Philosophy on Psychiatric Drugs

I see medications as one of many technologies that are changing us and our society.  Especially in the United States, we tend to look for faster, more powerful solutions in technologies, and psychiatric drugs are the ones targeted at changing our emotions. 

Most people are aware of the direct dangers of using powerful technologies. They may not create the changes we want. They may be misused. And certainly both of these are true of psychiatric drugs as we see many unintended 'side effects' ranging from physical discomforts or emotional numbing to suicidality or death.

Yet, my perspective of looking at the whole system makes me more concerned about an indirect danger. The availability of these technologies makes us expect that we can change our emotions quickly, that changing or eliminating an emotional symptom is a "cure." Every emotion occurs for a reason. If someone is depressed or anxious about losing a job or relationship they cared about, they will have an emotional pain they will want to relieve. Drugs can make that happen in a fast, temporary fashion, but in the long run, they will need to deal with the sources of that pain, either changing their life (getting a new job or relationship) or changing their psychology and what these losses mean to them. If this is a single episode, perhaps a short term approach is sufficient. If it is a repetitive pattern, however, changing one's psychology becomes more critical.

I do not see psychiatric drugs as something that "cures" one's psychology. They do not make us redefine what things mean to us. They may make it easier in some cases to start making those changes, but you still need therapy. In saying that, I do not necessarily mean formal therapy with a professional. My philosophy of therapy is that any type of disciplined approach directed at self change is therapy. Yet, I would suggest that if someone is at the point of taking drugs from a psychiatrist, they should be considering professional psychological help.

It is unfortunate, but true, that the psychiatric difficulties of some people are so deeply ingrained in their biology, their psychological self-definition or their social network that they cannot find any therapeutic situation which can help them change. There are few options besides drugs in such cases. Nonetheless, I stress the importance of continuing change and continuing effort so that such solutions are not seen as final and hopefully do not become final.