By Lacy Taylor, MA, LPC, Mental Health Therapist at Southwest Behavioral Services.
Turn on the television and on almost any channel and within an hour or so you will see at least one commercial for a medication for the treatment of a mental health condition. Prescription medication for mental health disorders began development around the 1950’s and have improved by leaps and bounds since then. Our modern world has many medications that are more effective, have less side effects, and can improve the symptoms of mental illness greatly.
In our society many feel that simply taking a pill should make our depression, anxiety or other mental illness simply go away. While medication can help reduce symptoms of mental illness by changing the chemicals in our brain and body, it doesn’t always solve other underlying issues in many cases.
Talk therapy (also known as psychotherapy) has been shown in many studies to be an effective treatment in itself for depression, anxiety, OCD and other mental illnesses. When talk therapy is combined with psychiatric medication the effectiveness of treatment is vastly improved over one treatment modality alone. Combined treatment can reduce the length of necessary treatment and effects can remain strong for up to two years after treatment.
Psychotherapy is conducted with an individual, in groups of people with similar symptoms, or with couples or families. Psychotherapy helps people to reduce their symptoms, enhance the quality of their life, improve functioning in personal, school or work life, increase self-esteem, and reduce the likelihood of future episodes of mental illness symptoms.
In psychotherapy, the therapist helps the patient change their unhealthy behaviors, negative thoughts and assumptions; and enhance effective communication skills to reduce unwanted emotions. Talk therapy is more about working towards solutions rather than just talking about your feelings. Today, most therapy is brief and focused so most patients will likely be in therapy for a relatively short amount of time. Therapy typically begins with more frequent visit (once a week or every two weeks) and progresses to less frequent visits as the patient makes progress towards their goals. The particular amount of time it takes to reduce frequency varies from person to person depending on severity of illness, social support, and use of coping skills in everyday life, among other factors.
There are many different types of evidence-based therapeutic treatments, and studies have shown that none is more or less effective than the other for the treatment of mental illness. Having a trusting relationship with the therapist does, however, make a difference. Therefore, if you feel you are not gaining some relief from a particular therapist, you should consider changing therapists.
You might have heard that two heads are better than one. When the psychotherapist and the medication prescriber (primary care doctor, nurse practitioner, or psychiatrist) are able to collaborate care the patient benefits from a team approach to their care. Under the guidelines of HIPPA, the patient must give written permission for treatment providers to talk to each other, and the patient may be asked to provide this during treatment. Since therapists tend to see the patient more often, they can collaborate with the prescriber about effectiveness of medications, side effects, and progress towards improvement.
Whether you decide to utilize medication or psychotherapy alone is a personal choice. If you decide to enhance the effectiveness of your treatment by including a collaborative approach, your current mental health provider can often assist you in finding a therapist or primary care physician. You can feel better.
Lacy Taylor, MA, LPC is a Licensed Professional Counselor, who provides psychotherapy to both adults and adolescents at Southwest Behavioral Services’ outpatient mental health clinic. Her treatment approaches include cognitive behavioral therapy, mindfulness, stress management, and art therapy. For more information, call 608-348-3656.