How Therapy and Medication Can Work Together

For some people, combined treatment is the most effective path to better mental health
Medically Reviewed by
Dr Hamilton
A woman considers the pack of medication in her right hand, a glass of water in her left
Source: Unsplash

When starting treatment for their mental health, the first question many people ask themselves is ‘therapy or medication?’ But what about therapy _and _medication?

If you’re used to thinking of therapy and medication as separate treatments for mental health issues, you might think combining the two sounds like overkill. But there are plenty of physical problems that we treat with a two- or three-pronged approach. Would you bat an eye if a doctor prescribed surgery, medication, and physical therapy for a knee problem?

Mental health, like physical health, is unique to each patient. While some people benefit from psychoanalysis, others are better suited to behavior therapy. For some conditions, medication is indicated, while others can be treated through regular talk therapy sessions and cognitive techniques like mindfulness.

The question of which treatment — or combination of treatments — is right for you will ultimately be answered best by a qualified mental health care professional, but there are some guidelines we can share that can give you a sense of the most effective treatments for symptoms like yours.

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A bottle of prescription medication spills out onto an orange background
Source: Unsplash

How medication and therapy work together

There are a range of medications that are available for mental health diagnoses, and they all work differently, but one of the most commonly prescribed types is antidepressant medication — which is often used for anxiety, insomnia, and even ADHD, in addition to being a treatment for depression. 

Many people get these prescriptions from their primary care doctor or a psychiatrist, and their treatment plan begins and ends with medical intervention. But for some patients, an additional course of therapy is recommended to supplement the medication treatment. 

In the case of combined therapy and medication, you’ll usually have two separate providers who work together to coordinate your care: a therapist or behavioral coach for your weekly sessions, and a psychiatrist or other medical doctor to manage your prescription. These two professionals will likely communicate with you and each other about your progress to ensure your treatment is meeting your changing needs. 

When to think about therapy on its own

If your symptoms aren’t severe enough to merit medical intervention but they are having a negative effect on your quality of life, therapy is a great place to start. Many evidence-based treatments are extremely effective for issues like depression and anxiety — studies show that cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is particularly likely to help.

It’s also important to consider your specific preferences and needs. The best treatment is always the one you’ll be able to stick with, so if you feel uncomfortable with medication but you like the idea of talking to someone about your experiences and emotions, therapy is probably the right first move. 

When to think about medication on its own

On the other hand, if you don’t have the time or money to consistently attend therapy sessions and the medical advice you get from your doctor suggests that there’s a medication that can help with your symptoms, then a prescription might be the right first step for you.

This is especially true with particular diagnoses such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, both of which often require medication. Adding cognitive behavioral therapy is likely to improve outcomes even further, but medication is frequently the first step to treating these issues.

When therapy and medication are best prescribed together

Research suggests that combined treatment is more effective than medication alone in the case of major depression, panic disorder, and OCD, and there is some evidence that adding medication for issues like substance use and eating disorders may also be more effective than therapy alone.  

The bottom line is that your treatment plan — whether it involves short- or long-term therapy, medication, or a combination of the two — should be personalized to you. It should fit your unique mental health needs, your scheduling constraints and preferences, and your budget.

Youper’s model of care is designed to be personalized to your needs and flex with your changing situation. Our caring providers collaborate with patients and one another to create cost-effective, evidence-based treatment plans that really work. Plus, our 24/7 chat is always here to support you whenever you need it.

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