Treating Refractory Schizophrenia

I’ve recently had a few new people come in for therapy with diagnoses on the schizophrenia spectrum. Not only that, but they’ve tried a few different medications with no significant reduction of symptoms. Refractory is just a fancy way of saying treatment resistant.

As a therapist, when I hear that my new clients have treatment resistant schizophrenia, my first thought is this- Can therapy help someone who isn’t helped by medications? After all, schizophrenia is a pretty major mental illness.

It’s not like depression or anxiety where the cause could be either biological or psychological, and the origin of the symptoms shapes treatment. Instead, schizophrenia is understood as a primarily biological disorder with clear ties to dysfunction in major brain systems.

With schizophrenia, medication works to relieve symptoms in approximately 70% of cases. That’s a much lower number than I expected. That means 30% of people who experience schizophrenia get little to no help from medications. There’s a lot we don’t know about schizophrenia though, so we could see that number decrease as we learn more about the brain and how it works in mental illness. In fact, I just read an article today about scientists searching for brain cues related to major mental illness. They discovered tons of tiny factors that all play into the etiology and course of major mental illness.

But that’s a bit of a tangent. My goal was to learn if there were any therapy interventions that were designed to work for people with refractory (treatment resistant) schizophrenia spectrum disorders.

I was actually surprised to find that this has been studied by a few different researchers. I found two different treatment protocols based on CBT that were demonstrated to be effective with refractory schizophrenia. They seemed similar, with slight differences. I figured it would be easy to combine these approaches and create a protocol of my own that will hopefully be effective in my three new clients.

I’ll post the full protocol in a separate post. For now, here are the two studies I used to develop this method of treatment for refractory schizophrenia.

 

Cognitive–behavioural therapy for refractory psychotic symptoms of schizophrenia resistant to atypical antipsychotic medication. Lucia R. Valmaggia, Mark Van Der Gaag, Nicholas Tarrier, Marieke Pijnenborg, Cees J. Slooff. The British Journal of Psychiatry Apr 2005, 186 (4) 324-330; DOI: 10.1192/bjp.186.4.324
The omnipotence of voices. A cognitive approach to auditory hallucinations.. P Chadwick, M Birchwood. The British Journal of Psychiatry Feb 1994, 164 (2) 190-201; DOI: 10.1192/bjp.164.2.190

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