Monthly Archives: April 2015

The Limits of Psychotropic Medications

Though the advertisements on TV would have you believe otherwise, the mental health community has differing opinions about the use of psychotropic drugs to treat mood disorders, like depression and anxiety. In one camp, there are those who wish to portray these types of medications as a “silver bullet”… that they are able to reduce depression and anxiety well enough that the person on medication can resume their daily functioning. On the other hand, there are those who believe these medications are based on a very inexact science, which shows little indication of solving the root of the problem from which the mental health issues stem. This last group believes that–while psychotropic drugs may be useful in remediating acute symptoms–the drugs are not as useful as they are advertised to be, when administered without other forms of adjunctive treatment. A recent article by Susan Scutti touts that psychotherapy may in fact be enough in “Psychotherapy Proven To Normalize Brain Activity In Depressed Patients” 

Anti-depressants and other psychotropic drugs serve to alter or reduce symptoms. In the case of those suffering from depression, an antidepressant, such as Prozac, can be prescribed to reduce the intensity of the depression. Anxiolytics, or anti-anxiety agents, such as Xanax, can rapidly reduce the physiological dysregulation that occurs in a panic attack. However, according to Nicholas Strouse, a clinician and the director at Westport Family Counseling, “The symptoms, emotional states, and moods are conditions elicited by a source. When treating a patient with psychotropic medications, without discussing the core of the problem, the medication only acts as a band aid. The medication will not resolve the deeper issues that may be causing or contributing to the symptom.”

Strouse suggests that understanding the source of symptoms permits more effective treatment. In the case of the person suffering from anxiety or depression, counseling can offer insights as to the “why.” There are many variables that can account for why symptoms are triggered, or why specific symptoms become most prominent, or why a symptom intensifies at a particular time.

“When diagnosing and treating a patient, it is very important that you are able to isolate as many of the variables that contribute to a person’s condition as possible,” says Strouse. “Providers may be able to administer drugs that reduce the symptoms. However, all too often, people feel they are being experimented on, as providers run through a long list of medications, while the patient continues to live with their ailment. And, in the meantime, it may be that family dynamics, or a relationship… or, even their balance of nutrition and exercise are directly influencing their symptoms.”

In addition to imbalances within the brain’s chemistry, Strouse suggests that other factors including the environment, people’s belief system, thought process, and support network contribute to the symptomatology. The reason these factors are important is two-fold. First, any one of these factors, or a combination of such factors could be a source of the symptoms. That means that a medication will not remediate the issue. Although it may buffer some of the most intense discomfort, it will not actually do anything to stop the symptom. Secondarily, because the benefit of psychotropic medication is evaluated by the perception of the patient over time, it’s important to have a third-party to help track the improvement or effectiveness of the drug.

If psychotropic medication is determined to be helpful to someone’s condition, it would be ideal to integrate therapy with the use of those drugs. This approach allows for the most acute symptoms to be treated, as well as the root, or core issues that may be generating the symptoms. Westport Family Counseling uses an integrative model, in which Nutritional Counseling, DBT, Mindfulness Fitness, and EMDR are some of the interventions used in conjunction with, or instead of medication. “Non-psychopharmacological options are a definite part of comprehensive care,” says Director, Strouse. “Not everyone is comfortable using medication… and, more and more, people understand that using medication alone can limit the potential for improvement.”

To learn more about WFC’s comprehensive care or schedule an appointment, call (203) 227-4555 or email

Grief Within The Human-Animal Bond

An inevitable part of the animal bond relationship is one of loss. Our pet’s lifespan is commonly shorter than ours. However, we are often unprepared for the levels of despair and deep sorrow that we experience, when they die.

Many times, we do not know what to do when animals pass away. In part, it is a societal issue, as there is a discrepancy between how we mourn the loss of a person and how we mourn the loss of an animal. In addition to observing a person’s death through rituals, customs, and protocols, we actually have grievance and counseling paradigms that help us cope. But, it is not the same for the loss experienced in the human-animal bond. There is much less observance, understanding and agreement about customs and protocols.

It is hard to share about one’s grief, when we experience the death of a person. It seems to be even harder to share about the loss of an animal. Friends and family may offer condolences, but are often surprised if the sadness or depression lasts more than a short time.

Whether people know it or are comfortable with it, mourning the loss of an animal is normal. And, just as most people would agree it is healthy to mourn the loss of a person, it is healthy to mourn the loss of an animal…for as long as necessary.

Because our connection with animals is deeper than we are often aware of, we may also be unclear about how many layers of loss exist. For example, the loss experienced in the death contains, within it, the additional loss of an identity that was defined by the relationship, itself.

Additionally, something many people do not consider, the loss of a pet has the potential to retrigger previous loss. The importance and identity of having a bond with an animal may be as important as that with a brother, father, mother, or wife. The pure love and devotion does not feel replaceable.

It is important people understand just how deep the connection can be. The animal-human bond warrants that we allow ourselves to grieve, when we experience the loss of an animal we care about.

Stopping or inhibiting the grieving process is problematic. Just as in the death of a person, when people experience the loss from an animal’s death, people may experience an increase in anxiety and depression.. thought process and judgment can become impaired, and behavior may shift dramatically. This may be compounded if a person feels loss, but experiences an incongruence with other people’s perceptions about the loss. If a person has disturbance, but feels trapped and unable to express themselves, life’s functions may become even more impacted.

Curiously, there are people who may be afraid of feeling loss about people, or loss in their own lives, related to their Self. However, these same people are able to feel mourn at the loss of their pets. In treatment, people may resist recounting and processing the traumas of war, or the deaths of loved ones, only to break down at the loss of a pet, who had quietly helped the person to weather these past storms.

In the many ways we look at our relationships with animals, it would seem that we should not be surprised at the feelings that they invoke in us. After all, they often demonstrate that our happiness is one of their primary intentions.

There is a profound connection that exists in the human-animal bond… and it is important that we come to terms with our loss, when that light is extinguished.

For more information on treatment for pet bereavement, contact Vera Muller-Paisner.

Written by Vera Muller-Paisner, LCSW