Most people who have a mental health and/or substance use disorder can be effectively treated— including those with disorders that are very disabling such as schizophrenia. The future is even more promising as we better understand mental illness and develop new treatments. Treatments for the various disorders depend on the disorder itself. We have listed here the various types of treatment options that are generally available. The particular treatment options that will be available for your family member depend on the diagnosis, community resources and types of services that are available in your community. Families should consult with a doctor or other mental health professional for help in identifying which treatments are applicable in their family member’s circumstances.
Behavioral Therapy relies on basic principles of learning to change problematic behavior patterns by substituting new behaviors to given stimuli for undesirable ones. For example, systematic desensitization works on reducing a person’s anxiety to a feared source (e.g., dogs) by teaching them relaxation skills and then gradually and repeatedly exposing the person to the feared source until they no longer fear it.
Cognitive-behavioral Therapy (CBT) involves identifying and managing disruptive patterns of thinking and behaving that make symptoms worse. CBT also helps a person to develop new patterns of thinking that can help a person to better manage their disorder.
Detoxification or Withdrawal Management is the initial and acute stage of treatment for drug/alcohol problems. The goal is to achieve withdrawal and stabilization in as safe and comfortable a manner as possible. While many people can be supported in outpatient or community-based programs, some will require medical supervision in short-stay residential facilities. Withdrawal management is seldom effective on its own and should be regarded as the first phase of treatment.
Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT) involves the use of electrical stimulation to the brain. ECT has been proven to be useful in the treatment of depression when it is severe or life-threatening or in cases of severe depression that does not respond to any other treatment.
Family Therapy works with the family as a unit to help resolve problems and to change patterns of behavior that may contribute to difficulties or conflict within the family. The goal is to help families identify resources and solutions that work for their particular situation. Interpersonal Therapy focuses on improving aspects of the person’s relationships within the family, social or work environments. Goals may include building communication and conflict resolution skills, and helping the person resolve interpersonal problems in a structured way.
Medications can be very useful in the treatment of mental disorders and are often used in conjunction with one or more of the therapies mentioned above. Sometimes medications are used to alleviate severe symptoms so that other forms of treatment (e.g., cognitive-behavioral therapy) can be used successfully. Medication is effective for many people and may be either a short-term or long-term treatment option, depending on the disorder, symptom severity and availability of other treatments. The most common types of medications include antipsychotic medications, antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications and lithium. Medications prescribed for substance use disorders include medications to treat withdrawal symptoms, ones that provide a safer substitution (such as methadone or nicotine patch), and ones that discourage the use of substances.
Psychotherapy refers to psychological therapies used for treating a broad range of mental health problems. These therapies are focused on helping people explore concerns they may have by talking about them, thinking about them in new ways, and learning new ways of responding and behaving. There are many styles of psychotherapy, including both individual and group therapies.
Rehabilitation covers various services and programs designed to help a person restore or improve their level of functioning in the community to an optimal level. Training may be provided in such areas as daily living and independent living skills, housing issues, vocational counselling and job placement, communication skills, recreation and leisure.
Relaxation Techniques involve the ability to more effectively cope with the stresses that contribute to anxiety, as well as with some of the physical symptoms of anxiety. Examples of techniques taught include breathing re-training and exercise.
Self-help and Support Groups help individuals by connecting them with others who face similar challenges. They can help in the recovery process by providing mutual support as well updated information about treatment and local services available. Many people find that self-help groups are an invaluable resource for recovery. These groups are operated on an informal, free-of-charge and non-profit basis. They are voluntary, anonymous and confidential