Talk Therapy vs Drug Therapy: Who Wins In the End?

The American culture is thriving off of the use of medications. When an individual experiences a negative feeling they want a quick fix, and a quick call to their physician or psychiatrist can alleviate those symptoms right away. But is this necessarily a good thing? Is this something to promote as much as we do? 70 percent of Americans are currently taking a prescription medication and more than half of that population takes two (Neuert, 2013). One of the medications that is high on that list are antidepressants, which were found to be most prevalent among young and middle aged adults.

There is an everlasting argument in the psychology world that revolves around Talk Therapy vs. Drug Therapy and which argument “wins” at the end of the day as far as the best way to treat a client/patient. Many of the studies that are being conducted to look at this argument focus on anxiety and depression. Maia Szalavitz (2013) discusses a study where professionals are trying to put the argument to rest, however, it was still inconclusive which treatment type worked “best.” Their findings indicated that depending on the causation for an individual to develop depression their brain may benefit more with just a medication verses medication combined with therapy, as well as vice versa. The brain scans conducted in the study were found inconclusive since the findings were still not black and white.

An all-too-common problem, which still exists, is medication being prescribed to a psychiatric client without an assessment or evaluation that can give conclusive evidence of a diagnosis for that client, which can then result in recommendations for certain medications and/or seeking therapy. What is commonly being done is prescribing medication blindly without these evaluations or a referral to a therapist that can then lead to a misdiagnosis or a client taking a medication they will not benefit from. This is a problem that can be easily avoided using several practices:


  1. If you are unsure of your diagnosis get a psychological evaluation or assessment. These tests make diagnosing very straightforward and erase any gray area. The psychologist that performs the evaluation will also make treatment recommendations to treat the diagnosis you are given.
  2. Ask questions! This one cannot be stressed enough; If you are seeing your physician or psychiatrist and are being prescribed a medication and have questions regarding why you are being given that particular medication, if there are side effects, if there are other options, etc., just ask! It helps save time if you have any concerns in the long run.
  3. If you are taking medications keep track of any side effects you experience. Some psychiatric medications can heighten your symptoms (i.e. a side effect of an anti depressant can potentially be suicidal ideation, fatigue, lack of appetite, etc., which can also be symptoms of depression). Let your doctor know if you experience any negative side effects.
  4. Research medications! If you go to your doctor for a non-addictive medication for anxiety and are prescribed Xanax, not knowing it can be a potentially addictive medication, you may be setting yourself up for difficulties in the future. See #2.
  5. Look into all of your options. If you feel like you need a therapist contact one you are referred to/find on your own and ask them if they can help you with your struggle of therapy vs. medications. This is something that happens often and is encouraged. Clients can benefit from discussing their concerns with professionals than never looking into their options. Also, make sure you seek out a therapist/psychologist who works with the symptoms you are concerned about. For example, if you want to attend individual therapy to work on symptoms of depression, make sure your therapist works with that population.
  6. Medications can sometimes be hit or miss. If you choose to take a medication the first one prescribed may not be the perfect one for you, and that is okay! This refer to #2 and #4—sometimes what works for one person will not work for others, so if you experience negative side effects or it is too quick acting/slow acting talk to your therapist/doctor and share your concerns. It can be frustrating, but you want to make sure you are on the correct medication.
  7. If you choose to not take medications and tackle your struggles with therapy alone but are still concerned about how that process works, express this with your therapist/psychologist. They can go over what your treatment plan will look like and how that plan can effectively help you.
  8. Do NOT stop taking medications without speaking to your doctor first! Most medications require the individual to wean off of them to prevent negative effects and/or withdrawal. Some medications can take weeks, months, or even years to come off of depending on dosage, so speak to your medical professionals before making this choice!
  9. It’s okay to change your mind! If you decide in therapy you want to experiment and see if psychiatric drugs can help discuss this with your professionals. If you decide to come off of medications—well, that one was just discussed in #8. If you decide in any way to change your plan make sure to seek advice from the professionals before being impulsive.

Communication and patience will lead to a better understanding of a person’s individual treatment. What works for one person may not work for the next, so make sure to do some research, ask questions, and be mindful of this process! If there are any questions or concerns regarding this topic feel free to contact the professionals at Naperville Counseling Center and they will be glad to guide you.