This may be where some clients become confused, believing a mental health professional would also prescribe mental health medication.  Psychotropic medication is medication developed to affect the mind, individual behaviors and strong or erratic emotions by altering specific brain chemicals or neural functions. It can only be prescribed by a licensed medical professional. Mental and behavioral health therapists, though licensed, are rarely medical doctors or an approved prescription provider.  Medication would need to be prescribed by the family physician, a qualified nurse practitioner, a psychiatrist (which is a medical doctor), or in some states, a psychologist. In some cases, medication can be prescribed without a diagnosis, although mental health professionals like a psychiatrist, a psychologist and a therapist, will assess the client and provide a formal diagnosis.

Therapists provide a range of therapeutic approaches, techniques, and information to assist the client find relief from their symptoms. They can also assist in locating a prescribing physician if a client wishes to pursue medication as a treatment option. The therapist may believe a client would benefit from medication, if the client is currently not medicated, and would introduce the recommendation in a therapeutic session, discussing the potential benefits and addressing the client’s concerns.

Clients further seek therapeutic intervention while taking a psychotropic medication either at the behest of the prescribing provider or when they understand their issues still cause emotional or behavioral distress. Therapists recognize psychotropic medication as a treatment option which complements therapeutic interventions and not as a primary mode of treatment in most cases.

Although medication can provide symptom relief it does not address the maladaptive behaviors or remove the challenges which initially brought a client to therapy.  While in therapy, a therapist will continue to monitor the client taking psychotropic medication through behavioral, emotional, physical, and cognitive observations in conjunction with client feedback to determine efficacy of the medication. This is referred to as medication monitoring.

So, if the question is “Can a therapist prescribe medication?” the response is generally “no.”  Therapists will assist the client in finding a prescribing provider, recommend psychotropic medication if the client’s condition warrants it or the client believes they would benefit, monitor medication efficacy and compliance, and utilize therapeutic modalities in conjunction with medication.

Ann Hogan, L.C.P.C.