In cognitive therapy, cognitive distortions represent the lenses out of which we view the world and filter our version of reality. In light of recent developments among some therapists, dichotomous (either/or) thinking has emerged as a professional hazard. I recently attended a national mental health conference. I was intrigued as presenters and colleagues alike made comments that presented a distorted perspective regarding some significant behavioral health issues.

As M. Scott Peck eloquently articulated in his work, The Different Drum, it is important that as thinkers we look at problems multi-dimensionally. We must not get trapped by any one side of an argument, but stay open to multiple sides of an issue; by doing so, we show integrity. Staying open to the truth wherever we find it allows us to be more grounded, rational and informed.

Within the last several years, many clinicians within the counseling profession have started to under-cut the role of prescription psychotropic medications as a facet of treatment. Some of the arguments from these naysayers of medication management are:

• There is no evidence that serotonin or norepinephrine levels affect mood.
• A quality therapist’s treatment is sufficient to free us from the dependency to psychotropic medications.
• Primary care physicians and psychiatrists have a propensity to push medication, thus justifying the need for their professions.
• Touting the use of antidepressants and other mood-stabilizers is primarily a marketing ploy.

Lately, high profile cognitive-behavioral therapists have been down-playing the efficacy of antidepressants and other mood-elevating medications by stating that CBT is sufficient to "cure" any problem without a crutch, thus “ditch the Zoloft.” Although many research studies support the synergistic effect of cognitive therapy and antidepressants, CBT therapists are dismissing such findings as misguided.

Existential therapists are also following suit. Since they believe that all suffering is legitimate, using medications to stabilize mood remains unnecessary. In fact, existentialists believe that taking antidepressant medication thwarts the grieving process, thus delaying the natural progression of growth. According to their viewpoint, we must not pathologize the human experience.

I believe that a more pragmatic, balanced and useful position is to acknowledge the legitimacy of psychotropic medications in curbing anxiety, depression and other disorders of mood. We should accept these medications because for many sufferers they work. Antidepressants serve as an aid, an emotional "floor" while patients undergo therapeutic treatment to derive more long-lasting benefits in coping with emotional distress. Furthermore, it is essential that those suffering from bipolar disorder take mood-stabilizing medication to treat their symptoms. There is no other viable option for treatment.

Why is it that many therapists now embrace a philosophy which discounts the use of psychotropic medications? It is true that people generally do what’s in their best interest, and many therapists hold a position which dismisses the legitimate use of medication for several reasons:
• It enhances their belief that their therapeutic orientation is unique and sets them apart from the competition.
• It increases their ability to generate income. Therapists postulate that marketing an approach that will fix you without the use of medication (prescribed by a PCP or psychiatrist), is more enticing and potentially lucrative.
• Therapists, who disown the use of psychotropic medications prescribed by physicians, are driven by their feelings of exclusivity about their approach, coupled with the desire to market themselves. The practicalities of what is in the best interest of the patient are ignored. Marketing takes precedence over pragmatism and utility.

Another danger involving dichotomous thinking relates to mind-body therapies. Holistic thinking has taken root in the mental health profession. Many therapists integrate alternative therapies that claim to remedy behavioral and emotional conditions. Some of the treatments are evidence-based, but many cannot be supported empirically. Case in point is reflexology and therapeutic touch, which claim to explore and heal energy systems. The therapeutic community needs to do a better job of ferreting out modalities that have functionality versus those which are of questionable utility. Once again, in the process of propagating the mind-body connection, we may error on the side of discounting physical medicine, including psychotropic medications.

As a therapist, one must carefully weigh all sides of an issue before making value judgments. Therapists must be honest and informed when making statements about psychotropic medications and the mind-body connection. At a recent mental health conference that I attended, a participant claimed that she was dismayed by the over-use of stimulants for students experiencing ADD. However, it is clear that ADD has been under-diagnosed, not over-diagnosed, and those who receive treatment with stimulant medication in concert with therapy do significantly better than those prior to treatment or without treatment.

It is imperative that therapists represent their profession appropriately. This means that we take a carefully crafted approach to treatment based upon sound research and a sense of balanced thinking and integrity. Being blinded by any one perspective only polarizes the profession. Theory and practice must come together in a way that provides our patients with the best chance of making improvement. Part of the answer is to offer our clients a multipronged approach with the best quality evidence-based theory, medication management (if needed), and alternative adjunctive treatment modalities that have a history of demonstrated effectiveness.

Author's Bio: 

James P. Krehbiel, Ed.S., LPC is an author, freelance writer and nationally certified cognitive-behavioral therapist practicing in Scottsdale, Arizona. He specializes in working with children and adults who experience anxiety, depression, grief and pain management issues. James is the featured Shrink Rap columnist for TheImproper.com, an upscale arts, entertainment and lifestyle web magazine. His first book, Stepping Out of the Bubble tells a story of risk and courage taken by those who seek to better their lives. He recently contracted with New Horizon Press to publish his latest work entitled, The Search for Adulthood: Saying Goodbye to the Magical Illusions of Childhood. James can be reached at http://www.krehbielcounseling.com.