Long before I chose counseling as my profession, I dealt with my own personal mental disorder; social anxiety. The disorder had taken over my life when I was in high school. It got so bad that I missed several days of school due to anxiety attacks; including the first day of my senior year. After many years of suffering, my mother took me to our family physician to discuss the issue. My doctor asked me a few questions about my anxious feelings and wrote me a prescription for a relatively new drug called Fluoxetine (a.k.a. Prozac).
After a few months on the drug, I noticed that my anxious feelings had changed, but not necessarily for the better. I had lost my fear of social situations, but I had not lost the anxiety. It was almost like living two lives at once. I now enjoyed going out with friends and meeting new people, but I still had excessive sweating, heart palpitations, racing thoughts and shaky hands. The drug was masking my fear but not addressing the reasons behind my anxiety.
When I went to college, I was told about the student clinic that offered free counseling. Over time, I had become more knowledgeable about my disorder and realized that I needed to see a therapist, so I booked and appointment. What ensued was an amazing transformation in my outlook on life.
Seeing a therapist to supplement the medication was the best decision I could have ever made. Before, I was taking a pill every day and ignoring all the anxious thoughts that still went through my mind. For three months I went to see the school therapist once a week. We would discuss the reasoning behind my anxiety and different ways to look at things. During these sessions, I learned a great deal about myself and about other people. I learned that everyone experienced anxiety every now and then and that most people were too worried about themselves to notice me (my biggest fear was that other people were staring at me).
Talking through and accepting these simple truths was what eventually brought me out of my fear of social situations. By the end of my college years, I add successfully weaned off the medication. It took me years, but I finally felt comfortable in my own skin. I don't think this would have been possible had I not paired medication with counseling.
Due to my own personal experience, I firmly believe that anyone who has been prescribed an antidepressant or other mental illness medication should seek counseling from a therapist. Yes, medical doctors can diagnose patients with mental disorders and prescribe the appropriate medications, but using a medication without taking part in therapy is like trying to lose weight through diet only and no exercise; they supplement one another and increase your chances of success.
Lindsey Webster has been a rehabilitation counselor for 15 years and also owns the site Masters in Counseling. She likes to write about different topics related to counseling and careers.
Photo Credit: Steve Snodgrass Flickr