In our quick-fix culture, people often hope a pill will offer fast relief from such problems as depression or anxiety. And primary care physicians or nurse practitioners — most people’s first contact when they have a psychological problem — are typically trained to prescribe medication. They don’t have the extensive training or the time to provide psychotherapy.
IS MEDICATION EFFECTIVE?
There are some psychological conditions, such as severe depression, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, where medication is clearly warranted. But many other cases are less clear-cut.
Evidence suggests that in many cases, medication doesn’t always work. In a 2010 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, for instance, researchers reviewed previous research on the effectiveness of antidepressants. They found that antidepressants did help people with severe cases of depression. For mild to moderate depression, however, the medication wasn’t any more effective than a placebo.
What’s more, medications don’t help you develop the skills you need to deal with life’s problems. Once you stop taking medication, your problems often remain or come back. In contrast, psychotherapy will teach you new problem-solving strategies that will also help you cope with future problems.
DO I NEED MEDICATION?
If you can function relatively well-meaning you can function well at work or school and have healthy relationships with family and friends — the answer is probably no. Psychotherapy alone can be very effective. Or you might just need a more balanced lifestyle — one that combines work, exercise and social interactions.
Medication can be useful in some situations, however. Sometimes, people need medication to get to a point where they’re able to engage in psychotherapy. Medication can also help those with serious mental health disorders. For some conditions, combining psychotherapy and medication works best.
HOW CAN I GET MEDICATION IF I NEED IT?
If you need medication, your psychotherapist will work with your primary care provider or a psychiatrist to ensure a coordinated approach to treatment that is in your best interest.
Two states, Louisiana and New Mexico, have laws allowing licensed psychotherapists with advanced training to prescribe certain medications to treat emotional and mental health problems. In those states, the psychotherapist must have completed a specialized training program (often earning a master’s degree in psychopharmacology), passed an examination for prescribing and be additionally licensed as prescribing psychotherapist.