Those living with a mental illness must often pursue treatment to live life as healthily as possible. If you or a loved one is struggling with the symptoms of schizophrenia, you may be considering your options for treatment. As you explore the different types of therapy and treatments available to manage schizophrenia, keep in mind that managing symptoms can take time. Often, it is only through trial and error that you can find the right combination of tools that work most effectively for you or your loved one.
What Is Schizophrenia?
The American Psychiatric Association describes schizophrenia as, "a serious mental illness characterized by incoherent or illogical thoughts, bizarre behavior and speech, and delusions or hallucinations, such as hearing voices.” Most people develop it in their late teens to mid-30s. People experience different levels of schizophrenia and not everyone has all of the same symptoms. It's also possible for symptoms to change over the course of someone's life.
Symptoms Of Schizophrenia
The diagnostic and statistical manual defines schizophrenia as a psychotic disorder in which someone has two or more of the following symptoms for an extended amount of time during a month-long period (however this may only be for several weeks or less if successfully treated):
Negative symptoms like diminished emotional expression
You can read more about the symptoms of schizophrenia on the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) website.
Although there is no cure for schizophrenia, there is ongoing research looking for additional forms of treatment and ultimately a cure. Currently, many different types of treatments can help those experiencing symptoms. However, the most effective treatment available is the specific plan that cateres to each person’s individual needs. These treatment plans are generally made by the person living with schizophrenia in conjunction with a mental health professional and medical provider.
The main form of schizophrenia treatment available currently 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 dopamine, a neurotransmitter in the brain. These medications are known as typical antipsychotic medications, as opposed to second-generation medications (also known as atypical antipsychotics), which are serotonin-dopamine antagonists.
When it comes to the dosing for medication, the ultimate goal is to have people on the lowest dosage possible for the patient to still see positive effects along with a reduction in symptoms. This process can take time. Patients generally need to continue working with a psychiatrist who 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 beneficial. It’s also worth keeping in mind that some antipsychotic medications can cause adverse side effects. Many can cause weight gain, and long-term use of some antipsychotics can cause movement disorders, like tardive dyskinesia. One must weigh both the benefits and possible side effects when deciding if the risks are worth the potential positive outcomes.
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 overcoming their symptoms.
One concern with schizophrenia and medication is that the patient will not take the medication as needed. If someone stops taking the medication without consulting their psychiatrist or doctor, they may start to struggle or experience worsening symptoms. Some people are reluctant to take the medication because of the adverse side effects that could occur. 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 improve their coping skills, learn how to control stress and anxiety, and learn to recognize the early warning signs that they are starting to struggle with their symptoms. If they can learn how to identify and work through these problems early on, they may be able to address the symptoms more productively as they arise.
Options for individual therapy include psychosocial therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, cognitive enhancement therapy, cognitive remediation therapy, and electroconvulsive therapy. Cognitive behavioral therapy is a type of talk therapy that helps people recognize negative thoughts and behaviors and replace them with more positive ones. Psychosocial therapy, also known as talk therapy, can be one piece of the puzzle in psychosocial interventions that include motivational enhancement, case management, relapse prevention, and more. These psychosocial treatments can be helpful in restructuring thinking and responding to stress. You can learn about the other treatments available in individual therapy on BetterHelp’s advice page.
Support groups can also be a useful tool for those with a mental illness like schizophrenia. Group sessions may be led by a peer support specialist who has personal experience with mental illness, or a therapist. A support group may also help individuals develop social skills or discover self-management techniques from others coping with the same or similar symptoms. On the National Alliance on Mental Health website, you can find peer support groups around the country to help with everything from stress management to substance abuse.
While individual therapy or group therapy can be very important for the person experiencing schizophrenia, family therapy can assist the familial unit. The symptoms of schizophrenia can cause tension and frustration within relationships. Attending family therapy and getting educated about this neuropsychiatric disease can lead to more understanding within the family. It can be an effective way for everyone to get their questions answered and find the support that they need.
The purpose of vocational rehabilitation 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. Assertive community treatment (ACT) is another type of community-based treatment that may include vocational rehabilitation and supported employment, along with reaching other goals, such as reducing homelessness and long hospital stays.
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 an individual is refusing to take their medicine or if they are not properly taking care of themselves, 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 a place where they can care for themselves properly on their own.
This step can also be necessary for individuals who 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. At this point, it’s crucial that they get immediate attention.
Stigma And Misconceptions
There is a stigma that surrounds mental health and mental illness, including mental disorders like schizophrenia. This stigma can make it very difficult for people with schizophrenia to get the help that they need. They might be afraid of what others will think so they may use self-management techniques to cope instead of seeking appropriate treatment.
Many people mistakenly believe that if someone is diagnosed with schizophrenia, they are dangerous, or are more likely to commit crimes. None of this is necessarily true. Just because someone has been diagnosed with a serious mental illness like schizophrenia does not mean that they are more dangerous, or that they struggle with a personality disorder. There are people with schizophrenia all around the country who are effectively managing their daily lives, and living productively with families or on their own.
Online Therapy With BetterHelp
If you are looking for help for yourself or a loved one with the management of schizophrenia, having a therapist on your health team can be beneficial. There are a variety of options available for online therapy, such as the service offered by BetterHelp. Online therapy can be a powerful tool for those who want to strengthen their own mental health and improve their lives.
Telling other people about what’s going on in your mind can be difficult, especially when you worry that they might not understand. Online therapy allows you to say your deepest thoughts and feelings from the comfort of your home. You can connect with your therapist in whatever way feels most comfortable to you.
The Effectiveness Of Online Therapy
Online therapy can be effective for those with mental illness as well as those supporting loved ones through mental health disorders. An analysis of veterans living with schizophrenia and experiencing suicidal ideation showed that an online-based intervention was successful in improving their symptoms. The majority of participants had fewer thoughts of suicide, successfully showing the efficacy of online therapy for treating serious mental health disorders such as schizophrenia.