Therapy vs Medication: Which is Right for You?

When it comes to mental health, there’s no magic potion or cure that works for every person or every condition. What works well for one person might not be effective for another. Addressing mental health is crucial for living your best life and being the best version of yourself — but that doesn’t mean knowing what to do is simple. Tackling the therapy vs. medication debate means understanding how therapy and medication work. 

Choosing the right treatment can be a little scary — this guide will help. Learn everything you need to know about medication vs. therapy, the benefits of each, important considerations related to specific conditions, and if you need a combined treatment.  

What is the Difference Between Therapy and Medication?

Therapy involves engaging with a mental health professional to explore and modify thought and behavior patterns, while medication focuses on altering brain chemistry to address mental health conditions. Research shows that when it comes to talk therapy vs medication, both can be effective, but the type of mental health condition you have and other factors will determine what “the best” treatment option is. Here’s how both treatment methods work:

Therapy, also known as psychotherapy or talk therapy, is a process in which you work with a trained, licensed mental health professional to explore thought and behavior patterns that contribute to mental health concerns. There are dozens of types of therapy, and which one will be most effective for you depends on your condition, symptoms, goals for recovery, and personal preference. 
Medication is often used alone or in a combined treatment with therapy and/or self-help techniques to treat mental health conditions like anxiety, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and countless other things. Most common mental health medications work by altering brain chemistry and neurotransmitters related to mood and thought process. For example, medication for depression can work by altering levels of dopamine or serotonin in the brain — both play a role in things like pleasure and positive mood.

Benefits of Therapy

Therapy offers several benefits and can address the underlying causes of mental health conditions. It’s a holistic approach that teaches coping strategies, helps you identify and change unhealthy and unhelpful thoughts and behaviors, and promotes self-awareness. The process relies heavily on personal growth. It’s hard work, but those willing to put in the time will see the rewards. 

Benefits of therapy include:

Identifying and exploring underlying issues

Learning helpful coping strategies for the future

Improving self-awareness 

Developing the ability to recognize early warning signs in a safe, non-judgmental place

Building emotional resilience and regulation

Instilling confidence and the ability to make healthy changes

“Therapy can be incredibly helpful in learning to manage the symptoms of a person’s mental health struggles. It allows for a safe space to work through thoughts and emotions without judgment. Through therapy, coping strategies that work for a client can be found and implemented. No one coping skill will fit all people. Working with a mental health professional helps a client find that tailored approach in managing their mental health issues.”

– Talkspace therapist Minkyung Chung, MS, LMHC

Benefits of Medication

For some people, medication is a crucial component of a comprehensive mental health treatment plan. Certain types of medication offer significant benefits for stabilizing or improving symptoms. Mental health medication can provide relief for severe conditions that don’t respond to therapy or therapy alone isn’t enough.

Benefits of medication include:

Symptom relief/symptom reduction

Stabilizing severe conditions

Complementing psychotherapy

Improving quality of life

Therapy vs. Medication for Different Mental Health Conditions

When trying to compare mental health drugs vs. therapy, the type of condition being treated will always play a role. For some conditions, therapy might be more effective, whereas, for others, psychiatric medication can be critical in offering more immediate, short-term relief for symptoms that therapy hasn’t been able to address. In many instances, a combined approach will offer the most optimal results.

For anxiety

According to recent research, more than 40 million adults in the United States have at least one type of anxiety. Fortunately, this is a highly treatable condition. With the right anxiety treatment plan, many people can find relief from symptoms and live a healthy, happy, productive life. 

Therapy for anxiety disorders: There are several effective types of therapy for anxiety. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and exposure therapy are popular options. Both help you learn to manage symptoms by challenging unhealthy or irrational thoughts and understanding what sets you off so you can avoid or learn to cope with it.
Medication for anxiety disorders: There are multiple options for anxiety medication. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are technically an antidepressant, but they’re often a first-line treatment for anxiety. Serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) can also help with symptoms of anxiety. SSRIs and SNRIs can both be used long-term to treat anxiety, but other drugs, like benzodiazepines or “benzos,” might be prescribed for short-term use. If you aren’t sure, consider these signs you might need anxiety medication.

