Exploring whether changing your thoughts and behaviours is more effective than medication.
It can be tough to figure out where to go for help when we are feeling down and can’t shake it. A recent study in the Archives of General Psychiatry suggested that only 43% of people suffering from depression saw a psychotherapist. So what treatment did the other 57% receive? The majority of patients were prescribed an anti-anxiety or anti-depressant medication.
The question is: What is most effective, medication or therapy? In the past decade, there have been many studies that conclude that psychotherapy is at least as effective as antidepressants, without the side effects.
However, the idea that depression is a clear cut illness that can be “cured” with medication is an opinion growing in popularity. Most people want a quick fix, a pill to numb the pain and move on. But when they do not take the time to figure out the underlying cause of their issues, these problems reappear (whether a month, a year, or a decade later!). Although there is such thing as a “chemical imbalance,” attempting to balance it with more chemicals may not be the answer.
Combining both medication and therapy may be the answer for some.
Recent studies have been focusing on the effectiveness of combined treatment, which utilizes both psychotherapy and medication. An analysis in the Journal of Depression and Anxiety concluded that combined treatment was more effective than psychotherapy or medication alone. It would appear that depression is not just a biological illness which can be cured, but a mind/body issue, that requires both medication and a new mindset.
Medication can help with depression and anxiety, but it does not explore the root causes of these emotions. You may have always felt depressed, or a recent event could have caused you to feel anxious and down. A therapist can help you deal with the challenges of life, and teach you new strategies to cope with whatever may come. A recent study at Ohio State University concluded that when a therapist helps you form new ways to think about, process and approach life changes, you are more likely to recover from severe depression. Medication may treat the manifestation, or symptoms of depression, while therapy works to uncover the inner drive behind those symptoms.
Psychotherapy working in conjunction with medication serves to combat the painful feelings you may have as a result of your depression, while teaching you how to prevent those feelings from recurring.
With the help of a therapist, you can discover the inner thoughts that are leading to your depressed mood and counterproductive behaviors, and you may not need to pursue medication at all. A trained, professional psychotherapist may be able to point out a blindspot that you were not aware of that if you changed would help you feel better.
I usually advise my clients to talk to a therapist first and see how their feelings change after a few sessions. At that point, if their depression persists, they may consider talking to their family doctor about other options, such as medication.