Therapy Vs. Medication: or How I learned to Stop Drugging and Love the Analysis

I recently got into a heated discussion with someone about whether or not she needed to take Zoloft for her mood problems. This was one of those people with an attitude of holier than thou so I knew from the start that I wasn’t going to convince her of anything, but I continued anyway. The discussion started with me saying something about how Therapy is more effective than drugs, and she disagreed. She told me, and I quote, “I need Zoloft cause I have a chemical imbalance in the brain.”

Now I’m not saying that people don’t have chemical imbalances, but this girl quickly told me she’d never even went to a doctor (I wonder then how she got a hold of Zoloft, but then again parents are helpful intermediaries). “Never been to a doctor? Then how can you know!” Probably a mistake on my part, as she then flailed off on a tangent about how she knows there’s something wrong with her and Zoloft is the only thing that helps her and, this next part is the key to my post today, she feels horrible without taking it.

That brings us to today’s topic: Is Therapy ultimately more effective than Medication, or vice versa?

I’ve been doing some research into a wide array of different disorders; OCD, Depression, Shizophrenia, to name a few, and seeing if the efficacy of therapeutic treatment aids the patient more than medication. Those of you interested only in the conclusion should scroll to the bottom.

Case One: Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (or how habits make you crazy!)

You see this spot here? This spot, you see it?! Get me some Windex dammit!

In the case for Obsessive-Compulsive disorder, therapy seemed to be a more effective treatment than medication, if combined with what Psychologists have called the Exposure and Ritual Prevention method (EX/RP). Exposure and Ritual Prevention therapy consists of the patient slowly being introduced to stimuli they would otherwise avoid. So a patient that is afraid of getting dirty might slowly be introduced to dirty things.

One study from the University Of Pennsylvania School Of Medicine in 2002 found that groups showing moderately severe OCD symptoms that were given SRI’s along with therapy were equal to or less than the group that was given therapy alone. The number of individuals who were given therapy alone who showed significant change totaled 23, while the SRI combination only totaled 20.

However, it seems that if the OCD patients are also suffering from anxiety or depression, these levels do not decrease with EX/RP, but instead would require a different form of therapy.

Therapy 1: Medication 0

Case Two: Depression (or how many licks does it take to get to the center of an Emo Kid?)

Even good ‘old Pugs here knows what really solves Depression

As far as depression is concerned therapy also seems to help more-so than the usual method of medication. According to a study done in 2009, children who were given mood stabilizers and SRI’s took longer to overcome their symptoms than those given Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). The findings of that study actually showed that…

  1. The treatment didn’t take as long as medicated treatment
  2. Parent relationships improved far more with children in CBT than medication.
  3. They were less likely to need any form of psychotropic drug or otherwise treatment
  4. …and most important it was LESS costly (PROFIT!!!)

In adults it was found from another study done in 2008 that over a 2 year period adults showed either marked improvement or equivalent improvement over medication. Seeing as how therapy ultimately is more cost-effective, I would say therapy again wins the battle here.

Therapy 2: Medication 0

Case Three: Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (or won’t someone please shut my kid up!)

Your typical A.D.H.D. mindset humorously shown through 50’s propaganda

As far as ADHD is concerned it seems that medication can help depending on whether or not they have ever been in therapy. One study in 2008 clearly showed that children suffering from ADHD who had never had therapy did worse in school, whereas those that were given a medication regiment did far better. However, this study did not judge the effectiveness of therapy without medication.

For those results I turn to another study done in 2000 in New South Wales in Australia. This study reexamined previous results of medication and therapy vs. strictly CBT. There was little to know difference in either result, other than medication being needed less in the combined method than would’ve been without.

An actual graph created by a member of Miss Anazi’s Funtime Sunday School and Ball Pit

I’ll give meds a little credit for this one I guess. I found that most studies haven’t studied whether therapy vs. medication treatment is more effective in treating ADHD. It seems a combination of the two works best.


Therapy 3: Medication ½


Conclusion (or thank God I don’t have to read anymore)


I only really touched on a few topics here; I didn’t look too deeply into therapy for psychotic disorders or personality disorders. I know from what I learned in classes it seems that medication works best for psychotic disorders and therapy for most personality disorders, but I would love to see some studies done in this. Maybe I’ll write a follow-up sometime when I manage to dig some things up.


The conclusion though of these three seems to suggest that Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is the trump card of Psychological healing. While medication has been shown to aid individuals, Therapy is usually less-expensive and just as or more effective than medication. Most Psych officials would probably say a mix of the two is best – but from my personal experience I think therapy is the best solution. Medication seems to be more of a lazily engineered way of getting better, which I guess fits more with the American Lifestyle. Still, if Time is Money in our culture, and Meds cost more, and therapy has shown faster treatment – it should go without saying that therapy is your best route.

Besides, if Americans are so addicted to a quick fix and medication despite it offering little to no help – why all the marketing schemes? Just market something simple and straightforward, like the following…

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