An exciting, game-changing study, published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, calls for an entirely new approach to treating schizophrenia. The report shows massive evidence for reducing the use of anti-psychotic drugs in favor of more individualized, holistic therapies.
Most schizophrenic patients despise the anti-psychotic drugs prescribed to them. In fact, studies show that schizophrenic patients are likely to abandon their drugs after a year and a half of using them. As they come off the drugs, it’s hard to measure whether any remaining delusions, paranoia, anxiety or insomnia are from the original schizophrenia diagnosis or from certain side effects related to the drugs.
Anti-psychotic drugs come with several side effects, including, but not limited to: emotional numbing, drowsiness, tremors and severe weight gain. As the drugs try to curb the delusions and hallucinations of the patient, they also make it harder for the patient to cope with reality. As a result, schizophrenic patients are often kept away from the rest of society, in institutions where they become lab rats for pharmaceutical companies’ drug-intensive treatments.
When one drug doesn’t work, the dose may be increased or different formulations may be added to the patient’s regimen. This drug-intensive approach quickly spirals out of control when the cause of the patient’s symptoms remains embedded in them. Drug-intensive approaches fail to look deeper into the person’s relationships, childhood experiences, chemical exposure, thought processes, emotions and feelings.
Fewer drugs, more individualized therapy had greater results for healing schizophrenia
This groundbreaking study took a different approach from the usual isolationist, drug-intensive treatment. It brought schizophrenia patients out of the shadows, while giving them more individualized, holistic care, as the label of the diagnosis was slowly wiped from their minds.
In the study, a schizophrenic patient’s typical drug regimen was reduced by 20 to 50 percent. Instead of taking their usual dose of drugs, they were given intense family support and understanding and a strong dose of consistent, empathetic, one-on-one talk therapy. After two years of individualized care, these patients made extraordinary strides toward recovery. Patients who were kept numb on drug-intensive care stayed in their state of delusion and depression.
This new model of empathetic care, which focuses on human interaction and understanding, may very well put an end to increased drugging of patients’ minds. Some teenagers and adults in their early 20s become afraid, paranoid and deeply suspicious, which may lead to their first episode of psychosis. With a better understanding of why these behaviors are occurring, family members and counselors can guide their loved ones toward more constructive learning and work environments, introducing new thought processes and inviting positive emotions that can ease their anxieties and help them focus. These so-called first episodes of psychosis are triggered by something deeper than that which can be numbed out by anti-psychotic drugs. These first episodes are often treated with drugs anyway, sometimes starting with SSRIs or anti-anxiety meds that can cause suicidal tendencies or exacerbate anti-social behaviors already present.
Patients were able to defuse the voices in their heads after two years of holistic therapy
The study was as real as it could get. A research team led by Dr. John M. Kane, chairman of the psychiatry department at Hofstra North Shore-LIJ School of Medicine, worked with 34 community care clinics spanning 21 states and randomly assigned over 400 schizophrenia patients either the typical drug-intensive regimen or a significantly reduced drug regimen that included holistic, individualized therapies. The scaling back of the drugs paved the way for more talk therapy and greater understanding. The study was similar to a Finnish program developed in the 1980s called Open Dialogue.
The groundbreaking treatment included three main objectives. The first objective assisted the patients with their purpose, helping them choose educational classes and work opportunities that were appropriate and well-suited to their personalities and sense of belonging. The second objective engaged family members, educating them on why their loved ones act and think the way they do. This brought greater understanding and less isolation and division among family members. The third component involved one-on-one talk therapy sessions that empowered patients to reduce substance use, build social relationships and more properly deal with mood instability.
The results of the more holistic approach were extraordinary, though they admittedly weren’t as great at the study’s onset. However, at the end of the two-year monitoring period, progress was impressive for those who used fewer drugs. Remarkably, many patients learned how to overcome the voices in their heads, finding ways to use positive self-talk to overcome it. Overall, the holistic care had the best results, paving a way for patients to better cope with their symptoms.
This alternative way of dealing with schizophrenia, indeed, is a wonderful step in the right direction for mental health.