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Mental Health Counseling: What You Should Know About Psychopharmacotherapy

Understanding how psychiatric drugs work is key to a successful career in counseling.

Over 40 million Americans take some form of psychiatric medication.* That’s nearly 17% of the nation’s population. Which means, if you have a career or are considering a career in mental health counseling, you will almost certainly have clients who are taking psychiatric medication.

The use of drugs to treat psychiatric disorders is known as psychopharmacotherapy. While you must be a physician to prescribe the medications used in psychopharmacotherapy, everyone in the mental health field should have a working understanding of the different psychiatric drugs and how they’re used.

Mental Health Counseling: What You Should Know About Psychopharmacotherapy

The Conditions Psychopharmacotherapy Treats

Psychopharmacotherapy treats five primary classes of mental health disorders. These include:

  • Depression
    Antidepressants can help improve depressive symptoms such as sadness, hopelessness, lethargy, concentration issues, and disinterest in activities. The most common variety of antidepressants are what is known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). These include citalopram (Celexa), escitalopram (Lexapro), fluoxetine (Prozac), Paroxetine (Paxil), sertraline (Zoloft), and bupropion (Wellbutrin).
  • Anxiety
    Anti-anxiety medications treat all forms of anxiety from generalized anxiety to panic disorders. They help lessen feelings of agitation and can treat anxiety-related insomnia. Long-term anti-anxiety medications are SSRIs. Fast-acting anti-anxiety drugs are known as benzodiazepines (Valium, Ativan, and Xanax, among others) and can lead to dependency. They are thus only appropriate in the short-term.
  • Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
    Stimulants are a common treatment for ADHD. They work by increasing alertness, attention, and energy, which can help those who have trouble focusing stay on task and resist internal impulses. Common stimulants used to treat ADHD include dexmethylphenidate (Focalin), dextroamphetamine (Adderall), lisdexamfetamine (Vyvanse), and methylphenidate (Ritalin).
  • Mood Disorders
    Mood-stabilizing medications can help reduce or eliminate the mood swings of those suffering from bipolar disorder. They can also help those with major depression. Lithium is a common mood stabilizer and comes under a variety of brand names. Other mood stabilizers include carbamazepine (Tegretol), lamotrigine (Lamictal), valproate (Epilim), and asenapine (Sycrest).
  • Psychosis
    Antipsychotic medications can reduce the psychotic symptoms of schizophrenia, helping those with the condition avoid the delusions and hallucinations associated with the disease. Antipsychotic medications can also be used to treat bipolar disorder in cases where the manic cycle results in psychosis. Common antipsychotics include aripiprazole (Abilify), clozapine, ziprasidone, and lurasidone.

How Patients on Psychopharmacotherapy Respond to Mental Health Counseling

Psychopharmacotherapy is almost never a total cure. In fact, for some patients, psychopharmacotherapy provides little to no relief of symptoms and/or causes serious side effects. For these patients, mental health counseling may be their only pathway to recovery.

Mental health counseling can also help the many patients who respond well to psychopharmacotherapy. Studies examining the effects of psychopharmacotherapy when combined with counseling/psychotherapy have found that patients who engage in both can benefit from:

  • Improved short-term recovery rates
  • Improved long-term recovery rates
  • Decreased rate of relapse
  • Improved long-term social functioning
  • Improved medication compliance
  • Greater satisfaction in their treatment
  • Lower long-term health and social services costs

In your counseling career, you should feel free to provide counseling to anyone who is also receiving psychopharmacotherapy. However, you should ask your clients to disclose any psychiatric medications they’re on and who their prescribing physician is. That way, you can coordinate treatment if either you or the client’s other medical providers desire. Team approaches to mental health treatment are not uncommon and can help patients more fully address their issues.

How to Become a Counselor Focused on Mental Health

If you want to start or advance a mental health counseling career, one of the best choices you can make is to earn an MS in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. This master’s degree can help you gain the skills you need to help clients overcome mental health problems.

While completing a clinical mental health master’s program might seem daunting, it doesn’t have to be. Thanks to online education, you can earn your MS in Counseling in a format that many working adults have turned to for continuing education. What makes online learning so advantageous? For one, when you enroll in a clinical mental health counseling online program, you can earn your degree from home or from anywhere else you have internet access. For another, the top online universities offer flexible scheduling that lets you attend classes and handle coursework at whatever time of day works best for you. That makes it easier to continue working and handling other responsibilities while you earn your master’s degree.

The prevalence of psychopharmacotherapy proves that millions of Americans need help with their mental health. When you earn an MS in Clinical Mental Health Counseling online, you can play a role in providing that help.

Walden University is an accredited institution offering an MS in Clinical Mental Health Counseling degree online. Expand your career options and earn your degree in a convenient, flexible format that fits your busy life.

*T. Moore, et. al., Adult Utilization of Psychiatric Drugs and Differences by Sex, Age, and Race, JAMA, on the internet at

M. Jakovljevic, Person-Centered Psychopharmacotherapy: What Is It? Each Patient Is a Unique, Responsive and Responsible Subject, Psychiatria Danubina, on the internet at

D. Mintz, Combining Drug Therapy and Psychotherapy for Depression, Psychiatric Times, on the internet at

Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission,