Module 5: Treating Psychological Disorders

Mental illness is a complex issue, and successful treatment often incorporates multiple types of therapy . Many psychological disorders have biological components best treated with medication, cognitive components that respond well to psychotherapy, or socioeconomic components that may be addressed through social welfare support (e.g. specialized housing or income assistance). Successful public mental health intervention at the community level requires access to services that address all facets of mental illness. This module presents several examples of therapies used to treat mental illness.

Please note that the following list is not an exhaustive list of treatments for psychological disorders, and is not intended to serve as a substitute for medical advice from a mental health professional.


There are many different types of psychotherapy , derived from a variety of theories of psychological disorders, but all employ some form of mental health counseling, in which the patient works in a structured individual or group setting with a psychotherapist .
One type of psychotherapy is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which is used to treat a wide variety of  psychological disorders. CBT incorporates aspects of cognitive therapy, which focuses on how a person’s thoughts influence their mood and behaviors, and behavioral therapy, which focuses on an individual’s actions. By combining these two modes of therapy, CBT aims to help patients identify and modify maladaptive patterns of thinking and behavior.(1) By changing negative and unproductive thinking, CBT can help patients cope with challenging or stressful situations in positive and constructive ways, which can alleviate psychological symptoms, help patients manage their disorder and cope with daily stresses, or prevent a relapse of symptoms. CBT can be used alone or in conjunction with medication to treat a variety of psychological disorders, such as depression, substance abuse disorders, anxiety disorders, and schizophrenia.(2)  


A variety of psychiatric medications are used to eliminate or decrease the severity of psychological disorder symptoms in order to improve patient functioning and quality of life.  Antipsychotics such as risperidone (Risperdal), aripiprazole (Abilify), and clozapine (Clozaril) are often used to treat psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia. To treat depression, many psychiatrists prescribe antidepressants, which regulate neurotransmitters such as norepinephrine, dopamine, and serotonin. The most commonly used antidepressants are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), such as fluoxetine (Prozac) and sertraline (Zoloft). Mood stabilizers are frequently used to treat bipolar disorder, sometimes in conjunction with antipsychotics and antidepressants. Commonly used mood stabilizers are lithium and anticonvulsants, including carbamazepine (Tegretol), lamotringe (Lamictal), and oxcarbazepine (Trileptal). Numerous medications are used to treat other psychological disorders, and patients must work with their psychiatrists to find the medication regimen that best suits their needs.

Assertive Community Treatment(4)

Assertive community treatment (ACT) is a model of mental health services delivery that provides comprehensive, individualized care at the community level. ACT programs aim to provide mentally ill patients with treatment, rehabilitative, and support services in order to improve their ability to live independently . ACT services include medication delivery, individual therapy, crisis and hospital services, substance abuse therapy, rehabilitative services , supported housing and transportation, and skill  teaching to family members. ACT programs are usually designed for individuals living with severe mental illness who have trouble functioning independently in society. As of 2011, ACT programs were available statewide in six states, and nineteen states had implemented at least one ACT pilot program.

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(1) National Alliance on Mental Illness. “Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy”. Retrieved 29 June 2012.

(2) Mayo Clinic. “Cognitive behavioral therapy”. Retrieved 29 June 2012.

(3) National Institute of Mental Health. “Mental Health Medications”. Retrieved 29 June 2012.

(4) National Alliance on Mental Illness. “Assertive Community Treatment”. Retrieved 29 June 2012.