On Children and Prescription (Psychotropic) Drugs


There is no greater desire of any parent than to make sure that our children are given every opportunity to remain healthy. We have all been to the 24-hour pharmacy in the dead of night to pick up a prescription for a feverish or sick child. We wouldn’t even think twice about not going. When it comes to medicating psychological issues, though, I have found that it tends to be a far different conversation…if any. For most parents the thought of needing to intervene on a psychological level with medication rarely if ever will occur, but for the 1 in 5 children who display psychological symptoms (United States Surgeon General Study, 2012) their parents need to understand what must be considered when the thought of medication is presented. From a Professional Counselor’s point of view, as well as a Mama’s, here are my thoughts on what to consider.

  1. Have your child properly evaluated.  As a Professional Counselor, I can make a diagnosis on Axis I disorders such as depression, anxiety, eating disorders, etc. without the need for coordination with another professional. These psychological hardships are diagnosed by fulfilling a certain number of criteria in various categories and I confidentially make these diagnosis (and then determine treatment accordingly). As a Master’s level therapist I cannot prescribe medication but I do work closely with prescribers to make sure that the proper medication is used for my client. Conversely, I cannot make a thorough diagnosis for learning disabilities, ADD or ADHD, Bi-polar disorder or other Axis II classifications without coordination with a Psychologist who specializes in testing and evaluation. Working alongside of these other professionals, I usually have a hypothesis but need clinical testing to be done to confirm that. All that to say, you want to make sure that the proper professionals are evaluating your child and doing so extensively.
  2. Utilize proper prescribers. When I use this term I am referring to those individuals that would actually write the prescription for medication. There are only a handful of medical professionals that can prescribe medication. When it comes to psychological issues, make sure that you are utilizing them properly. For instance, your pediatrician can technically write a prescription for an anti-depressant or even ADD medication but I wouldn’t recommend it. Just because someone can write a prescription doesn’t mean they should, even if they specialize in the (medical) treatment of children. Our office actually has a nurse practitioner on staff that we utilize for her medical knowledge and prescribing ability but we often refer out to a Psychiatrist (a medical doctor who specializes in psychological issues) when the case calls for a higher level of care.
  3. Resist the temptation to follow trends or “popular thought.” I am so thankful for the ways that counseling has become more accepted in recent years and is being seen as a true resource for help as opposed to be being viewed as a weakness; but we still have a way to go. Counseling is certainly losing its stigma but it still isn’t mainstream in our society…especially in the treatment of children so be careful to know your sources when you are researching on your own. Just because someone in your child’s dance class or Boy Scout troop went through a similar circumstance doesn’t mean his or her method of treatment is appropriate for your child. Psychological issues can vary just slightly and take on a totally new treatment plan for each patient so we never want to generalize treatment methodologies.
  4. Finally, if your child needs psychological intervention or even therapy for that matter it does not mean that you have failed or done something wrong as a parent.  This is so important to remember.  I can’t tell you how many times I have seen parents drag their feet in appropriately medicating their child because they are fearful that this will communicate that they have done something wrong in their parenting.  If you are reading this blog it means that you care about the well being of your child and if you care enough to read extra on-line resources then you probably care pretty significantly about your child.  If your child needs help then please don’t let stigma prevent you from getting it for them.

These are hard and controversial topics, especially when it comes to thinking about them in light of your precious children.  My reason for writing this article is not meant to insight anger or controversy.  This article is not meant to endorse or be a commentary on the use of medication or other psychological interventions in children.  If anything, it is to get you thinking about how you might handle certain scenarios in your own child’s life should they occur.  We all want to do the best we can when it comes to parenting and when we know more then we truly do more in proactive parenting.  Let’s grow in knowledge together, after all, that’s the purpose of community.





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