Psychopharmacology: General & Disorder-Specific Ethical & Clinical Considerations

Course materials are available as articles.

As the trends toward medicalization and medication for mental disorders grow, psychotherapists must expand their knowledge not only of psychopharmacology but their own roles with their clients as well. These new roles include not only communicating on an equal footing with prescribing physicians but also educating their clients and even advocating on their behalf. This is especially true for our more vulnerable clients such as children, the elderly, minorities, and the seriously mental ill, who are more likely to be over-diagnosed and have their meds inadequately monitored. We can do this effectively only if we ourselves understand the advantages, pitfalls and complexities of psychotropic medications.

This 15 CE intermediate level course consists of 12 articles divided into four parts. Part One presents shared decision-making models between patients and physicians and presents ethical and clinical guidelines concerning prescribing medications. Part Two discusses recent advances in medications for bipolar disorder, the ongoing controversy over the effectiveness of antidepressants for treating depression and the use of antidepressants for pregnant or lactating women. Part Three discusses ADHD medications for children and adolescents. Part Four describes practices and ideas for administering psychotropic medications to geriatric patients. Additional resources and references are provided for further study, but they are not part of the course.


  • Bernal, D.R., Herbst, R.B., Lewis, B.L. & Feibelman, J. (2017) Ethical Care for Vulnerable Populations Receiving Psychotropic Treatment, Ethics & Behavior, 27:7, 582-598, DOI: 10.1080/10508422.2016.1224187
  • Bschor, T. & Kilarski, L.L. (2016) Are antidepressants effective? A debate on their efficacy for the treatment of major depression in adults, Expert Review of Neurotherapeutics, 16:4, 367-374, DOI: 10.1586/14737175.2016.1155985
  • Kamimura, T. (2019)Older Adults with Alzheimer’s Disease Who Have Used an Automatic Medication Dispenser for 3 or More Years, Clinical Gerontologist, 42:1, 127-133, DOI: 10.1080/07317115.2017.1347594

Educational Objectives

  • Describe a communication-centered epistemic model of shared decision-making between physicians and patients
  • Describe how prescribing patterns with vulnerable populations differ from prescribing patterns with other patients
  • Discuss patients’ reactions and concerns about medications
  • Discuss the complex relationship between diagnosis and prescribing medications
  • Discuss whether the effectiveness of antidepressant medications is fundamentally a placebo effect
  • Describe the special considerations when prescribing medications for children and adolescents
  • Identify recent developments in medications for bipolar disorder
  • Discuss how antidepressants have altered depressed people’s view of their self
  • Discuss considerations about prescribing antidepressants for pregnant or lactating women
  • Discuss the controversies surrounding increased diagnosis of ADHD
  • Describe mothers’ views of ADHD medications
  • Describe the concept of the neurochemical self
  • Discuss the mechanisms of ADHD medications
  • Discuss the mechanisms of bipolar and antidepressant medications
  • Describe standards of care for geriatric patients taking psychotropic meds


  • The epistemic shared decision-making models between physicians and consumers regarding treatment and medications
  • Issues concerning psychotropics for vulnerable populations
  • Over-prescribing
  • Inadequate monitoring
  • Prescribing for children, adolescents, the elderly and seriously mentally ill
  • Emerging medications for bipolar disorder
  • Controversies concerning antidepressants
    • Effectiveness versus placebo
    • Replacing traditional sense of self with neurochemical self
    • Prescribing for pregnant or lactating women
  • Medications for ADHD
    • Do we over-prescribe for ADHD?
    • Is ADHD over-diagnosed?
    • Mothers' views of ADHD medications for their children
    • Comparison of methylphenidate and atomoxetine
  • Geriatric patients: practices and ideas for administering psychotropic medications