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If properly treated, recovery from common mental illnesses is possible for most patients. Therapies are often distinguished into two types, one is pharmaceutical approach and the other being psychological approach. The combination of psychotherapy and medication has proven to be more effective in treating mood disorders and to offer a protective effect against relapse or recurrence.


Pharmaceutical Approach


Studies have shown that our emotional fluctuations are closely related with the levels of neurotransmitters in the brain (e.g. serotonin, adrenaline). Moreover, prolonged depression and an increase in cortisone levels can lead to lesions in the temporal lobes, leading to deteriorated memory functions and regulatory disturbances.


Through regulating the levels of neurotransmitters in the brain, a pharmaceutical intervention can re-establish the homeostasis of neurotransmitters, leading to the reduction in physical & emotional symptoms. The healthy functioning of neuronal chemistries also stops the brain from further lesions, preventing the occurrence of irreversible damage.


Effective pharmaceutical interventions originated from the 1960s, and through rapid biotechnological improvements, current medicinal use provides significant results with very fewer side-effects.




Q1: Will the regular consumption of medicine leads to addiction?

Ans: Addiction will not occur if the patient strictly adhere to doctor’s prescription. This is because mental illnesses caused by the dysfunction of body (including the brain) are similar to high blood pressure and diabetes, which require our body to adapt to the medication and eventually restoring the balance of chemicals in the brain. The duration and dosage of the medication treatment is subject to the ongoing assessment of the doctors, some patients gradually reduce the dosage and eventually stop taking the medicine at the end as advised by the doctors.


Q2: Are there any side-effects of psychotropic medicines?

Ans: Every type of drug inflicts a certain extent of side-effects, and it varies on different individuals. The new generation of anti-depressants such as SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor) have relatively less side-effects than the anti-depressants in the past, such as TCA (Tricyclic Antidepressant) / or MAOI (monoamine oxidase inhibitor). In comparison, the improved anti-depressants are mild and more acceptable, it has been suggested that even debilitated elderlies can be benefitted from the effectiveness of these psychotropic medicine.


Q3: Is it true that pharmaceutical intervention is only required by the more severe patients?

Ans: Patients should always seek for professional’s consultation regardless of the severity of the disorders, in order to prevent the deterioration of the disorder. Taking the example of depression, even if the patient has been diagnosed with mild chronic depression, psychiatrists/doctors might also introduce pharmaceutical intervention, with the intention of preventing the worsening of the disorder.


Q4: Is it true that sedatives are more effective in dealing with mental illness?

Ans: It is true that sedatives can alleviate the symptoms of insomnia and anxiety, but it cannot tackle the core issues of depression. Long-term consumptions of sedatives may lead to addiction and ineffectiveness of the drugs. Patients suffering from severe depression may attempt self-mutilation or suicide if an effective and timely assistance is not received.


Psychological Approach


Psychotherapy or counselling is a way to address mental health problems. The service is usually provided by professionals such as a clinical psychologist, counsellor, psychotherapist and social worker. They help patients suffering from mental illnesses to pursue a more fulfilling life.


The process of psychotherapy/counselling includes: clearly defining issues, and find out the causes of the problems by investigating one’s cognitive process, emotional experience and behavioural pattern. This helps the patient to establish new coping skills and healthy thinking and adaptive behavior.


Psychotherapists or counsellors make use of different theories of psychotherapy to guide their case formulation and treatment planning. It helps them to understand the patients and their problems and to develop solutions.

Approaches to psychotherapy fall into five broad categories:

Psychoanalysis and psychodynamic therapies

Behavior therapy

Cognitive therapy

Humanistic therapy

Integrative or holistic therapy


Common Inquiries about Psychotherapy and Counselling


Q1: Are there any differences between psychotherapy and chatting with friends?

Ans: Psychotherapist / counsellor will start by building trust with the patient, and followed by finding out the core issue and cause of mood disorders. The psychotherapist / counsellor will also propose some methods and steps with the patient to alleviate the problem.


The counselling sessions usually last around 45 minutes per session, where client would be arranged to see the therapist regularly in the first few sessions, such as one session per week. After the condition is improved, the meeting time will be adjusted according to the needs of the patient. Thus, there is a huge difference between professional counselling and amateur chatting with friends.


Q2: Are there any scientific proof of Psychotherapy?

Ans: In fact, all the theories of psychotherapy are supported by scientific research evidence. For instance, the effectiveness of Cognitive and Behavioral Therapeutic approach is proved to be the same as pharmaceutical approach in tackling physical and emotional symptoms caused by mood disorders.


Q3: Only psychopath is required to see a clinical psychologist?

Ans: In fact, people receiving psychotherapy does not mean that they are psychopath. In Hong Kong, every 1 out of 5 people are diagnosed with a mood disorder, this situation is as common as flu. Everyone has come across some emotional distress, and the only difference is just the intensity of the problem and how long it lasts for. When the emotional distress lasted for a long period, in which it affected the daily life of the person, or even causing the loss of self-control, assistance from professional is needed to tackle the problem.


Q4: Do I need to receive long term (or even lifetime) therapy?

Ans: The period of therapy varies under different circumstances, but most clients will have a significant improvement after 8 to 16 sessions of counselling.

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