Is therapy the best treatment for depression? What about antidepressants? A combination of the two? How about supplemental or alternative therapies including yoga and meditation, or good old fashioned physical exercise? There is no single ‘best practice’ for therapists and counselors helping clients deal with depression. But of the treatment options mentioned here, antidepressants have been far more controversial than the rest, and for good reason. Any time we turn to chemicals in response to a physical or psychological struggle, we should make sure we are making an informed decision, not just turning to a perceived “cure-all” that seems ‘easier’ than addressing the problem in a more hands-on way.
As observed by PsychCentral.com blogger Michael D. Yapko, Ph.D., “Antidepressants are the most popularly prescribed class of drugs” in the U.S., and “taking medications as a sole intervention…is the most common form of treatment.” Certainly, many people have found antidepressants to be very helpful in their own mental health journeys, and these triumphs should not be dismissed. But turning to antidepressant medications as a “sole intervention” without simultaneous psychotherapy is a risky trend, to say the least. Many different mental health issues are treated successfully with psychotherapy: cognitive behavioral therapy has shown to help older adults reduce anxiety and increase overall well-being, and it has also proven effective for people struggling with body image, among many other examples.
Therapy and counseling may not always be enough, and in plenty of situations, patients benefit from the combination of medication plus counseling. For people diagnosed as being in the early stages of schizophrenia, the medicine-psychosocial treatment combination yields the greatest rate of social functioning, quality of life, and treatment continuity. And researchers in the UK have even found a way to use the drug Ecstasy in combination with psychotherapy to significantly help people with extreme PTSD. But virtually none of these successful uses rely on medication alone. Despite neurological research, brain scans, and other very scientific explorations of mental health, the biological circumstances of psychology cannot be separated from the emotional experiences of it. Depression, like almost any other mental health issue, manifests in very real thoughts and emotions that are dangerous to ignore or disregard in treatment. In addition to the various controversies surrounding antidepressants and the many studies that show therapy works, the simple fact that depression is an emotional experience should be enough to keep therapy as a central aspect of its treatment.
© Copyright 2010 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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