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Is psychotherapy more effective than medication in treating depression?

Posted September 22nd, 2014

psychotherapy or medication to treat Depression

According to estimates, one in five people will suffer from depression over the course of their lifetime. So, it is unsurprising that many different treatments for the condition exist.


There are dozens of medications, a long list of psychotherapy styles and other types of support that can help.


Researching the various options may seem like an overwhelming task to a person who is feeling depressed, so it can be a good idea to take a look at the bigger picture first. Most of the methods people employ to deal with depression fall into one of two categories: psychotherapy and medication. While both of these treatments can be effective, there are some important things to take into consideration when choosing which approach might work best for you.

Consider the big picture

First of all, you need to consider whether you are looking for a quick fix or a long-term solution. Some people find that medication can take the edge off of a deep depression pretty quickly and others may find that psychotherapy provides them with skills to both relieve mild to moderate depression and prevent symptoms escalating in the future.

There is no single type of anti-depressant that will work for everyone and sometimes a bit of trial and error can be involved in finding just the right combination for each individual. In some cases, the symptoms might even get a little worse before they start to improve. Therefore, some of those who do opt for medication may also be advised to seek therapy at the same time. On the other hand, if your depression symptoms are not too severe and you would prefer not to take medication, many people go for psychotherapy as a first treatment choice with good results. However, if symptoms are severe, it is possible that a combination of psychotherapy and medication can produce a better outcome, than either approach alone.


How can psychotherapy help?

Psychotherapy gives people the skills needed to deal with everyday causes of stress and sadness. Therapists show people new ways they can respond to situations and also how to challenge unhelpful think patterns commonly associated with depression.

Studies have shown that cognitive behavioural therapy has a longer-lasting effect on depression than anti-depressant medication. It also has a lower relapse rate because this type of therapy equips people with the skills needed to deal with new situations they might encounter, well after regular therapy has ended.

However, it is important to keep in mind that whilst the efficacy of therapy can depend to some extent on the skill of the therapist, it is the quality of the relationship with the client that has the biggest impact on positive change in therapy. Therefore, if you are seeking therapy you need to find a therapist who is not only qualified but it is essential they are someone you feel comfortable with and from the very first session, you get a good sense that they have the capacity to help you.

How can medication help?

Medication is an effective and often relatively quick method for dealing with depression. For some people, taking antidepressants is enough to keep the blues at bay and no therapy is needed. Medication can be particularly useful in severe cases where a person is considered a danger to their self or others. Whilst medication can indeed bring immediate relief during an especially traumatic time, it does not give patients coping mechanisms that can be employed in challenging situations in the future.

Potential drawbacks of each treatment

One reason some people opt for therapy instead of medication is to avoid side effects. Antidepressants can cause several side effects, including:

• Nausea
• Dry mouth
• Jitteriness
• Weight gain
• Diarrhoea
• Reduced sexual desire
• Insomnia
• Unusual dreams

The idea of chemically altering the brain makes some people uncomfortable. Moreover, quitting the medication abruptly can lead to withdrawal symptoms. Doctors typically recommend tapering off the medication slowly to avoid these effects. Therefore, it is important for those who have been prescribed antidepressants to not stop taking them suddenly, without medical supervision.

Therapy does not have physical side effects, but some people have concerns about opening up to a person they don’t know. Sometimes it can require quite a bit of time and effort finding the best therapist for you. When you are wanting help urgently, having to test out a few different therapists before you find the one that you really feel comfortable with and who you think has the skills to help you change things in the direction you want, can feel frustrating.

The best of both worlds

Both treatments have their benefits, and some people find that a combination of psychotherapy and medication is most effective. For example, a person might start taking antidepressants in order to start feeling better immediately and at the same time undergo therapy to learn how to deal with their problems on their own. Once the individual is on the right path to managing depression and stress, he or she can be slowly weaned off of the medication.

The medication gives the person some relief from the weight of their feelings while they learn how to deal with the problems on their own for the longer term. This is especially ideal for people who do not want to take medication for the rest of their lives.

If at first you don’t succeed, try again

When it comes to treating depression, there is no one solution that will work perfectly for everyone. If the first treatment you try does not seem to make any difference after one or two months, don’t be discouraged. It might be time to reassess your treatment and try a different path. Neither method is right or wrong; the most important thing is finding the approach that works best for you, so you can feel in control and enjoy life once again.

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