Psychotherapy vs. Medications for Depression. What to Choose?

Depression is among the most prevalent mental disorders. It affects approximately 5% [8*]  of the adult population globally, of which 13 to 14 million [9*]  adults are American citizens. If recurrent, depression is a severe condition that can hamper a person’s daily life, like family stability and performance at work or school.

Depression is a mood disorder with two categories: bipolar and unipolar. Unipolar depression presents symptoms like negative self-beliefs, suicidal ideations, eating and sleeping disorders, and decreased motivation.

To manage the symptoms and consequences of depression, psychotherapy and medications can be prescribed. But which option is more effective? Let’s try to find the answer below.

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A General Review of Treatments for Depressive Disorders

Various depressive disorders like chronic depression, bipolar, and postpartum depression require different modes of intervention. The below treatments have been proven effective:

Type of DepressionRecommended Treatments
Mild DepressionPsychotherapy and lifestyle adjustments
Moderate DepressionAntidepressant medications and psychotherapy
Severe DepressionAntidepressants and brain stimulation therapies
Chronic DepressionAntidepressants and psychotherapy
Substance-Induced DepressionPsychotherapy coupled with a 12-step program
Bipolar DepressionMood stabilizers and psychotherapy
Psychotic DepressionAntidepressants, antipsychotics, and brain stimulation therapies
Postpartum DepressionAntidepressants and psychotherapy

Therapy vs. Medication for Depression: Pros and Cons

Psychotherapy and antidepressants are helpful and successful treatments for depression. It is good to know; however, there is no single one-size-fits-all variant. For mild or moderate depression, it is recommended the patient starts with therapy. People with moderate to severe depression are advised to take medication as the first option. Both modes of treatment have different effects on the brain, and each has its merits and demerits.

Medication Treatment

Antidepressants of several categories affect specific brain neurotransmitters, improving one’s symptoms. These include:

  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)
  • Serotonin/noradrenaline-reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs)
  • Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs)
  • Tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs).

SSRIs and SNRIs are the most commonly prescribed antidepressants.

Pros of choosing medication for depression:

  • The medication management plan is practical and easy to manage alone and follow consistently.
  • The antidepressants, such as SSRIs and SNRIs, regulate brain chemicals like serotonin to adjust chemical imbalances in the brain. The use of these pills ensures faster results.
  • Severe side effects are rare with newer antidepressants, and mild side effects usually subside within a few days to weeks of use.
  • The overall cost of treatment may be less with medications than attending regular therapy sessions.

Cons of antidepressants:

  • At the beginning of treatment, patients may experience side effects, such as anxiety, constipation, diarrhea, dizziness, and others.
  • During the first few weeks of treatment, antidepressants may cause an increase in suicidal thoughts and attempts [10*] .
  • After stopping the medication, patients may experience withdrawal effects that can cause discontinuation syndrome [11*] .
  • Multiple antidepressants may be tried initially before finding the one that works best for the patient.

See a doctor to know what medication will help you best and receive a prescription online.

Therapy for Depression Treatment

Psychotherapy helps a person to understand the causes of their cognitive, emotional, and behavioral patterns. Psychoeducation equips the patient with skills to take care of future challenges.

Pros of psychotherapy treatment:

  • Alters mental cognition processes from a negative to a positive outlook.
  • Confronts irrational beliefs and negative self-talk.
  • Aims to identify the root causes of the condition and bring long-term results.
  • Helps to process and overcome past traumatic experiences.
  • Develops coping and communication skills.

Cons of psychotherapy:

  • Therapy may feel uncomfortable; a patient may fear judgment.
  • Psychotherapy requires trust and rapport, which may take time to build.
  • There might be a need to switch therapists, which requires time.
  • The treatment may require lifestyle adjustments like a change of diet or sleep patterns, so a patient should be ready for additional “tasks” to achieve relief faster.

Research [12*]  shows that therapy and antidepressants are both efficacious depression treatments. About 40% to 60% [13*]  of the patients that take antidepressants report feeling better after six to eight weeks of medication intake. Whereas psychotherapy provides better protection against relapse of symptoms, according to a study [14*] .

What to Know About Treatment-Resistant Depression

If someone tries medication and psychotherapy treatments unsuccessfully, it could be a symptom of treatment-resistant depression. Standard treatments are not adequate to alleviate the symptoms of treatment-resistant mental disorders.

It’s advisable to consult a doctor to do the following:

  • Review your life circumstances (to identify the cause of the depression).
  • Assess your physical health
  • Analyze other nonprescription drugs and supplements you are taking
  • Find out if you follow the doctor’s guidelines. A failure to use antidepressants as instructed could cause drug resistance.
  • Check mental symptoms again to check if there is another mental disorder

Alternative steps for treatment-resistant depression include:

  • A switch to another type of antidepressant.
  • Addition of a different type of antidepressant.
  • Giving current treatment for a longer time.
  • Having pharmacological testing to check the genetic composition of a patient in relation to metabolic response to antidepressants.

So, What Is the Best Depression Treatment?

The treatment for depression is complex since what works for one person may not work for someone else. Different people respond to the same interventions differently. Some patients will respond to psychotherapy, while others will do well with medication. It’s advisable for a patient to request a personalized treatment that suits their condition.

For successful outcomes, the patients are advised to stick to the treatment for the recommended period. If treatment is discontinued before the recommended time, there is a risk of a relapse.

The success of the treatment may be gradual and take time; therefore, it is advisable to stick to the treatment as per the doctor’s instructions. To get a personalized plan for depression, contact EZCare Clinic today.


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Evidence Based

This article is based on scientific evidence, written by experts and fact checked by experts.

Our team of experts strive to be objective, unbiased, honest and to present both sides of the argument.

This article contains scientific references. The numbers
in the parentheses (1, 2, 3) are clickable links to peer-reviewed scientific papers.