What is a Therapeutic Effect?

Donn Saylor

Any effective, beneficial result of a medical treatment can be a therapeutic effect. Many of these effects are determined through the utilization of the therapeutic index, which compares the therapeutic effect of a medical treatment with the number of times the same medical treatment produced an undesirable outcome, notably the death of the patient. This concept is an aspect of several different areas of medicine, including pharmacology, surgery, psychotherapy, and alternative medicine.

The pharmaceutical industry relies heavily on the therapeutic effect of drugs.
The pharmaceutical industry relies heavily on the therapeutic effect of drugs.

A therapeutic effect does not necessarily have to come from an expected outcome of treatment. The effect may be purely unintended, but as long as it is desirable and benefits the health of the patient, it can be considered therapeutic. In some instances, a therapeutic effect could be considered a side effect in certain patients. This situation walks the fine line between desired and undesired effects, and the precise characteristics of the condition, treatment, and patient himself is considered when making the determination as to whether an effect is therapeutic or otherwise.

A drug treatment program must take into account factors including severity of the illness and the unique needs of the patient.
A drug treatment program must take into account factors including severity of the illness and the unique needs of the patient.

It is important to remember that there is no essential difference between a therapeutic and a side effect. They are both consequences of the treatment. Medical experts distinguish the two in order to gauge any and all possible outcomes that can result from the treatment that is undertaken.

When establishing therapeutic effect in a patient, a variety of variables are taken into account by caregivers. A thorough understanding of the nature of the treatment and the qualities of the illness are the first steps to utilizing a treatment plan with a therapeutic effect. In many instances, especially in cases of serious diseases, the treatment may only be effective when it is implemented alongside other forms of treatment. Considering the unique needs of every patient and the severity of his or her illness, these variables make it difficult to determine a quintessential therapeutic effect for a specific treatment.

Traditionally, the pharmaceutical industry has utilized this concept more than any other facet of the health care world. The testing processes in place for modern prescription drugs are highly meticulous, and researchers attempt to ensure that all bases have been covered when a drug is still in the testing phase. This includes painstaking analyses of the drug utilizing conclusions drawn from placebo treatments, clinical trials, and scientific data. After such precise testing, many drugs are highly touted for their therapeutic effects. This also serves as a beneficial marketing approach for making sure the drug reaches as many patients as possible.

Psychotherapy may provide a therapeutic effect.
Psychotherapy may provide a therapeutic effect.

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Discussion Comments


Medications are not the only treatments that are considered for therapeutic effects though. For example, some doctors use music and aromatherapy in their treatments. Music is said to be therapeutic for psychiatric ailments.


@alisha-- I agree that it's subjective. "Therapeutic" by definition can be confusing.

I think all drugs have the capacity to be therapeutic and also dangerous. The doses, treatment period and the health condition of the person determines whether it will have a therapeutic effect or not. Many medications that we take on a regular basis become toxic at some dosage level.

So it's probably not a good idea to label things as therapeutic or not. It really depends on many different factors.


It's true that therapeutic effects and side effects are both consequences of a treatment. But I personally don't think of them the same because therapeutic effects are desirable and side effects are usually not. Although a therapeutic effect could be a negative side effect for someone else.

For example, I have diabetes and I'm always looking for herbal remedies that have a therapeutic effect for diabetics. So I'm looking for herbs that reduce or regulate blood sugar. But I can see this being a problem for someone who has regular or lower than normal blood sugar. The therapeutic effect for me would be a negative side effect for them. So I suppose "therapeutic" is subjective.

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