Talk Therapy Offers Hope to Patients with Schizophrenia

Medications are a crucial part of treatment for people with schizophrenia. Unfortunately, however, the side effects—which often include weight gain, drowsiness and movement problems—can be so serious that up to half of people with schizophrenia can’t or won’t take the drugs.

So what are patients to do?

According to a small study published in The Lancet, a type of “talk therapy” called cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) could help fill that gap.

A New Option for Schizophrenia Treatment

For the study, British researchers tracked the outcomes of 74 patients with schizophrenia who were between the ages of 16 and 65 and had been off antipsychotic drugs for at least six months. Some of these patients received CBT, working with a therapist to address and change negative thought patterns and behavior. After 18 months, those who received CBT had more improvement in their symptoms and daily function compared to those who didn’t receive the therapy.

The findings suggest that CBT could be a viable alternative to the total lack of treatment that some people with schizophrenia suffer from when they voluntarily go off medication.  Most treatment guidelines already recommend CBT as an add-on treatment in combination with psychiatric drugs, but the effect of therapy on those not on medication had not been known prior to this study.

People may forego their medications because they don’t believe they’re sick or they think they’re getting better. More commonly, though, the side effects are so unpleasant that many would rather suffer with their condition, despite the fact that people who quit drug treatment have up to an 80% chance of symptom relapse.

Related: Learn more about treatment options for schizophrenia.

Building Better Coping Mechanisms

Cognitive behavioral therapy teaches people how their thoughts contribute to their symptoms. The therapy has been used for years to help people with schizophrenia understand and deal with symptoms such as hallucinations and delusions, as well as cope with related problems like anxiety and depression. Therapists help people with schizophrenia learn to stay calm and controlled in the face of these types of symptoms, as well as develop better coping mechanisms. This, in turn, could also help people handle the side effects of their medications, so they stick to their treatment plan.

Of course, experts stress that antipsychotic medications are still the mainstay of treatment for schizophrenia, and people should not quit their medications in favor of CBT. And, since schizophrenia is a lifelong illness, they also say more research is needed to find out if CBT continues to be helpful in the long run.

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