Sometimes I’m afraid that the U.S. is becoming a nation of people who expect things to come easily to them. I’m doubly afraid that some professionals charged with helping to help ourselves often take the easy road. What “easy road?” Why, the medication one of course.
Of course, these are easy generalizations to make. But based upon the conversations we’ve had over the past five years with dozens of people seeking mental health treatment, and a myriad of mental health of professionals, we’ve been seeing a common treatment pattern for mental disorders.
The Problem of Treatment
Mental disorders are not, despite the propaganda pushed by others with an agenda, simple things. They are not, for example, simply a “brain disease” or some other kind of medical disease that has clear precursors and laboratory tests to match. While research is ongoing, we still don’t know what causes major mental disorders like depression, bipolar disorder, ADHD or schizophrenia. All we know is that there are specific psychological, social and biological components to mental disorders, and any treatment that focuses on one of these areas to the detriment of others is likely going to limit how quickly the person starts feeling better, and how much better they can feel.
When mental disorders are treated exclusively with one treatment modality – like medications, psychotherapy, group therapy, self-help groups or books, etc. – the person isn’t going to feel as better, as quickly. In fact, as research over the past few years has shown, some treatment options may have little beneficial effect.
The answer? The answer is surprisingly simple and well-accepted by most mental health professionals – people need a combined, holistic approach to their treatment. Except for chronic conditions that last for years, most people will benefit from a combined treatment approach that offers medication, psychotherapy, and even a self-help aspect (like an online support group or reading). Research time and time again shows that treatment methods that offer such a combined approach result in better patient outcomes which usually also occur more quickly than any single approach on its own.
Psychotherapy? No Way
Yes, therapists want to see more people in therapy. But most people are scared to death of the idea of therapy. They don’t want anyone prying into their carefully constructed lives and lies they tell themselves to get through each day. We are a delicate balance of what works and what isn’t working, and most of us manage to keep this balance fairly in check. The idea of psychotherapy is just plain scary. And the skeptical among us wonder how much can simply talking about our lives and our problems really result in our feeling better.
Psychotherapy only works when one is ready to accept changes in one’s life. That’s one of the reasons it’s so scary (beyond the fact that it is one of those mysterious, unknown relationships that until one tries, it seems as strange as a three-eyed person). To feel better often means we have to change aspects of ourselves, our lives, things we know, trust, and feel comfortable with. Changing those things can be beyond challenging – it can be downright unthinkable. Why engage in a relationship that asks us to do the unthinkable?