What Psychotherapy CAN’T Do For You

Psychotherapy CAN’T cause the following side-effects: (this list was compiled from published side-effects of the top-5 most often prescribed anti-depressants)

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Insomnia
  • Decreased sex drive
  • Dizziness
  • Weight gain
  • Tremors
  • Sweating
  • Sleepiness or fatigue
  • Dry mouth
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Headaches
  • Potentially increased chance of suicide
  • Potentially harmful effects on medical conditions
  • Potentially interacts with other medications you take

In recent weeks, the American Psychological Association has produced some wonderful material to help the general public understand what psychotherapy is, how it works, and why it is so effective in the treatment of anxiety, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and other mental health issues.

Few Mental Health Diagnoses Require Medication

The APA presented information suggesting that there are certain psychological disorders that can be effectively helped with the addition of psychotropic medication…such as severe depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia. If you suffer from any of those 3 conditions, research has shown medication to be a beneficial component of treatment.

But the most important thing you need to know is that most other diagnoses may not benefit from the addition of medication. Given that the most often-prescribed psychotropic medications are anti-depressants, evidence was presented that discussed the research on the effectiveness of anti-depressant medication in particular.

Non-Severe Depression: Meds No More Effective Than Placebo

“In a 2010 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, for instance, researchers reviewed previous research on the effectiveness of anti-depressants. 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 Psychotherapy CAN do:

According to the APA,  although helpful for providing symptom management for very severe disorders, medication does not help individuals “develop the skills they need to deal with life’s problems.” As opposed to psychotherapy, which teaches you skills and strategies that you get to take with you and use effectively for a lifetime.

Sometimes You Need to Start With Meds

Medication may be helpful, even necessary,  to allow someone to function at work or to begin the process of engaging in therapy. Even so, for most emotional problems, medication cannot give you what you really need: tools to think differently, skills to behave differently, and strategies to live differently.

Psychotherapy:  A Wise Investment in Resources

If you have limited resources (most people do), then investing in medication that you have to take for an undetermined amount of time, and that will cease to provide you with benefits beyond the time you are taking it VERSUS investing in psychotherapy sessions which will provide you with life-long coping skills to help you get through the next crisis…and the next one… and the next one….what makes the most investment sense?

To use a favorite analogy, we can either give you a fish today … actually, you are going to have to buy that fish …and that fish isn’t going to be cheap even with insurance …and then you’re going to have to keep buying fish in order to keep from going hungry. OR You can buy a fishing pole and your psychotherapist can teach you how to fish… and you won’t go hungry again, because you can fish for yourself!

Something Is Missing

The evidence shows that psychotherapy works. It works for the vast majority of people who use it, it works for most the mental health conditions, and it works better than or as well as medication. As a psychotherapist, I was so pleased to be able to point people toward research-based materials on treatment…but there was something missing for me. There wasn’t much presented on what psychotherapy CAN’T do, so I felt the need to balance it out a little.

For more information about how psychotherapy works:  Understanding Psychotherapy

DrAnita Sanz, PhD, Psychologist

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