Does Therapy For Schizophrenia Work?
By: Samantha Dewitt
Updated February 15, 2021
Medically Reviewed By: Lauren Guilbeault
Are you suffering from schizophrenia? If you have been suffering for a long time or if you've only started to notice symptoms, it's extremely important that you get the schizophrenia treatment that you need. As with any mental health disorder, there are several different ways that schizophrenia can affect you and your life. Getting professional help as soon as possible is going to help you get back to living the type of life that you want. And it's also going to help you get back to feeling 'normal.'
What Is Schizophrenia?
There is a lot of information going around about schizophrenia and what it means, but not all of that information is actually in any way factual. Some of it also isn't entirely factual. So what is schizophrenia? It's a mental health disorder where thoughts, emotions, and behaviors don't relate properly within the brain. What this means is the individual may behave in strange and inappropriate ways because their brain is not connecting things the way that it should.
People with schizophrenia might develop relationships that are based in fantasy or delusion. They may showcase inappropriate actions towards others, and they may withdraw from their reality. They could experience delusions, hallucinations, and difficulty with concentration and even motivation. All of these things, however, are very different from what many of us have seen or heard about. It's extremely important to differentiate what schizophrenia is not as well since it can often be confused with another mental illness, so let's take a closer look at that as well.
What are the Symptoms of Schizophrenia
In order to receive a diagnosis of schizophrenia, there are some symptoms that must be present during the diagnostic procedure. It is a severe mental disorder that should be treated with respect instead of writing of a person living with schizophrenia as simply “crazy.”
These symptoms can include, but are not limited to:
- Delusions: a person with schizophrenia has false beliefs that have no foundation in reality.
- Hallucinations: these can be visual and/or auditory, and the person experiencing them cannot tell that these hallucinations are not real.
- Abnormal motor behavior: a person with schizophrenia finds it difficult to start or accomplish tasks, as they resist instructions, do not respond to requests, or engage in excessive or useless movement.
- Disorganized speech: being able to communicate can be impaired, resulting in speech that is filled with meaningless words.
- Negative daily symptoms: these include not taking care of personal hygiene, lacking facial expressions when talking, speaking in a monotone voice, withdrawing from social situations, and being unable to experience pleasure.
A combination of these symptoms are warning signs that you or someone you may know may be experiencing schizophrenic episodes, and should seek the advice of a health care provider immediately.
What Schizophrenia Is Not
Contrary to popular belief and popular culture belief, schizophrenia can often be confused with other psychotic disorders, such as dissociative identity disorder. Schizophrenia is not a split personality mental illness. It does not have multiple personalities. They can often be confused with each other because of the similar health problems they have, such as a detachment from reality. Schizophrenia research, however, indicates that the two psychotic disorders have different causes. Schizophrenia can result from environmental factors, an alteration in brain chemistry, and substance abuse during teenaged years. Dissociative identity disorder, on the other hand, is the result of significant trauma occurring in someone’s life.
Schizophrenia is also not typically something that results in homelessness or even hospitalization. Most people with schizophrenia can remain with their family or even in group homes. Some are even able to maintain their own homes. Also, those who have schizophrenia are generally not violent, and they are generally not dangerous. Schizophrenia is a lifelong condition and something that cannot be cured, but it is something that can be controlled, and the individual will be able to live a relatively normal life, the way that they want to, despite still living with this mental illness.
When it comes to diagnosing this mental illness and getting schizophrenia treatment, there are a few different stages to the process. Because schizophrenia is such a serious disorder, it's generally diagnosed as somewhat of a last resort. Therapists will look at the behaviors and will consider other mental health disorders as the root cause before diagnosing this one. They will also look at things like substance abuse or medications that an individual may be taking. All of these things could also be responsible for the behavior rather than schizophrenia. To rule all of these out and getting treatment for this mental illness, however, there will be a series of different steps that the doctor will follow.
