Create the family you want to have

Does my child need medication?

This is probably one of the most frequently asked questions that I get the first time I meet a parent who is planning to bring in their child for therapy.  I am a Social Worker and have a private psychotherapy practice which means I am not licensed to prescribe medication, however, many children I see have taken or are taking medication and I do refer out to psychiatrists, who do prescribe medication, if I believe a child is in need.

The short answer that I give to parents who ask this question is to do what I would do with my own children if I felt they needed medication: try everything else first!  This is just my opinion and it is not shared by everyone in my profession, however, while there was a decade or so that many parents were turning to pills to solve the problems for their children, this is not true today.  I do not mean in any way to offend any parent who has a child on medication, nor do I intend to say that all medications are bad.  I just think it is important to try everything else first.  Now, obviously, if your child is psychotic, they need medication.  More often, I have parents who bring in children who have experienced trauma and are feeling anxious or depressed.  There are many therapeutic techniques that can help with these issues outside of medication.  Before starting medication, I have a few recommendations:

  1. Get a full physical with a doctor that is familiar with depression and anxiety.  Even mania can be attributed to physical ailments such as a thyroid issue, as are depression and anxiety.  Depression is closely linked to vitamin D deficiency and research also supports the use of fish oil to increase Omega-3.  In fact, in a recent talk training I went to, physician Andrew Weil taught us that fish oil and vitamin D, combined with regular, moderate exercise are more effective than medication for depression.  Now don’t go out and do these things because I said so please consult your or your child’s doctor before changing anything.
  2. Start exercising.  In research with a control group who changed nothing, one group that used only medication and another group that introduced moderate exercise 3x’s/week for 20 minutes or more the group that exercised had the best results in treating mood disorders.  For kids I especially love exercise that gets them focused on controlling their bodies, dance, martial arts, qui gong, and yoga are all wonderful.
  3. Look at the food you and your child eat.  I have seen more and more children developing food sensitivities.  The main culprits seem to be food dyes, sugar (you knew that), caffeine, and gluten.  I used to see a kid where you could tell if he got into the pretzels just by looking at him when he walked in the door because his sensitivity to wheat caused him all kinds of trouble.  This is the easiest (and the hardest) one to do because all you have to do (feel free to laugh here if your child is a picky eater like mine) is eliminate each category of food for about a week to see if you see a behavioral change.
  4. Learn to meditate.  Meditation is good for just about everyone.  Even kids can meditate.  Just start small and work your way up to 10-20 minutes at least 3 x’s/ week.
  5. Check out other alternatives.  Acupuncture and reiki- even with children- have both been helpful to my clients.  Don’t ask me what it does I just know it works for many people.
  6. Let’s not forget talk therapy, art therapy, and play therapy are all helpful.
  7. Learn EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique).  I use this tapping technique with most children and adults I work with at some point.  It is easy to learn and you can find out how by contacting a therapist who knows it.  They should be able to teach you in one or two sessions.

Like I said before, medication is not all bad.  I have seen quite a few children who have been helped by it, however, more and more, I and others in my field are looking to try alternatives first and with good reason.  Dr. Weil also pointed out more recent research that points to our bodies adjusting to medication in ways we did not expect.  For example, the study he cited found that people who took SSRI’s to increase serotonin production to treat depression also had the effect that once a patient stopped taking the SSRI, their brain had adjusted to making less serotonin as it became adjusted to allowing the medication to stimulate production.  He also used the example that acid reflux medication, when given to a group of young adults who did not have issues with acid reflux, actually ended up causing acid reflux issues in a significant number of participants after they stopped taking the medication.  Why?  Because their bodies adjusted to producing more acid to counteract the medicine to try to reach “normal” for their body.  My point is, there is still a lot we don’t know about medication, especially for children and that the long-term studies on psychotropic meds for kids just isn’t there yet.  Before putting our children on these medications, please, let’s consider less extreme alternatives.

March 28, 2012 - Posted by | help for parents, thinking about therapy? | , , , , , , , ,


  1. Exercise is so true — stress at my school builds up when I don’t go and do things like lift weights and run. I felt terrible for half a semester and felt instantly better after going and doing lifting. Humans are physical beings/animals or whatever you want to call us, and I think the movement to sitting in front of TV’s and computer screens (while I can say I am guilty of the computer screen…) builds up a TON of anxiety for even the mentally strongest people, which compounds exponentially when you add in work/school stress, worrying about tests/projects ect… It’s also important to note that you need to make sure the exercise in your mind isn’t linked to the stress! I have mandatory exercise twice a week, but these workouts are just “on top of everything else” to me because it’s related to the school! I only felt better when I went out on my own to help blow off steam from school work. Make sure you disconnect from the stress and relax before you work out.

    Comment by Ben | March 29, 2012 | Reply

    • Thank you Ben for your comment. I agree it is important that the exercise be something you enjoy. When you enjoy the activity it helps you to disconnect from stress. Even if you start out stressed it’s still worthwhile to exercise. In fact it’s more important. Thanks again for reading and commenting.

      Comment by help4yourfamily | March 29, 2012 | Reply

  2. […] Does my child need medication? ( Rate this: Share this:TwitterFacebookEmailPrintRedditPinterestLike this:LikeBe the first to like this post. […]

    Pingback by Ten Free Ways for Parents to Break Free of a Bad Mood (I’ll bet there are a few you’ve never thought of) | help4yourfamily | May 3, 2012 | Reply

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