Why Medication is Preferred to Psychological Therapy

What role does medication play in psychological interventions? What risks are assumed when medication alone is used? In this article, we find out.
Why Medication is Preferred to Psychological Therapy

Last update: 27 July, 2022

The need to address the demands of mental health in the population is undeniable. Diagnoses and medication in this area are increasing, and the tools used to approach the individual in the most complete and humane way are important.

Medication and psychological therapy are the basic tools for professionals in this sector. However, if they’re not used properly, professional attention can become a merely ‘palliative solution’. This means they don’t employ a really effective intervention against the factors that originated and maintain the problem.

Medicalized psychology

The effects of medication are visible. It can have immediate action on the body and reduce (or end) any discomfort.

Discomfort is a source of suffering in people. This is also transferred to the sphere of mental health. That said, transferring the foundations of medicine to psychology can often pathologize psychological problems and transform them into diagnostic entities. This is what’s currently happening with the creation of diagnostic labels that transform ‘life problems’ into ‘psychological disorders’.

In other words, there’s a risk of normal being considered pathological. Clear examples of this can be found in labels such as premenstrual dysphoric disorder, post-holiday syndrome, etc. Thus, the normal becomes converted into the abnormal, and the forced need for it to be eliminated occurs.

Lorazepam
In some cases, psychological problems become pathologized.

Individuals with individual needs

An optimal intervention is one that’s established based on the clinical knowledge of a patient, but also on their personal circumstances. It’s vitally important to adapt the action protocols according to each case. Nevertheless, this is something that the field of mental health can’t address on its own. This phenomenon is reflected in the different needs of people who share the same diagnosis, with the same medication protocol.

We don’t want to belittle or pigeonhole the contributions of medication to the field of mental health. In fact, in some cases, pharmacology is the gateway, the window of opportunity, to perform interventions that would otherwise be impossible.

However, applying the medication without understanding that in many cases, it only generates an artificial state of improvement and ignores the needs of the sufferer, carries the risk of invalidating their experience. Furthermore, it can even do more damage than the problem itself.

Therefore, medication has the risk of being used generically, depending on the given diagnosis. When this happens, the context of the patient isn’t considered nor are they provided with the necessary resources to address extreme situations.

Categorizing people according to their diagnostic labels in mental health

There are several factors that influence medication to be preferred for psychological problems instead of therapy. One of them involves the traditional use of diagnostic labels as if they were categories in which people are cataloged and classified according to their problem.

The problem with this lies in forgetting the individual as a person who’s suffering. More attention is paid to labels. Therefore, the symptoms become mere targets to be eliminated, instead of the individual’s life and circumstances being evaluated and observed.

Man doing therapy
In psychological therapy, the context of the person is considered, something that’s usually ignored when medication is prescribed.

Why is medication preferred to psychological treatment?

Some of the factors that influence the fact of medication being preferred over psychological therapy are as follows:

  • The patient’s role in their own treatment process. Medication provides the sufferer with an environment in which they don’t have to take responsibility for the recovery process. In other words, they’re a passive agent who simply follows the recommendations for eliminating their discomfort. On the contrary, in psychological therapy, the individual must take responsibility for their own recovery process and work outside the therapy sessions to achieve changes.
  • Short/long-term changes. With medication, noticeable improvements are often observed in a short time, unlike psychological therapy. In the latter, constant work is required. On many occasions, sufferers must be exposed to situations that generate discomfort so that they obtain the necessary resources to face their problems.
  • Accessibility in mental health resources. In a medicalized society, access to medication is usually easier than access to psychological therapy.
  • Economic implications. Psychological therapy is usually more expensive than medication. This is largely due to the lack of resources and the limitations on their access.

In short, the medical model in mental health is necessary. However, if other spheres in the sufferer’s life aren’t considered, it can lead to the risk of certain circumstances being overlooked. These are the kind that can’t necessarily be resolved with medication, but by providing tools that help the sufferer face areas of concern and discomfort.

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  • Álvarez, M. P. (2007). La activación conductual y la desmedicalización de la depresión. Papeles del psicólogo28(2), 97-110.
  • Berenguer, Á. D. (2014). Medicalización de la sociedad y desmedicalización del arte médico. Archivos de Medicina Interna36(3), 123-126.
  • López-Mato, A., Illa, G., Boullosa, O., Márquez, C., & Vieitez, A. (2000). Trastorno disfórico premenstrual. Revista chilena de neuro-psiquiatría38(3), 187-195.