The first step is a full physical for health problems. Checking over the physical health of a patient can help to rule out several different conditions and problems that could cause symptoms. By checking for a physical injury or physical medical condition first, it's possible to start treatment in the least invasive way possible. If there is a physical problem, the doctor can immediately start treatment, medication or care related to whatever is happening for the patient.
Next up will be several different tests and screenings. These will be done to determine if there is still a physical cause (but internally) or if there is a medicinal cause for the mental illness. It can also determine more fully if alcohol or drugs may be causing a problem. CT scans and MRI's can also help detect brain injuries that might be causing some of the symptoms. With these tests also, the goal is to discover if there is another reason for the symptoms and behavior and to take action immediately.
From here the method of diagnosis will turn toward psychiatric needs. The doctor will talk with the patient about their thoughts and feelings. They'll talk about hallucinations, delusions, substance abuse, moods, and even violence and thoughts of suicide. All of these things will help the doctor to narrow down the potential cause of the symptoms and come closer to making a diagnosis. At the end of this evaluation, the doctor will likely begin looking at the diagnostic criteria for diagnosing schizophrenia. At that point, the final diagnosis may be made, and schizophrenia treatment will begin for a mental health disorder.
Various Kinds of Schizophrenia
Prior to the research conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health, doctors used to categorize schizophrenia into five different subtypes: residual, paranoids, undifferentiated, disorganized, and catatonic. These categories no longer exist, thanks to recent studies conducted by the American Psychiatric Association.
Not many people are aware that there is a schizophrenia spectrum; not everyone who lives with schizophrenia have exactly the same symptoms. The schizophrenia spectrum consists of similar disorders that are characterized by how long symptoms have been occurring for. Through the collection of a person’s health information, they could be diagnosed with schizophreniform (those who have psychotic symptoms for more than a month, but less than six months) or schizoaffective disorder (psychotic symptoms occur along with depression or bipolar disorder).
The good thing is that while schizophrenia is a lifelong condition, schizophrenia treatment has been shown to work very well. Those who suffer from this disorder absolutely can go on to live full lives, and they can even remain in their own homes and enjoying their own life. The most important thing is to get the type of treatment that they need to regulate their behavior, moods, and delusions. This generally requires a combination of medications and therapy. Those who stop taking medication or who stop attending therapy or family therapy are generally the ones who struggle more with the symptoms of this disorder.
Antipsychotic meds are generally what's prescribed to someone with schizophrenia. These medications help to influence the brain, making it less prone to some of the common symptoms related to the disorder. Working with a therapist closely is important in finding the right medication because the goal is to find the weakest level of medication possible that will help control the symptoms that the individual is experiencing. For this, to work, the patient and the therapist need to work very closely together and be very open about everything that is being experienced every step of the way.
Support and psychological help through therapy are necessary as well. In general, someone who is suffering from schizophrenia will need someone to help them throughout their day. Even though they will be able to maintain a house, take care of themselves and even hold down a job, they may not be able to do these things 100% alone. Instead, they can use support from family, and they can use additional support at their workplace. Outside of these types of support, it's also extremely important that they have a therapy that is focused on normalizing their thoughts and identifying signs of a potential relapse as well as additional training to help them with the social skills necessary for daily life.
Types Of Treatment
The most common type of treatment for schizophrenia is one of the most popular: cognitive behavioral therapy. Therapy CBT can help the patient because it creates a safe environment. According to the American Psychiatric Association, CBT focuses on changing the way a person thinks in order to start the road to recovery. Because it's a type of talk therapy, the focus isn't on challenging the delusions that the patient has but on creating new ways to help them cope with the struggles they are facing. It also focuses on developing rational thoughts rather than trying to challenge any of the other thoughts or feelings. Because of this, it tends to have a higher success rate for those who are suffering from this disorder.
