Should I consider medications or psychotherapy for a mental health concern?

We live in a world where lots of people are struggling with mental health concerns, and looking for help.  A question lots of people have is: should I try therapy or medications?  It’s a big question, and there isn’t one easy answer.  However, if you are mulling this over, there are some things you can consider that will help you make the decision. 

Perhaps the first question is, what do you want to get out of treatment?  The obvious first answer is probably “I want to feel better, duh!”  Of course, but it might help you to think about what that specifically means for you.  In the example of depression, feeling better might mean different things: having more energy; experiencing less sadness; having more satisfying relationships; grieving over a loss; or getting to the bottom of why you are depressed in the first place.   These are different goals, and they suggest different strategies. 

Same idea for different diagnoses: if you’re dealing with bipolar disorder for example, medications might be pretty important.  If you’re dealing with a loss or a relationship issues that is causing you anxiety or depression, psychotherapy is likely to help you sort through it and get some relief.

There are other considerations, too.  If you’re considering medications, it’s worthwhile to consider questions of cost, side effects, and how they might interact with other medications you might be taking.  If you’re considering psychotherapy, it might benefit you to consider cost, and the time therapy might take.  Conventional wisdom suggests that both medications and psychotherapy are good for symptom relief, though therapy is more effective at helping you sort through issues in your life that may be contributing to your struggles.  Not every treatment – medication or therapy – work for everyone, and so there might be a trial and error process until you get the treatment that works for you. 

Now that I’ve made the question seem very complicated, here’s some good news:  First, both medications and therapy are shown to be effective.  So you’ve got at least two good options to try (bearing in mind again that not every treatment works for everyone the first time.)  Second, it’s not an either/or question.  In fact, the research seems to indicate that for many of the concerns we’ve listed, the combination of therapy and medication is the most effective treatment.  So choosing both might be a particularly effective option. 

The bottom line is: if you’re suffering, I hope you’ll get some help.  Whether you choose therapy or medications, the important thing is to choose something, and get your concern addressed before it gets worse.  This is your life, and your well-being is important.  In this sense, either choice is a good first step.  You can always adjust as you go.