Looking at 'counselling/talk therapy' as an alternative to drugs for successful mental health strategies

Science Behind Therapy

There are many different styles of therapy and while they may use varying techniques or approaches, they all share the common goal of improving your mental health. Counselling (which is the focused therapeutic approach theory around talk therapy) helps you learn how your own mind works. It allows you to navigate your feelings, build healthier habits, and change your mindset so that your life looks more like you want it to be.

Many people are resistant to the idea of participating in counselling/talk therapy when they first start struggling with their mental health. It's common to dismiss counselling therapy as "just talking to someone" and make excuses:

  • I already have friends to talk to
  • I won't be able to open up to a stranger
  • I can just take medication

It may seem like counselling/talk therapy can't possibly be effective in reducing the symptoms of a mental health condition, but a lot of scientific evidence backs the process. 

Is counselling/talk therapy scientifically proven?

Studies consistently show that behavioral and emotional interventions (counselling/talk therapy) work just as well or even better than medication to treat various mental health conditions, including anxiety, depression, and obsessive-compulsive disorders.

A few fast facts:

  • Counselling/talk therapy reduces disability, morbidity, and mortality; improves work functioning; and decreases psychiatric hospitalization
  • Counselling/talk therapy leads to fewer relapses of anxiety and mild-to-moderate depression than medication use alone
  • Short-term couselling/talk therapy can provide long-term benefits – a study found that PTSD patients displayed less severe symptoms two years after treatment ended, compared to six months after treatment ended

How would counselling/talk therapy improve my mental health?

Over the last few decades, advances in neuroscience have uncovered that life experiences affect our brains—this is called neuroplasticity. When our senses are activated, when we learn something new, when we face stressful situations, or when we have many other kinds of experiences, our brains can change in structure and function. This means that events or external stressors can lead to mental health struggles, but it also means that some experiences like therapy, can help modify brain structure and function into a healthier state.

Studies consistently show that behavioral and emotional interventions (such as CBT, ACT, SF to name a few) work just as well or even better than medication to treat various mental health conditions, including anxiety, depression, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

How do I know if it's working?

Progress happens gradually – you probably won't have one big ‘ah huh’ moment that therapy has "worked." Instead, it's slow and a steady growth. You will know therapy is working for you when you notice a change in your general mood or mindset. Maybe you'll catch yourself challenging your automatic negative thoughts or processing a frustrating situation rather than immediately reacting with anger (the one I always highlight in clinic is, stop, breath, take the time to consider your response and not react).

The number of recommended sessions varies, but many people start to feel better after two or three months of regular treatments. However, for most people, therapy isn't as much of a "quick fix" for a specific issue as it is a tool to increase your resiliency so that you're better able to cope with the many challenges we all face throughout life. 

I call that, staying in tune with you, your mind and regular ‘tune up’ sessions to keep you on track and avoid any pitfalls, habits that so easily set us back.

Is counselling/talk therapy more effective than medication?

Research generally shows that counselling/talk therapy is more effective than medications, and that adding medications does not significantly improve outcomes from therapy/counselling alone.

Why is counselling/talk therapy better than medication?

Unlike the potential side effects of some psychotropic medications, counselling/talk therapy is not addictive. Furthermore, some studies have shown that Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) can be more effective at relieving anxiety and depression than medication.

Are you ready for a chat? Let's start talking and find those strategies to work towards a better version of you.

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