March 7, 2011

APA Response to New York Times on Psychiatry and Drug Therapy

APA CEO Norman Anderson, PhD, authors a letter to the editor in response to the article "Talk Doesn't Pay, So Psychiatry Turns Instead to Drug Therapy."

As Gardiner Harris's article, "Talk Doesn't Pay, So Psychiatry Turns Instead to Drug Therapy" (March 6) noted, decades of research have shown that psychotherapy, now eschewed for financial reasons by many practicing psychiatrists, is often as effective as psychotropic drugs -- if not more so, as in the treatment for depression. There is something inherently wrong with a health-care system that allows a practitioner to earn more for three 15-minute prescription-writing sessions than for a 45-minute therapy session that teaches patients lifelong coping skills and has no adverse physical side effects

What is of great concern with the current treatment situation, which is driven in large measure by the pharmaceutical and health insurance industries, is the diminished quality of care provided to patients. While many of the new psychotropic drugs have proven effective, taking a pill is not always the answer to a mental health problem. Fortunately, with the passage of the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act in 2008, consumers with health insurance now generally have coverage for mental health care that is on par with their coverage for physical ailments.

I was heartened to read that Dr. Levin recommends that his patients see a psychologist for psychotherapy, in addition to receiving medications from him, although I must take issue with the comment that psychologists "can often afford to charge less" than psychiatrists because they did not go to medical school. To earn a doctorate in health service psychology, one must complete 5 - 7 years of graduate academic and clinical work, including a yearlong supervised internship-a rigorous regimen on par with medical school. More importantly, I agree with Dr. Levin that psychotherapy is often the treatment of choice and it is a travesty that the current healthcare system promotes medication over psychotherapy regardless of what is in the best interest of the patient.


Norman B. Anderson, PhD
American Psychological Association