medicating problems

The Problem with Medicating our Problems

Medicating Problems Psychiatric drugs have, for decades, benefitted the severely mentally ill and eased the suffering of millions. And psychopharmacology, the study of these drugs’ effects on the brain, has enabled numerous life-changing treatment options. Despite these advances in the field of psychiatry as a whole, the idea of medicating our problems has been proven ineffective. Psychiatric medications come in several forms, though among the most commonly prescribed are antidepressants, stimulants, and mood stabilizers. They are so regularly prescribed; in fact, that one of the questions most often asked of me by new patients is how long I need to talk to them before writing a prescription. They expect the same experience in my office that so many have had with other doctors in the past—they feel unsettled, they seek help, they get pills. And while prescriptions may offer temporary relief of symptoms, patients are not always aware that they also come with severe risks.   Patients need to know that psychiatric medications may cause: Alarming side effects, including sexual dysfunction Other medications to malfunction Dangerous health problems, such as difficulty breathing and diabetes Disturbing withdrawal symptoms, including seizers Decreasing efficacy As a medical doctor and therapist, I have seen first-hand the harmful effects of our dependence on medications for resolving emotional issues. Counter to current treatment trends, the use of medication alone increases the duration, and sometimes the intensity, of common emotional problems. Often, medication masks the symptoms, a course of treatment that would be deemed unacceptable in any other field of medicine. For example, few people would be satisfied to treat the headaches caused by a brain tumor with ibuprofen alone. Instead, we would seek to eradicate the problem at its source. The same should be no less accurate for our emotional health issues because, unlike acute mental health conditions such as schizophrenia and some bipolar disorders, common complaints such as anxiety and depression are often not based on biology. And yet, most patients seeking help for these conditions are being treated with biology-altering pharmaceuticals. The condition clearly does not warrant the intervention.   Effective Treatment The most effective course of treatment is what I have used with patients in my practice for nearly twenty years: psychodynamic therapy. To treat the real source of emotional problems, we must discover its source, a process to which therapy is expertly suited. With the right guide, a patient can be led …

How to stop enabling others

How to Stop Enabling Others

Helping vs. Enabling: The difference between “being there” and helping until it hurts. Recently, I had a patient say to me, “Of course I’m going to help him. I’m his mother!” I understood her sentiment, but I also knew that this woman was practically unraveling her own life for the sake of a grown son who hardly seemed to notice her sacrifices. She’d lost sight of the difference between helping and enabling. It’s important to learn how to stop enabling. In fact, over the past few months, I’ve noticed an increasing number of talks with my patients about the subject of enabling. But the conversations rarely start there. Instead, they start with a parent or spouse or significant other telling me they believe they need to “be there” for the person they love. Then they go on to detail the emotional and physical toll “being there for them” requires. Husbands feel it’s their “duty” to support their wives. Wives can’t “turn my back on him when he’s down.” Parents can’t stand to see their kids struggle and go to great lengths to help, telling me “it’s what a caring parent does” even when their kids are adults. Kids, too, struggle to help their aging parents, even to the great disruption of their own lives, and justify the hardship by asking me, “If I’m not there for them, who will be?!” No wonder we struggle. Relationships can be immensely difficult to navigate. It’s not that people don’t understand the general difference between helping someone and enabling them. As more Husbands feel it’s their “duty” to support their wives. Wives can’t “turn my back on him when he’s down.” psychological concepts make their way into our culture, I find that people are both aware of and can articulate the risks and consequences helping too much. The challenge isn’t about awareness. It’s about applying that knowledge in a healthy manner to our most personal relationships. This is where I come in, in teaching people how to stop enabling. So, back to my recent discussions with patients. After they’ve described their struggles to help a loved one, I ask how they can tell the difference between helping and enabling that person and how to stop enabling. “How do you know you’re not enabling him?” I say. Most often, they answer, “I don’t.” The good news is that the line between helping and enabling is …

