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Treatment Methods

The goals of treatment are to reduce symptoms of emotional disorders; improve personal and social functioning; develop and strengthen coping skills; and promote behaviors that make a person's life better. Biomedical therapy, psychotherapy, and behavioral therapy are basic approaches to treatment that may help a person overcome problems. There are many specific types of therapies that may be used alone or in various combinations.

Biomedical Therapies

Treatment with medications has benefited many patients with emotional, behavioral, and mental disorders and is often combined with other therapy. The medication that a psychiatrist or other physician prescribes depends on the nature of the illness being treated as well as on an assessment of the patient's general medical condition. During the past 35 years, many psychotherapeutic medications have been developed and have made dramatic changes in the treatment of mental disorders. Today there are specific medications to alleviate the symptoms of such mental disorders as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, major depression, anxiety, panic disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.


Psychotherapy is accomplished through a series of face-to-face discussions in which a therapist helps a person to talk about, define, and resolve personal problems that are troubling. Psychotherapies generally appear to be more effective and appropriate than medications or ECT for less severe forms of emotional distress. Short-term psychotherapy, lasting for several weeks or months, is used when the problem seems to result from a stressful life event such as a death in the family, divorce, or physical illness. The goal of the therapist is to help the patient resolve the problem as quickly as possible. Often this takes only a few visits. Long-term psychotherapy, lasting from several months to several years, emphasizes the study of underlying problems that started in childhood.