Medication or Therapy- Which is Better?

Depression- we all know the signs, right? Wrong. I have lost count of the amount of clients I have seen, who have sat in front of me saying “But, I’m not depressed though, am I?” after having reeled off a very impressive list of depressive attributes. Depression creeps up on you, slowly. At first, you’re just having a bad day. Then a bad week, and before you know it, you’ve had so many bad weeks; they’ve turned into months and possibly years.

There has been a lot of academic argument lately, within the Institute’s of Psychiatry and Psychology- an argument is being put forward that the long-term use of psychiatric medication is causing more harm than good. Professor Peter Gøtzsche, the director of the Nordic Cochrane Centre at Rigshospitalet in Copenhagen is currently arguing that the ‘minimal’ benefits of psychiatric drugs are exaggerated and the harms (including suicide) are underestimated (Gøtzsche, Young and Crace, 2015). For those people who are on medication, and find it works, I am sure that they would argue the odds with these authors, and be angry at their assertion that medication has minimal benefits. Medication, which for some people is a lifeline, seems to be being dismissed so out of hand and so easily.

There have also been articles with regards to Mindfulness – and other talking therapies, that have appeared recently, advocating the benefits of Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), which was developed as an explicit intervention to reduce relapse and recurrence in depression; the study goes on to find that there is no evidence that MBCT is better at avoiding depressive relapses than antidepressant treatment (Kessler et al, 2015). So, what does that mean for the ‘layperson’? Well, it means that talking therapies can be as effective as medication, but that it depends on the illness that is being treated and the person themselves, but also how that person responds to the medication and the talking therapy.

Let’s not forget- medication needs to be taken regularly, and may need to be adjusted to find a dose that works for the person effectively, or that the medication prescribed is not actually working for the individual and a change of medication may be needed. But also that, in terms of talking therapies, it is crucial that you find a therapist that you can get along with, that you trust and that you can open up to- creating the working alliance of the therapeutic relationship is key to ‘good’ therapy (Clarkson, 2003).

The combination of using medication and talking therapies can prove to be very useful for some people- the medication can work to combat the symptoms of the depressive illness and the talking therapy can help to support the patient to deal with any underlying issues that may have caused the depression (Hollon et al, 2014). So, as you can see, a two-pronged attack seems to work also. There was another study in 2013 that suggested that neither medication nor talking therapies worked any better than each other (Cuijpers et al, 2013) which was a meta-analysis- a meta-analysis is where all the current studies for the related field are looked at, and an overall summation of the findings is given.

So, what does that leave you with? You are not a study, cohort or focus group- all the studies I read tell me what I may find, but in reality we are all very different and we each need to find what works for us. A doctor can help you find the right medication, and a therapist can supply the therapy – the important thing is that whether its meds of therapy type, if it did not work for you, don’t give up, try something else; another therapist, go back to you doctor, go to a new doctor. Keep trying until you find the help and support you need.

Well, in my experience, medication is great- if you can find one that works, get the dosage right, then it can really help to resolve the physical manifestation of depressive illness. Sometimes, we do not know what has triggered the depressive illness, and sometimes we do- when we do know what has caused it, coming to therapy can really help gain a sense of perspective, or put old ghosts to rest. Even if you don’t know what has caused your depression, talking to a professional can really help and may even help you understand the cause. As therapists we are there to listen and be non-judgmental; we wont tell you to ‘buck up’ or ‘snap out of it’, as we know that saying that to you wont help you and it certainly wont work! If you could really just ‘snap out of it’, wouldn’t you have done that months ago?

The World Health Organization (WHO) believe that 1 in 10 of us will suffer with depression at some point in our lives, and it is the leading cause of disability in the world (yes, really!). Depression can affect anyone, at any time. We don’t know what causes depression and much, much more research needs to be done in the area. Depression does tend to run in families and it can be caused via a genetic and environmental combination. You may not realise you are depressed to start with, other people may recognise it in you first, or you may recongise that you are just not feeling as good as you used to.

It can be difficult to support someone going through a depressive illness, especially if you have no experience of depression and don’t understand what is happening to your loved one or friend. The important thing is to listen to them; be patient and encouraging, but above all, show kindness and compassion. And, you know what? The same applies to yourself, if you are suffering with depression- be kind to yourself, acknowledge that you are going through a bad period and do not beat yourself up over it. Something I like to say to my clients is “What would you say to a friend, if they were in your situation?” because, you can guarantee, you wouldn’t be harsh on a depressed friend, so why be harsh on yourself?


Clarkson, P. (2003) The Therapeutic Relationship, London: Whurr Publishers.

Cuijpers, P., Sijbrandij, M., Koole, S.L., Andersson, G., Beekman, A.T. and 3rd, C.F.R. (2013) ‘The Efficacy of Psychotherapy and Pharmacotherapy in Treating Depressive and Anxiety Disorders: a Meta-analysis of Direct Comparisons’, World Psychiatry, vol. 12, no. 2, pp. 137-148.

Gøtzsche, P., Young, A.H. and Crace, J. (2015) ‘Does long term use of psychiatric drugs cause more harm than good?’, British Medical Journal, vol. 350, May, p. h2435.

Hollon, S., DeRubeis, R., Fawcett, J., Amsterdam, J., Shelton, R., Zajecka, J., Young, P. and Gallop, R. (2014) ‘Effect of cognitive therapy with antidepressant medications vs antidepressants alone on the rate of recovery in major depressive disorder: a randomized clinical trial.’, JAMA Psychiatry, vol. 71, no. 10, October, pp. 1157-64.

Kessler, Lewis, G., Watkins, E., Brejcha, C., Cardy, J., Causley, A., Cowderoy, S., Evans, A., Gradinger, F., Kaur, S., Lanham, P., Morant, N., Richards, J., Shah, P., Sutton, H., Vicary, R., Weaver, A., Wilks, J., Williams, M., Taylor, R.S. et al. (2015) ‘Effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy compared with maintenance antidepressant treatment in the prevention of depressive relapse or recurrence (PREVENT): a randomised controlled trial’, The Lancet, April, Available: [20 May 2015].