Posted by Dr. Vollmer on June 12, 2015
Well, today is my last class with these fascinating art therapy students. My job is to teach them psychopharmacology, yet I took this opportunity to talk about how the discovery of new psychotropic drugs in the early 1990s changed the physician-patient relationship, turning psychiatrists into pill mills and causing a great deal of confusion among therapists about when and how to talk to their patients about medication. Making a referral to a psychiatrist can be a daunting process, given the uncertainties in the field. Some of my colleagues say a referral for medication is a sign of failure of the treatment? Yes and no, I would say. The criteria for referral are not clear, and so how that referral is framed is often critical to the success of the medication. The therapist often sets the stage for hope, sometimes unrealistically, and sometimes with the proper amount of skepticism. The more a therapist can educate him/herself about psychotropic medication, the more they can help the patient navigate these murky waters. It is a simple message. Learning about the brain, includes learning about how medications changes the brain, facilitates the therapeutic relationship in which they also use art as yet another tool, for people to use their brains. These students draw people out of their inhibitions by introducing art as a medium for self-expression. Psychotropics partner in this goal in that, at times, they can help people feel less anxious, and thereby more free to express themselves. Psychiatrists and art therapists are on the same team, even if most of the time, we never speak to each other. Perhaps if I keep tooting the horn that we are on the same team, that psychopharmacology is not as complicated as it seems, then maybe we can open doors of communication, and in so doing, create a friendly working environment which increases job satisfaction and gives patients better care.