Managing Schizophrenia: Therapy Options To Consider
By: Stephanie Kirby
Updated March 08, 2020
Medically Reviewed By: Whitney White, MS. CMHC, NCC., LPC
If you or a loved one is struggling with the symptoms of schizophrenia, therapy can help. It can be a confusing time to deal with the symptoms that come along. While there are plenty of options for therapy, it can be a process to find what the right combination is. However, it is possible to manage schizophrenia with the right therapy.
What Is Schizophrenia?
When many people think of schizophrenia, they jump to thinking about things like the movie, It's A Beautiful Mind or Sybil. That isn't necessarily what schizophrenia looks like for each person that is experiencing symptoms. The American Psychiatric Association describe schizophrenia as, "a chronic brain disorder that affects less than one percent of the U.S. population. When schizophrenia is active, symptoms can include delusions, hallucinations, trouble with thinking and concentration, and lack of motivation."
People experience different levels of schizophrenia. This is not the same thing as personality disorder as many people think it is. Not everyone experiences all of the same symptoms. It's also possible for symptoms to change over the course of someone's life.
Symptoms of Schizophrenia
When it comes to the symptoms of schizophrenia, there are several different categories that they fall into. These categories include positive psychotic symptoms, negative symptoms, disorganization symptoms, and impaired cognition.
Most people who are diagnosed with schizophrenia will first experience symptoms in their early adulthood years. For men, this is often in their late teens or their early twenties. In women, it is typically about ten years later, showing up in their late twenties or early thirties.
- Positive psychotic symptoms include things such as hearing voices or becoming increasingly paranoid and delusional. It also includes hallucination and distorted beliefs and behaviors.
- Negative symptoms include losing the ability to speak, find pleasure in things, or express emotions. It also includes a loss or decrease in the ability to plan.
- Disorganization symptoms include experiencing trouble thinking logically, moving in abnormal ways, and confused speech.
- Impaired cognition includes struggling with memory, attention, and concentration. This can also include a decline in their school performance or work performance.
The Stigma Around Schizophrenia
There is a stigma that surrounds mental health including schizophrenia. This stigma can make it very difficult for people who are living with this disorder to get the help that they need. They are afraid of what others will think. Part of the problem is that everyone comes up with their conclusion of what schizophrenia looks like.
Many people mistakenly think that if someone is diagnosed with schizophrenia, they have split personalities or that they are dangerous and more likely to commit crimes. None of this is necessarily true. Just because someone has been diagnosed with schizophrenia does not mean that they are more dangerous or that they struggle with a personality disorder.
Many people in society think that if people have been diagnosed with schizophrenia, they are living in mental institutions or homeless on the streets. This is also a myth. There are people all around that are living with schizophrenia that are managing daily lives living with family or on their own.
Therapy For Schizophrenia Options
Right now, there is no cure for schizophrenia. However, many different types of treatment can help those experiencing symptoms. There is ongoing research that is looking for additional forms of treatment and ultimately a cure.
The main form of treatment at this time for schizophrenia is medication. It is not the only type of treatment available, but it generally is going to be part of any treatment plan. The medication that is used to treat schizophrenia is believed to be beneficial to the patient because it impacts their brain neurotransmitter dopamine.
When it comes to the dosing for medication, the ultimate goal is to have people on the least amount of medication at the lowest dosage possible for the patient to see positive effects along with a reduction in symptoms. This process can take time. Patients generally need to continue working with a psychiatrist that can monitor the medication that they are on along with how it is impacting their symptoms. It can take weeks to be able to see if a medication is benefiting a patient in the best possible way.
Along with antipsychotic medications, people may need to take additional medications such as anti-anxiety or antidepressant medication. This can help them make more progress in working towards overcoming their symptoms.
A big concern with schizophrenia and medication is that the patient will not take the medication as needed. If someone stops taking the medication without being under the care of their psychiatrist or doctor, they can start to struggle or experience other or worse symptoms. Some people are reluctant to take the medication because of adverse side effects that could happen. However, for many people with schizophrenia, medication is a necessary form of treatment to help get the disorder under control.
Therapy sessions can be important for helping individuals with schizophrenia to improve their coping skills, learn how to control stress and anxiety, and learn how to recognize the early warning signs that they are starting to struggle with their symptoms. If they can learn how to catch these problems early than they can learn how to be addressing the symptoms better when they arise.
While individual therapy is very important for the individual experiencing schizophrenia, family therapy can be very important for their family members. Schizophrenia can be difficult for family members to understand. The symptoms of schizophrenia can cause tension and frustration within relationships. This is why it is so important that close family members be able to attend therapy as well. It's a good way for them to get their questions answered and find the support that they need. Caring for someone with serious mental health challenges can be taxing on the mental health of those individuals as well.
The purpose of this form of therapy is to help people with schizophrenia learn the skills that they need to be able to find employment opportunities and then keep jobs once they have them. People with this disorder can work, live, and enjoy life when they can get their symptoms under control.
While hospitalization is not a form of therapy, it can be a necessary step in treatment for some individuals. This only needs to be a temporary solution to get symptoms under control. If there is an individual who is refusing to take their medicine or if they are not properly taking care of themselves such as eating, sleeping, etc. then it may be necessary for them to be under medical care for some time. The main goal of this is to help get the person to the place where they can care for themselves properly at home.
This step can also be necessary for individuals that are a danger to themselves or others. While being diagnosed with schizophrenia doesn't automatically mean that someone is going to become a danger to themselves or others, if they are not managing their symptoms, some may reach this level. Then it's crucial that they get immediate attention.
Finding a Therapist for Schizophrenia
If you are looking for help for yourself or a loved one with the management of schizophrenia, it's important that you have a therapist on your health team. When looking for a therapist to work with you are going to want to look for some specific things. For starters, it's important to understand that therapists are not able to prescribe medication. This means that you will either want to find a psychiatrist that can also offer other forms of treatment along with medication or that you have both a therapist and a psychiatrist on your team.
You will also want to find therapists that specialize in schizophrenia. This is a mental health disorder that is not as common as challenges like anxiety and depression. That means that you want to work with professionals that have a true understanding of and experience with treating schizophrenia.
While there are plenty of options available for online therapy, such as service offered by BetterHelp, schizophrenia is not a disorder that should be treated remotely. It's important to find a team of mental health professionals in your local area to work with. If you find one therapist and aren't seeing improvements or making a connection, then you may want to try another one.
However, there are two important things to keep in mind. The first is that treatment for a disorder like this can take time. You might not notice an immediate improvement once you begin treatment. It can take weeks to see changes. The second is that you need to make sure any changes you decide to make are talked over with your healthcare team. If you decide to switch doctors and decide to quit taking the medication that you've been taking, you could experience major setbacks in your health. It's important to communicate about any changes you are making with healthcare professionals.
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