For depression

Major depressive disorder (MDD) is a common mental health condition that impacts more than an estimated 8% of adults in the U.S. In studies, therapy is proven effective in treating symptoms of depression. Research shows that medication efficacy is related to the severity of symptoms — that is, the more severe depressive episodes and symptoms are, the more likely the psychiatric medication is to work. 

Therapy for depression: Common forms of therapy for depression treatment include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), interpersonal therapy (IPT), and mindfulness-based therapy. Therapy can improve depression symptoms by helping you spot negative thought patterns, improve self-awareness, and offer practical coping tools. 
Medication for depression: Antidepressants like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) can help regulate levels in the brain to improve mood. Other depression medications include monoamine oxidase inhibitors and tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs).

For attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a prevalent neurodevelopmental disorder that can cause inattentiveness and/or excessive movement and activity in some people. 

Therapy for ADHD: ADHD therapy helps people learn to manage symptoms so they can lead rewarding, productive lives. Many types of therapy can effectively treat ADHD, including CBT, mindfulness-based therapy, occupational therapy, and play, art, or music therapy. 
Medication for ADHD: Both stimulants and non-stimulants can treat symptoms of ADHD. Sometimes, an antidepressant might be used off-label. Which ADHD medication is best for someone will depend on several factors, like comorbid conditions, symptom severity, health history, and more. 

For bipolar disorder

Bipolar disorder was once referred to as manic depression or manic depressive disorder. It causes extreme highs (mania) and dark lows (depressive episodes) that can be debilitating if not treated effectively.

Therapy for bipolar disorder: Effective forms of therapy to treat bipolar disorder can include psychoeducation, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), and family therapy.
Medication for bipolar disorder: Medication is commonly used in combination with therapy to treat bipolar disorder. Mood stabilizers like lithium are the first line of treatment when treating bipolar disorder. Antidepressants or antipsychotics can also be prescribed as bipolar medication when mood stabilizers alone aren’t effective.

For obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a type of anxiety disorder that causes unwanted or unwarranted repetitive thoughts (obsessions) that can lead to unhealthy, uncontrollable behaviors (compulsions). OCD can negatively impact life, relationships, and the ability to function. Though not curable, effective treatment options are available. 

Therapy for OCD: Many types of therapy can alleviate symptoms of OCD — CBT, exposure and response therapy (ERP), and psychodynamic therapy are some of the best types of therapy for OCD. 
Medication for OCD: Some medications used to treat OCD are antidepressants in the class of drugs known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and some off-label drugs if SSRIs aren’t effective. 

For post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a condition some people develop after experiencing or witnessing extreme trauma. Not everyone who goes through a traumatic event will develop PTSD, but for those who do, treatment is essential. 

Therapy for PTSD: Several types of therapy can help people manage PTSD symptoms. Trauma-focused therapies, like prolonged exposure therapy, EMDR therapy, and cognitive processing therapy, can be effective ways to treat PTSD naturally.
Medication for PTSD: Medication is used to treat PTSD in some people. Antidepressants in the class of drugs known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) can reduce or relieve symptoms of PTSD. Other types of PTSD medication that can be effective include anti-anxiety medications, Alpha-1 blockers, and mood stabilizers. Medication tends to work most effectively when combined with therapy.

For schizophrenia

Schizophrenia is a neuropsychiatric disorder that affects less than 1% of people in the United States. It’s characterized by hallucinations, difficulty thinking, disorganized speech, paranoia, and delusions. While there’s no cure for schizophrenia, psychological treatments and antipsychotic medications can be incredibly beneficial in reducing symptoms.

Therapy for schizophrenia: Certain types of therapy will help reduce symptoms of schizophrenia. Therapy for schizophrenia focuses on reducing stress, enhancing function, and improving social skills. Some of the therapies that are effective in treating schizophrenia include CBT, art therapy, and family therapy.  
Medication for schizophrenia: Schizophrenia can be successfully treated by schizophrenia medication in many people. Antipsychotics — both atypical and typical — can reduce symptoms and lessen the potential for future episodes.

