Treating Depression: Medication versus Therapy

Copyright (c) 2007 by Kevin Thompson. Reprinted by BellaOnline

The topic of how best to treat depression is one that gets a lot of attention, partly because the two competing schools of thought are promoted by adherents who do not see eye-to-eye.
The 'therapy' school advocates non-medical therapy, most often a form of talk therapy (although non-verbal, non-drug therapies also exist). Perhaps the most popular type of therapy, with the best track record for success in this area, is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or CBT. CBT works by re-training the mind and the person, to avoid negative patterns of thought and behavior that promote depression, in favor of positive patterns that prmote mental health.
The 'medical' school advocates medications that work to alleviate depression by changing the concentration of the brain's chemical messengers (neurotransmitters), such as serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine. Changing (usually, increasing) the concentration of one or more of these chemicals can improve or banish depression.
So which is better? If the question had an obvious answer, we would all know it by now! The fact that the debate exists is a good indication that neither approach can demonstrate a dramatic advantage over the other. The existence of the debate confirms what numerous studies have shown, namely, that both approaches work much of the time, and neither works all of the time.
For those of us who are more interested in results than debates, the practical answer is that combining therapy with medication is a good bet. Medication can make therapy more effective by making it easier for people to change their destructive habits. Therapy can make medication more effective by showing people how to avoid situations that foster depression.
The good news is that effective treatments for depression do exist. If you have been suffering from depression, now is the time to seek help. There is no reason to wait.
Kevin Thompson, Ph.D. is the author of Medicines for Mental Health: The Ultimate Guide to Psychiatric Medication. You can find information about treatments for depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and sexual problems on his Web site at