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Faculty Q&A: Psychopharmacology

October 04, 2017

  • Lana Kim, PhD, LMFT
    Copyright, Steve Hambuchen

Lana Kim, PhD, LMFT, will be hosting a full-day workshop on March 3rd, titled, A Systemic & Contextual Approach to Child & Adolescent Psychopharmacology for Mental Health and School Professionals, which will provide an introduction to the topic for educators, counselors, and other professionals who work with children.

We asked her a few questions about how her upcoming workshop differs from other psychopharmacology trainings, how educators and school counselors can impact a care plan for adolescents, and what about her work with children sparked a passion for this topic. View more workshop details and register online

With it’s systemic & contextual approach, what sets this workshop apart from others offered on the topic of psychopharmacology?

This workshop is unique in its focus on psychopharmacology and psychotropic medication through a sociocontextual lens. That is, the material presented will be discussed in relationship to larger systems. In particular, we will consider the sociopolitical climate within which our psychiatric drug industry has developed and how this relates to mental health treatment and the field at large.

As a medical family therapist, I will discuss the importance of understanding the trajectory that has led to our current cultural zeitgeist concerning the popularization of psychotropic medications and the medical, legal, and economic systems that have supported this growing trend.

Why is it important for educators, social workers, and other non-medical professions to have a baseline understanding of this material, and how does it play into the ‘collaborative-care’ approach?

Collaborative care or integrated care is a systematic healthcare delivery approach that supports whole person care. While there is considerable literature to support the efficacy of this treatment model, we tend to lack interdisciplinary training opportunities. Research and developments between educators and mental healthcare providers can meaningfully impact the work across fields. Thus, there is value in learning how to break down the silos of practice and increase collaborative efforts to positively affect child and adolescent outcomes.

It is important for educators, social workers, counselors, and family therapists to have a working knowledge of psychopharmacology and psychotropic medications through a sociocontextual lens in order to better understand the impacts of these on children and adolescents’ behavioral, cognitive, affective, and social function and development, as well as to increase one’s ability to identify when referrals for psychiatric and medical consultation may be helpful.

In the past two decades, there has been a continuously growing trend in psychotropic medication treatment for child and adolescent populations, yet research on the developmental impact of psychotropic treatment is still largely inconclusive. As members of helping professions, we know the systemic nature of how the physical, social, and ecological domains affect the emotional and psychological, and vice versa. We must be aware of the systemic influences that contribute to mental health phenomena. As helping professionals, we each play a role in supporting a healthy society and one way in which we might assess this is to think about the current health of our children. I am interested in our socially constructed definitions of health and well-being and how we relate these meanings to approaching child and adolescent mental health.

What lead you to develop a passion about this topic?

My passion has been largely shaped by my training and experiences working as a therapist with pediatric populations. I have worked with many families in licensed care and medical and non-medical treatment settings, and have seen both the positive and detrimental effects of psychotropic treatment on children.

An equity issue I see pertains to differential patterns in who gets medicated and how trauma or other systemic problems in children and adolescents’ lives present as psychosocial behaviors that can get misinterpreted as mental health issues.

Furthermore, greater focus is needed on the dimension of intersectionality and how oppression in systems plays out in the lives of children, youth, and families. The stories shared by the people I have worked with have stayed with me and they continue to fuel me.

What can participants in your workshop expect?

This workshop will include: (a) a brief historical overview of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and how that has played a role in rising rates of psychotropic medication prescription and usage, (b) highlight current research and existing gaps in our understanding on the developmental effects of psychotropic use in children and adolescent populations, and (c) present vignettes for group dialogue.

My hope is that participants will leave with a deeper understanding of the current issues surrounding psychotropic treatment and develop some ideas to apply directly in their work with children, families, and other providers.

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