Don't treat anger with band-aids
There is a question I have been asked countless times by parents and others, and it goes something like this:
“My son is currently taking medication to help him control his anger, and it helps. But how long will he need to take it?”
In this day and age, I am continually amazed at just how many people, including children, teens and young adults, are taking medications to control behavior. Frequently, these behaviours are anger or depression-related. The medication is prescribed during a visit to a physician with the understanding that the behaviour being treated should see a reduction in intensity over the next few weeks. There is a lingering belief among many in our society that the role for medication in treating anger, depression, or other similar challenges is to keep these feelings at bay, and thus a minimum of effort is required in feeling "better". If an edge can be taken off the extremes of anger and depression, it may be easier to ignore them - for a time.
However, this can leave parents and others wondering if there will now be a long-term need for pharmaceuticals in place. In other words, will the parent need her son to continue renewing his prescription indefinitely, or at least until he graduates from high school? This is obviously an important question, and forces us to decide what true health actually looks like. Will long-term medication for behavior allow a young (or young at heart!) person to become their true selves, and live a healthy and vibrant life? Or does there come a time when the medications have reached the limits of their effectiveness, and more sustainable methods for achieving health are screaming to be utilized?
In my experience and work with parents and their children, there are two widely-accepted truths that stand out:
- Almost nobody WANTS to become reliant on behavior-control medication for a number of years, especially during the transition into adulthood.
- These medications are never enough to create sustainable, vibrant, and natural health by themselves.
All behaviours are purposeful. When we choose to ignore the true underlying reason behind someone's anger, for example, then medication in effect becomes a ‘band-aid’ solution: we treat the symptoms without addressing the problem. Yes, there is an unlimited supply of band-aids available (though there is perpetual cost involved), but the ‘wound’ those band-aids are intended to treat is never invited to actually heal. Medications can have an important role in the healing process, especially in reducing the intensity of feelings enough that one can authentically start to examine the cause of anger.
My answer to parents asking about medication is often this: what might be causing your son or daughter to be so angry that a visit to the doctor was required? It often marks the beginning of a process where we unravel the root causes of the anger, which are usually connected with someone or something taking away physical and/or emotional safety on a significant level. With commitment and support, the process will soon lead the young people to a place where they can truly stand on their own two feet and feel the empowerment of taking full responsibility for their own physical and emotional health.
Andrew Portwood is a certified Masters-level counselor in Kelowna with a heart for supporting and helping children, youth and young adults. He has also helped many parents to grasp a better understanding of why their children are choosing the behaviours they have, and how to move forward in a supportive, healthy manner. Creating authentic connection and clarity is essential in all he does, both as a counselor and in his life. Find more about him and his practice:
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