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Psychotherapy or Medication?

Psychotherapy or Medication?

It wasn’t until the 1970s that psychotherapy and medication had become complementary treatments for a wide range of mental health problems. Before that, the combination of psychotherapy and drug therapy seemed impossible; while psychoanalysts considered medication as an inferior treatment for mental illnesses, proponents of biologic psychiatry tended to see psychoanalysis as ineffective and time-wasting.


However, many studies during the ‘70s started to transform the way science viewed the practice of combining psychotherapy and medications. Today, the combination of these two treatment methods is successfully used to treat emotional distress, mental health problems, and some psychiatric disorders. Nonetheless, experts in the field still argue whether psychotherapy is better than medication when it comes to the treatment of mental health disorders. 


What are the Main Benefits of Psychotherapy?


Psychotherapy includes a variety of treatments that can help with mental health problems and some psychiatric disorders. Psychotherapy provides help for a wide range of problems, from low self-esteem issues to phobias and relationship problems. The main aim of psychotherapy is to enable clients to understand their feelings, which should improve their coping strategies and help them face challenging situations more adaptively. 


Clinical trials have demonstrated the effectiveness of psychotherapy in treating anxiety, depression, relationship issues, sexual dysfunction, family problems, and substance abuse. Also, psychotherapy has proven to be effective with various populations, from children to the elderly. 


The American Psychological Association’s resolution on psychotherapy effectiveness contains more than 50 peer-reviewed studies on its success. With a good therapist, research shows that psychotherapy is even more effective in the long-term than medication. In the treatment of anxiety and depression, psychotherapy leads to fewer relapses than medication used alone.


Studies suggest that psychotherapy interventions should be applied first in the treatment of mild to moderate anxiety and depression. One study in Canada showed that cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and interpersonal therapy (IPT) are the primary treatment recommended for acute major depressive disorder (MDD), alone or combined with antidepressants. 


Research demonstrates that the average effects of psychotherapy are larger than the effect achieved by medications. Also, a large number of studies showed that psychotherapy improves work functioning, decreases psychiatric hospitalization, and reduces disability and mortality. 


Finally, psychotherapy teaches clients the skills useful in day-to-day life long after the sessions are over. In other words, psychotherapy results are more lasting than those achieved by medications. Also, unlike with some of medication, psychotherapy is not addictive and rarely has side effects.


The Drawbacks of Psychotherapy and Medication Advantages


The main disadvantage of psychotherapy is that it takes much longer than medicament therapy to show benefits. Also, because of its high cost, for many people, psychotherapy is simply not affordable. Insurance plans generally do not include mental health insurance coverage and don’t cover psychotherapy sessions, which makes it out of reach for many. On the contrary, most insurance policies will cover the cost of medication. Medications for anxiety and depression are among the most prescribed drugs globally. Also, many people see faster short-term improvement in their symptoms when prescribed medications. 


Finally, drug therapy is more appropriate in some instances. For example, in treating the symptoms of some psychiatric disorders such as psychosis, treatment with drugs known as antipsychotics is the most common therapy.  


Nevertheless, research shows that a combination of psychotherapy and medication is usually the most effective in treating disorders such as anxiety and depression. Lastly, studies show that effects produced by psychotherapy are often comparable to or better than the effects produced by medicament treatments for the same disorders.




Lorin Sarer
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