For personality disorders

Personality disorders are conditions that cause patterns of unhealthy thought processes and behaviors that differ from what’s expected — people with personality disorders will have difficulty in at least 2 of the following areas:

How they think about themself

How they think about others

How they respond emotionally

How they relate to others

How they behave

There are many types of personality disorders, including:

Antisocial personality disorder

Avoidant personality disorder

Borderline personality disorder

Dependent personality disorder

Histrionic personality disorder

Narcissistic personality disorder

Obsessive-compulsive personality disorder

Paranoid personality disorder

Schizoid personality disorder

Schizotypal personality disorder

Therapy for personality disorders: Some types of therapy are more effective than others in treating personality disorders. Commonly used therapy modalities include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), group therapy, and psychoeducation.

Medication for personality disorders: There isn’t one medication that treats all personality disorders. Sometimes, depending on symptoms and type of disorder, antidepressants or anti-anxiety medication might be prescribed. Mood stabilizers can also be effective in some cases.

How Does Medication & Therapy Work Together?

Medication and therapy can be combined to offer the most support. Medication can stabilize mood and provide rapid relief when needed. Therapy helps address underlying issues and enhance self-awareness. A combined approach may maximize outcomes and improve overall mental well-being.

Is Therapy Better Than Medication?

What works best for you will depend on multiple factors, including diagnosis, personal preference, other health conditions, and more. Some research suggests that when it comes to cognitive behavioral therapy vs medication, CBT might be more effective in people with anxiety, whereas depression might be better treated with a combined approach that uses both therapy and drugs. 

Ultimately, the right treatment plan will be as unique as you are, and you’ll work with your therapist or doctor to determine the best path forward.

Considerations for Choosing Therapy vs. Medication

Before deciding whether psychotherapy vs. medication is the right option, you should talk to your provider. 

Considerations to take into account include:

Type of mental health condition

Severity of symptoms

Your lifestyle 

Your comfort level and personal preference for treatment

Financial considerations 

Your insurance situation

Benefits and risks of each option

Your previous treatment history 

“There is no right or wrong answer when it comes to choosing therapy or medication. It’s important to consider that both options are available to a client. Historically, therapy and medication have worked hand in hand to help a client manage their mental health struggles. So, one is not always better than the other. With certain mental health disorders, medication management may be necessary before therapy can begin but medication alone shouldn’t be the answer.”

– Talkspace therapist Minkyung Chung, MS, LMHC

Start Comprehensive Mental Health Treatment

Prioritizing your mental health is essential, especially when you’re struggling in life. Therapy can offer you the tools you need to manage your mental health, and a provider can help you decide if medication might be beneficial. The right treatment plan will offer coping mechanisms and the best way to move forward in your life in the healthiest, happiest, most positive way.

Talkspace offers online therapy and online psychiatry services that make getting mental health help simple and affordable. The online platform means you can access therapy wherever you are, so therapy is convenient and effective. Talkspace offers comprehensive care with therapy and medication management that will put you on the path toward healing. 

Reach out today to get mental health treatment with therapy and medication. 


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Facts & Statistics: Anxiety and Depression Association of America, ADAA. Facts & Statistics | Anxiety and Depression Association of America, ADAA. Accessed March 18, 2024.

Major depression. National Institute of Mental Health. Accessed March 18, 2024.  

Linde K, Sigterman K, Kriston L, et al. Effectiveness of psychological treatments for depressive disorders in primary care: Systematic review and meta-analysis. The Annals of Family Medicine. 2015;13(1):56-68. doi:10.1370/afm.1719. [Internet]. Cologne, Germany: Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG); 2006-. Depression: How effective are antidepressants? [Updated 2020 Jun 18]. Available from:

What is schizophrenia? – What is Schizophrenia? Accessed March 18, 2024.

How do I choose between medication and therapy? American Psychological Association. 2017. Accessed March 18, 2024.

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