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Medication vs Therapy: Why Not Both?

man talks to therapist about medication
By Lifestance Health on December 22, 2020

When you seek mental health care, you have many decisions to make. For example, do you prefer online or in-person care? Perhaps one of the most significant and challenging choices people face in this process is whether to seek psychiatric care or therapy. After all, both can help, but they are very different processes. 

The stigma surrounding mental health care further contributes to this problem. If you don’t know anybody who has openly talked about therapy or psychiatric medication, how can you know what you should do? 

The good news is that you may not have to choose. At LifeStance Health, we customize care plans for each individual patient. While some patients benefit from only one approach, we find that many people see the best results by combining therapy and medication for a comprehensive approach.

Don't struggle alone.
Our providers can help.

Pros and Cons of Psychiatric Medication

For many mental health disorders, medication is the fastest way to get relief. Even though it can take a few weeks for psychiatric medication to alleviate symptoms, it’s considerably faster than therapy for many people. For some people, medication is the only thing that can provide enough relief for them to function.

However, it can take some trial and error to find the right medication or combination of drugs. That can include some negative side effects. Furthermore, the benefits of medication stop when the person stops taking them. Because many mental health disorders are lifelong, someone who chooses a medication-only treatment plan may have to stay on medication for the remainder of their lives to keep symptoms at bay.

Pros and Cons of Therapy

Therapy is the opposite side of the same coin. The goal of therapy is to help people cope in healthy ways, thus alleviating symptoms. This process takes time. After all, most people have learned unhealthy coping over their entire lives. It will naturally take time to unlearn those practices and form new habits. 

However, therapy is well worth the investment. The things you learn in therapy can serve you for a lifetime, even years after your last session. While therapy is not a cure for any disorder, it can seriously alleviate symptoms and make it easier to live with a chronic disorder. If needed, patients can always return to therapy for maintenance or to get through challenging times.

Why Use Therapy and Medication Together

Medication is fast-acting but temporary. Therapy is long-lasting but takes time to work. Before the 1970s, many professionals assumed that therapy and psychiatry were competing forms of treatment and that patients should only have one type of treatment. 

Since then, extensive research has shown that together, therapy and psychiatric medication can make a powerful treatment plan. In many cases, therapy and medication combined are more effective than either treatment alone.

Recent studies continue to show that medication and therapy together can improve outcomes for some patients:

  • A combination of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and antidepressants has been shown to be the most effective treatment for people with depression.
  • People with eating disorders experience better recovery results when they combine psychotherapy and medications.
  • People with bipolar disorder and those with schizophrenia can improve functionality by adding psychotherapy to their medication regimen. 
  • One study found that combining stress reduction therapy and antidepressants, patients had fewer tension headaches than when treated with either approach alone.
  • A review in Psychiatric Times found that combining therapy and medication is effective for patients who have not responded well to medication or therapy alone. 
  • A recent meta-analysis found that combined treatment was the most effective option for people with panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and major depression

Make Sure Your Therapist and Prescriber Collaborate

Many people who receive combined treatment see a prescriber and a therapist from different practices. Certainly, these providers offer excellent care. However, we have found that a team of specialized mental health care providers can work together to improve patient outcomes. 

At LifeStance, you can get psychiatric care and therapy from the same location, and from providers who share the same values. Together, they can ensure that each treatment complements the other, and that you have all the resources you need.

Don't struggle alone.
Our providers can help.

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