Which Mental Health Treatment is Best for Me?
Let’s talk about something important - mental health treatment options, and more specifically, could it be helpful to combine treatments!
A beautiful thing we see as mental health practitioners in today’s world is how much more open society has been to talking about mental health. This was not always the case and perhaps it is one of the effects of the pandemic. In addition, with advancements in neuroscience and widespread information available about the mind-body connection, people seem to have accepted that the mind and body function as one. It's clear that mental health is just as important as physical health, and that the two are infinitely connected.
This connection implies that there are a variety of options available when dealing with mental health issues. This is a wonderful thing, though it can be confusing when trying to choose a treatment path. One only need look at social media advertising to see that there are a variety of treatments and interventions being touted as magically curing all that ails us. From a practitioner’s perspective, there are many well-researched options to choose from: medications, therapies, dietary changes and natural supplements, mindfulness and meditation approaches, and more! The available options can be tricky to navigate, but it’s also great to have a wide range of things to pick from to help meet the needs of each individual or family.
An important thing to consider is that combining several treatment/intervention approaches tends to work better than expecting one approach to work perfectly alone. In our experience as therapists, one combination has shown itself to be very powerful - therapy PLUS medication. While therapy can change habits or thought patterns or help people learn coping skills and healthy strategies for life, medications can heal an internal issue, such as a deficit of a certain neurotransmitter (such as Serotonin or Norepinephrine) or an excess of it. So ultimately, while counseling or therapy can “boost” medication effects, medication, in turn, can boost therapy outcomes!
We asked our trusted Psychiatric Nurse Practitioners, Rita McBean MSN, PMHNP-BC and Irene G. Voss, MSN, PMHNP-BC their thoughts, and they whole-heartedly agreed that the combination of medication and therapy generally works better than either intervention alone. According to Irene, “Combining psychotropic medication and psychotherapy can increase effectiveness and help meet therapy goals sooner. In general, it leads to improved outcomes and therefore reduces the overall cost of care”.
Research has consistently shown that medication and therapy alone have about the same efficacy. But research has also consistently shown that the combination of therapy and medications is better than either treatment alone. This is particularly true for general reduction of symptoms, but general function and quality of life also show improvement from the combination as opposed to each treatment alone. Of course, for some people, one or the other might be a better fit. But for many people, the combination is worth a try!
So, let’s look at the potential benefits of combining psychotropic medications and therapy:
- Medications can improve a person’s mood baseline or decrease anxiety, allowing them to feel healthier and more able to fully engage in therapy and to use the skills learned in therapy.
- Medications can increase attention/focus, in conditions like ADHD, allowing a client to pay better attention in therapy and remember things that were discussed.
- Therapy alone may not create enough change, especially for more severe conditions like psychotic disorders or Bipolar Disorder, or conditions like ADHD. Therapy may also not help fast enough, such as in conditions with suicidal ideation. In this case adding in medications can be very impactful.
- A therapist can help monitor changes, including both improvements and side effects,, repeated to starting and changing medications. Seeing someone weekly (or even twice a week) keeps an eye on any changes from an outside, objective perspective.
- Therapy can help with medication adherence - holding a client accountable to take their medication regularly, explore obstacles to this, and help a client track their experience to watch for improvements that can help with dedication to the treatment.
- Therapy can be a space to learn coping skills, communication skills, and help with changing negative habits and thought patterns, which medication alone cannot accomplish. The back-and-forth conversations in therapy can help with seeing different perspectives and noticing habits so they can be changed.
The world is changing, and we hope that caring about your mental health is a positive change that emerges from all of this. Figuring out treatment options is not easy, but we hope that some of the above information will be helpful in choosing what might work best for you