Just as aspirin can reduce a fever without clearing up the infection that causes it, psychotherapeutic medications act by controlling symptoms. Like most drugs used in medicine, they correct or compensate for some malfunction in the body. Psychotherapeutic medications do not cure mental illness, but they do lessen its burden.
In many cases, these medications can help a person get on with life despite some continuing mental pain and difficulty coping with problems. For example, drugs like chlorpromazine can turn off the “voices” heard by some people with schizophrenia and help them to perceive reality more accurately. And antidepressants can lift the dark, heavy moods of depression.
The degree of response ranging from little relief of symptoms to complete remission depends on a variety of factors related to the individual and the particular disorder being treated.
How long someone must take a psychotherapeutic medication depends on the disorder. Many depressed and anxious people may need medication for a single period, perhaps for several months, and then never have to take it again. For some conditions, such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, medication may have to be take indefinitely.
Like any medication, psychotherapeutic medications do not produce the same effect in everyone. Some people may respond better to one medication than another. Some may need larger dosages than others do. Some experience annoying side effects, while others do not. Age, sex, body size, body chemistry, physical illnesses and their treatments, diet, and habits such as smoking, are some of the factors that can influence a medication’s effect.