business man asking for help

Saying “I Need Your Help” Does Not Make You a Failure

The Success Trap: When Help Feels Like Failure If you’re like most of my patients, people probably tell you that you ought to be proud of your success: money, job, car, house. Perhaps you’ve even earned an impressive title—CEO, President, Doctor. But what people don’t know is that, for you, there’s still something missing. A big something. Perhaps it’s stability in your relationships. Or you anger too quickly. Maybe you can’t even name it. What you do know is that, despite all your victories, life is still harrowing. For the highly successful, admitting “I need your help,” can feel like a failure. Even with the pain, it’s not easy to walk through my door, and patients come to me with all sorts of stories. Some have tried therapy without benefit. Friends or family have pushed others. Still, others come because they don’t know what else to do. Nearly universal, however, is their deep sense of failure. It doesn’t matter what car a patient drives to the office or what title they have on their business card, to be hurting, and sitting in my office feels as if they’ve failed in a significant way. Seeking help can feel like anything but a success. A book can help you understand how your engine works, but you trust only an expert mechanic to take it apart. Help and expertise are not the same things. The reality, however, is that help and expertise are not equivalent to investments of time or resources. A book can help you understand how your engine works, but you trust only an expert mechanic to take it apart. The same is true of emotional health. One of my patients is a surgeon who once said to me, “No one would be expected to perform an appendectomy on themselves, so why should I try to solve my emotional trauma on my own? That’s your expertise.” He’s exactly right. As a surgeon, my medical expertise is identifying the source of your pain, but instead of finding it in your physical body, the clues I search for are hidden deep within your unconscious. It’s careful, delicate work that takes commitment and time. The same you’d expect of your surgeon, your mechanic, the best negotiator on your sales team. In your area of expertise, whatever it may be, you likely know that just because you can’t achieve a goal on your own, doesn’t …

letting go of control

Case Study: Letting Go of Control

A Lesson in Letting Go of Control “Sometimes, you walk out of there, and you have been beaten up.” “J” used to consider Dr. Dabney—and therapists of every variety—the last resort.   Self-Described “Type-A” Personality A self-described “Type-A” personality, he was a person in pursuit of perfection. Mental instability was not acceptable. Period. Though, neither was the level of anxiety, he’d begun to experience regularly. “It was almost debilitating,” he recalls. “Eventually, it got to a point where I could barely function.” He decided that he had no choice but to seek help. “For a guy [with] my characteristics, it took nearly self-destruction.” But he didn’t find therapy to be the rapid cure he’d hoped for. When Dr. Dabney told him that he should expect to feel some level of relief within a few months, he said he was “flabbergasted.” He needed his life fixed—fast. There, too, was the doctor’s scrutiny. “ “I hated Dr. Dabney at first because everything she said was a criticism… She kept saying, “‘I’m not yelling at you, but I have to tell you these things.’” It took him years to accept her insights as observations, rather than personal attacks. “Literally,” he explains, “you have to crawl out of an emotional hole.” Deep down, he knew to keep going to keep working on letting go of control. Today, he sees the payoff. “I wouldn’t be where I am today without what I went through.” His experience left him with plenty of advice for those considering therapy. First, he tells people, forget your expectations about a timeline, control, all of it. He calls therapy a “journey more than a destination.” And, he wants others seeking help to know, “You’re not a freak.” Then he adds, “It’s tough to have a flashlight put on you for 45 minutes and not take it personally. But on the other hand, that’s what we pay her for—to uncover all this stuff.” Therapy is necessary for struggling in letting go of control. Are you struggling with letting go of control or anxiety? If so, we can help you! Schedule a call today or call 757-340-8800 for a free 15-minute consultation. For more topics, go to and

how to say no to family conversation

Setting Boundaries: How to Say No to Your Family, Friends, and Others

3 Signs You’re Letting Your Boundaries Slide. Learn how to say no to family.   Three warning signs to watch for when examining your boundaries. Sign #1: Seething beneath a calm exterior When it comes to teaching patients about boundaries, the most common warning sign I see is in patients who choose to tolerate the behavior; they are not actually in a healthy position to accept. Examples of this: “My wife is a nag, but I just let it slide.” “My boss is under a lot of stress. I don’t take his comments personally.” “What are you going to do? I can’t change her.” These may be the sentiments my patients want me to hear, but what I really see are men seething beneath the surface of their cool facades. Their emotional distress is palpable, and they genuinely don’t have any idea why. Saying things such as: Let it slide. Don’t take it personally. What are you going to do? It’s just the way she is. This is the language we use to justify not protecting our personal boundaries. We tell ourselves these events aren’t a big deal, but that’s really just a tactic to avoid the guilt of how to say no to family or to confront our loved ones. Under the surface, the issue we try to cast aside actually churn and build. They disrupt our lives, emotional health, and confidence. They hurt our feelings. They chip away and eventually destroy our most important relationships. They are a big deal.   Sign #2: Blaming things instead of people Setting and protecting is difficult. It elicits feelings of guilt and fear because we don’t want to “hurt” the people in our lives. To keep our boundaries intact, we have to learn how to say no to family, even when our loved ones want us to say “yes.” To mitigate guilt, I find that my patients often blame their anger and frustration on objects, rather than people. For example: A husband who dislikes spending every holiday at his in-law’s house will blame the weather or the traffic. He’ll tell me, “Just getting there is a total nightmare!” A man who doesn’t agree politically with his extended family blames his discomfort on a difference in cultures, saying, “Southerners just get me, you know?” A father whose adult son is still on his “payroll” will blame the economy by asking me, “How is anyone …