Talk Therapy Found to be Effective in Schizophrenia Recovery


A major U.S. government-funded study showed that talk therapy, combined with low-dose drug therapy, is more effective than traditional drug-focused treatment for schizophrenia.

Patients who received one-on-one counseling, combined with family support and small doses of drugs, had greater recovery after two years when compared with counterparts with typical drug-centered treatment plans.

Lower Doses, Fewer Side Effects

The study, which was funded by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), has important implications for those with schizophrenia. According to NIMH, the disorder affects one percent of all Americans. Many don’t follow through with treatment because of the anti-psychotic medications used to treat schizophrenia—the side effects can include severe tremors, drowsiness, weight gain, and numbing of emotions. In severe cases, patients might get lockjaw or start lactating. Three-quarters of schizophrenics stop taking their meds within a year and a half.

In the study referenced above, patients who worked with counselors took medication doses up to 50 percent lower than the usual prescription, thus reducing the unpleasant side-effects. Their treatment programs included one-on-one talk therapy, help making decisions about work or school, and education about schizophrenia for the participants’ family members. At the end of 24 months, patients in both groups had improved. However, the combined-treatment group made bigger recovery strides than participants who only received drugs at traditional doses.

Counseling for Symptom Management

Schizophrenia has a wide range of symptoms, including paranoia, delusions, and hallucinations. People with the disorder may see, smell or hear things that don’t exist and feel that people are spying on them or that their thoughts are being broadcast to others via radio stations. These perceptions often lead to social and emotional withdrawal and a lack of enjoyment of normally pleasurable activities.

While medication typically reduces symptoms, talk therapy for schizophrenia focuses on symptom management, building social relationships, and avoiding substance abuse. Although counseling doesn’t stop thinks like hallucinations or voices in a person’s head, it does teach patients to recognize and handle these breaks with reality. For example, a person with schizophrenia might ignore or challenge the voices.

Potential Shift to Holistic Treatment

This landmark study made an impact even before its publication. According to Dr. Robert K. Heinssen, NIMH’s director of services and intervention research, who oversaw the research, it was mentioned in guidelines published by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services that support a combined treatment approach. Its findings may eventually lead to greater treatment compliance because of the reduced risk of side effects and better patient outcomes than those currently achieved with drugs alone.