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Home > Research Articles > Talk therapy helps schizophrenics

United Press International

Saturday, February 15, 2003

United Press International - February 15, 2003

DENVER, Feb 15, 2003 (United Press International via COMTEX) -- A new form of drug-free therapy can reduce the symptoms of schizophrenia as much as most medications, a British researcher reported late Friday.

The therapy is based cognitive behavior therapy, which originally was developed in the United States to treat depression and anxiety, said clinical psychologist Philippa Garety, of St. Thomas's School of Medicine in London. But an analysis of 13 clinical trials in Britain, involving more than 1,300 people, has shown it works in schizophrenia patients as well, Garety told United Press International.

Speaking at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Garety said her analysis shows CBT can reduce both symptoms and the distress caused by the condition by 20 to 40 percent -- comparable to the improvement seen when schizophrenics are treated with conventional medications.

Between 50 and 60 percent of the patients in the studies were helped by the therapy, she said, and there also are hints, now being studied more intensively, that the method also reduces relapses.

Garety said the British health service has begun requiring mental health clinics to offer the service.

The finding is "tremendously exciting," said Dr. Richard Warner, medical director of the Mental Health Center of Boulder County, Colo.

"We have never had an effective intervention using psychology and now we have one," Warner told United Press International.

In schizophrenia, patients experience "disturbing distortion" in their thinking, Garety explained. Such distortion can includes auditory hallucinations -- also known as "hearing voices" -- or paranoia, such as fearing they smell bad and are the subject of malicious gossip because of it.

The cognitive therapist, she said, takes those symptoms "very seriously." During the course of about 20 sessions over a year, the therapist tries to help the victim find new -- and less distressing -- ways of thinking about the symptoms.

The advantage of the therapy is it takes the place of expensive drugs and avoids their side-effects, which include weight gain and diabetes, Garety said, adding that many of the patients in the studies -- and who were helped by the talk treatment -- participated because conventional medications had not worked.

On the other hand, she said, the therapy takes longer than medication and requires a therapist trained in CBT -- training that may take more than a year to acquire.

The U.S. National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda, Md., estimates about 1 per cent of the nation's population will develop schizophrenia during their lifetimes. In any given year, about 2 million Americans have the disease.

Schizophrenia affects men and women equally, although it appears in men at a younger age.

Copyright 2003 by United Press International.