--Original published at Psychology 105
Mental illness is caused by a combination of biological, psychological, and environmental factors. There are many different types of mental illness. Major depressive disorder, classified as a mood disorder, can be effectively treated using a variety of techniques. Each person with the disorder is different, however, and this can greatly impact how effective different treatments may be. What is more beneficial for patients – psychotherapy or medication? Researchers have asked this question for years, but the answer may not be completely unambiguous.
Medication is one of the most heavily marketed treatment options for mental illness. Especially for mood disorders like depression, which is one of the most common among the general public. Although sometimes stigmatized, medication does have merits that make it a very valid option for patients. According to an article published on bhevolution.org, the clearest benefits of prescribed medications is that they quickly and effectively reduce or even eliminate symptoms. It is often noted that illnesses like depression are a “chemical imbalance” in the brain. It makes sense that by restoring balance using medications (MAOIs, SSRIs, SNRIs, etc.), that symptoms would be alleviated. Research has also shown that these drugs also are effective in preventing relapse in a lot of cases. The article also argues that although therapy is shown to be effective for mild cases, medication is often necessary in more severe instances. I believe this source is credible since the information found here was provided from an excerpt from the Hazelden Co-occurring Disorders Program.
Another article, found on www.nimh.nih.gov, gave more insight to why medication may be a more popular and effective treatment option. This source argues that although research has demonstrated that psychotherapy methods are effective, there is no set standards or way of regulating therapy options. Therefore, there is no way to ensure that patients are receiving the same therapy that was tested in a clinical trial. Medications are tested and then approved by the FDA. The patient knows exactly what kind of treatment they are receiving and how it will generally affect them. Although rigorous training programs can be put in place to ensure all clinicians use similar methodologies during therapy, this is much more difficult to regulate. This article seems credible, as it was written by Thomas Insel, a psychiatrist and neuroscientist who led the National Institute of Mental Health for several years.
Some research has shown that psychotherapy may be more effective than using medication. An article from centerforanxietydisorders.com says that the effects of therapy are longer-lasting. It claims that unlike medication, therapy gives patients coping mechanisms and other tools that help them combat their disorder on their own terms. In case of relapse, these are also skills that people can use their entire lives. Psychotherapy does not have the potential for addiction like prescription medications have. It is much more likely that a patient will become dependent on their medication. The authors of this article are from a regional clinic of the National Social Anxiety Center, so I believe it is a credible source.
My final source is from the website of the American Psychological Association. Here, they argue psychotherapy should be the first line of treatment applied to patients with psychological disorders. This is because research has shown its results to be more long-term and enduring. This makes it more cost effective than only using medication in a lot of cases. Also, there is a lot more opportunity to personalize how a patient is treated when they’re in therapy versus just simply prescribing a medication. This seems like a quality source because it was written by two APA psychologists A. Brownawell and K. Kelley.
Overall, most of my sources concluded that a combination of both treatment types is often best. There are obviously pros and cons to each type of treatment, but both show substantial amounts of empirical support. In conclusion, I believe that since mental illness has many sources, there is no clear answer to what type of treatment type is definitively better.
Brownawell, A., and K. Kelley. “Psychotherapy Is Effective and Here’s Why.” American Psychological Association, American Psychological Association, Oct. 2011, http://www.apa.org/monitor/2011/10/psychotherapy.aspx.
Insel, Thomas. “Post by Former NIMH Director Thomas Insel: Quality Counts.” National Institute of Mental Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 14 July 2015, http://www.nimh.nih.gov/about/directors/thomas-insel/blog/2015/quality-counts.shtml.