The next option in schizophrenia treatment is called personal therapy, and it's very similar to cognitive behavioral therapy in many ways. In this way the idea is to teach people with schizophrenia how to adapt to whatever it is that seems to cause a resurgence of symptoms for the patient. This is always a long-term strategy because the only way the patient moves through the different phases of treatment, such as social skills training, is if they start to improve. If the patient doesn't improve, they'll remain at the same level and the same stage of their treatment until they do. This can take differing amounts of time for different patients, but family therapy can improve the time it takes to get better.
The support of family members can help a person living with schizophrenia to improve in their therapy sessions, being the support that they need to get through these challenges. Family therapy sessions will also teach family members how to cope with the symptoms of schizophrenia so that they know how to properly approach each situation when someone is experiencing a schizophrenic episode.
Compliance therapy is a very short term option, and it's generally used only when the patient has first been diagnosed. This would occur in the stage where the patient is first learning to take their medications and is first getting onto a schedule. This usually occurs also when a patient is first being released from hospitalization. Compliance therapy focuses on getting the patient to follow the rules regarding their medication use and to make sure that they are taking the medications at all of the times they are supposed to.
Cognitive remediation therapy, also known as CRT, can also be used to treat severe mental health problems. It is considered to be one of the more successful methods of therapy by the National Institute of Mental Health. The focus of CRT is to improve cognitive processes, such as social cognition, executive function, attention and memory, so that persons living with schizophrenia can improve their performance in everyday life. Computer programs are used in the teaching process and can vary in both length and complexity, depending on the requirements of the patient.
Antipsychotic medications also work in the treatment of schizophrenia. The purpose of these antipsychotic drugs is to ease and/or eliminate the delusions and hallucinations that a person may be experiencing. They can come in a liquid, pill, or injection form, and will have to be taken for the rest of a person’s life, even if they get better through therapy.
For the long term, this can lead to a substance abuse problem, making treatment even more difficult. That is why it’s important for friends and family and health care providers to keep a close eye on the health conditions of the person living with schizophrenia, how well the antipsychotic medications work on their symptoms, and what the side effects may be.
Side Effects of Antipsychotic Drugs
Like with all medications that deal with the chemistry of the brain, there can be some side effects that some people are not prepared for. Discussing your health information with a therapist of medical professional beforehand will assist in arriving at a diagnosis of schizophrenia and which medication will work best in its treatment.
The most common side effects include drowsiness, dizziness, blurred vision, seizures, low white blood cell count, constipation and nausea, and low blood pressure. Older generation antipsychotics use a hormone called prolactin, and can result in lower sex drive, affected mood, and the growth of breast tissue in men and women. Newer generation antipsychotics are more prone to causing weight gain, as well as increasing cholesterol and blood sugar levels.
If you’d like to learn more about the side effects of these medications, there is plenty of information at the American Psychiatric Association website.
This was once called shock therapy, and the term can bring about frightening imagery that has become popular in movies. However, electroconvulsive therapy is no longer the painful treatment it was once depicted to be. Also known as ECT, the National Institute of Mental Health has considered it one of the fastest and most effective ways to relieve symptoms of schizophrenia, depression, and bipolar disorder.
The process involves a general anaesthetic being administered in order to relax all of the muscles in the body. Then electrodes are placed on the scalp and a finely-controlled electric current is administered for a short period of time. These session take place several times a week for a period of two to four weeks. Some common side effects of ECT include headaches, memory loss, muscles aches, and upset stomach.
If you are struggling with schizophrenia, the best thing you can do is get help right away. A mental health professional will be able to help you understand what you're experiencing, and they'll be able to work with you to find the right mental health plan, just by sharing some of your health information. BetterHelp is one place where you can get the therapist that you're looking for and where you can find all of the care that you need. This completely online service makes sure that you're going to be comfortable with the person you're working with and also makes sure that you can get on with living as normal of a life as possible. There's no reason for your delusions to run your life when you could claim it back. With the right mental health care professional, you'll be on the road to getting your life under your control.
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