At times, this is a controversial topic, if not representative of a difference of opinion between two distinct but related professions. Should a person pursue therapy or medication?
Let’s first be clear: there is no one correct answer to this question.
Whether a person chooses to first work with a psychiatrist or a prescribing provider for medication, or chooses to first go the therapy route to see if problems can be addressed in a different way, is entirely a personal decision. The individual must feel comfortable with the decision that they are making. There are pros and cons to each path, as well as personal preferences that impact such decisions.
There are some people that are simply highly opposed to taking any medication and will try anything before going that route. There are other people who truly need medication and who will try to go without taking it only to later realize medication is something they need to be on, and that they need to consistently stay on. There are also those people who want a relatively quick fix, who may actually benefit from therapy alone, but who want to feel relief relatively quickly and as such, will seek medication as the first path to feeling better. And then there are those will try therapy first, but again, really do need medication and will later add this to their treatment regimen.
If we look at the research, it is pretty clear from many studies that (of course, diagnosis dependent), therapy is as effective, if not more effective, than medication in most instances. What medications can’t do for your mental health, therapy can. This is because (again, in most but not all cases) therapy is where real work is being done to change the problem or outcomes.
In one particular area – the treatment of trauma and PTSD, therapy is the gold standard of treatment as to heal from these difficulties truly requires processing and dealing with what has happened. Medication simply cannot provide these outcomes as medication is in many ways like putting a Band-Aid on the problem. Yes, when you take your medication, you will feel better. But medication does not resolve, process, or do the emotional work of working through a psychological difficulty like trauma; it is better described as working around a problem, which means the problem is still there and will continue to be. When the medication wears off, the problem is still there to be dealt with.
Therapy = Change
That is the value of therapy. Therapy helps you move through your difficulties so they do not have to continue plaguing you as much or as often as they have, and therapy teaches you ways to deal with things in the future. Medication does not do these things, and for some difficulties, medication is simply a quick fix but not a lasting one. However, sometimes medication is still necessary depending on what you are dealing with and/or have been diagnosed with. This should be discussed between you and your doctor to make the best treatment decisions for your care.
In some cases, medication and therapy are recommended to co-occur as one can benefit the other. This means that medication can help a person to feel more relaxed, neutral, and can be what the person needs to do the often-times challenging work of therapy. And yes, therapy is challenging, but it is also one of the most rewarding, life-changing, and valuable experiences a person can pursue and engage in.
After all, most things worth pursuing in life are going to be challenging, and at times, draining, but those are the things that in the end are usually worth the effort and where the most benefit comes from.
Pros and Cons of Medication
Pros include: If effective, can provide relatively quick relief; sometimes is necessary depending on the diagnosis (e.g., Bipolar Disorder); not as much of a time commitment as therapy
Cons include: Can take time and lots of “trial and error” to find the right medications, dosing, and combinations for you; is not an exact-science and is often guided by patient self-report of symptoms (there is no blood test that shows your depression has decreased); does not actually resolve the problem (when medication wears off, problem(s) still there); each medication comes with a plethora of possible adverse physiological, cognitive, and emotional side-effects; some medications require increasing dosage over time to obtain the same effect; many medications cannot be stopped cold-turkey (speak with your prescribing doctor before stopping any medications for their guidance on how to do so); can be costly; diligence about taking medications as prescribed (timing, dosing, consistency); may not be an end-in-sight to treatment/may require taking medication for many, many years
Pros and Cons of Therapy
Pros include: Gets to the root of the problem; provides long-term relief; is a natural approach; teaches you ways to deal with things differently in the future; no adverse side-effects; builds insight, resiliency, and problem-solving skills; may be difficult at first, but gets easier and ultimately proves to be most valuable; there is an end-in-sight to treatment
Cons include: Can be (very) hard work; requires greater time and financial commitment (typically a weekly appointment)
WE’RE HERE TO HELP
At Tampa Therapy, we are committed to providing a relaxing, healing, and non-judgmental environment to support you on your journey to mental and emotional growth and health. If you want things to be different, you have to change them, and true change often comes from the hard work of therapy, though sometimes medication is necessary, as well. Our therapists are highly-skilled at helping people make important changes in their life and effectively address the symptoms you are experiencing through different therapeutic treatments. Give us a call or email us today to start the process of making important changes in your life.