Cognitive Behavorial Therapy as an Alternative to Antipsychotics?

cognitive behavioral therapy

For some individuals with schizophrenia, a mental illness that affects approximately 2.1 million Americans, modern treatment options can be more troubling than the actual symptoms of the illness itself. One of the main classes of drugs used to treat schizophrenia are antipsychotics. Medications that fall under the umbrella of antipsychotics include Risperdal, Seroquel, Geodon, and Abilify among quite a few others (for a comprehensive list of start here). These medications carry nasty and sometimes very serious side effects. However, recent research suggests that for some individuals cognitive behavioral therapy could act as a replacement for such medications.

A Much Milder Option

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is aimed at correcting flawed emotions and thought patterns that a patient might have through talking to a professional such as a psychotherapist. And since one is not ingesting any foreign substance through this process there are no side effects. As a result it’s a great option for individuals with schizophrenia who are hesitant to take pills for their illness.

According to the study, published in The Lancet, it was found that after 18 months (the final assessment) 41% of the 17 who participated in cognitive behavioral therapy showed a minimum of a 50% improvement. For comparison, only 18% of the 17 who did not participate in CBT and only received normal care showed improvement.

The way the researchers measured the improvement of the patients was by using a metric known as the Positive and Negative Syndrome Scale (PANSS). It was first developed in 1987 and it is a way of measuring the severity of the symptoms of schizophrenia. Positive refers to the positive symptoms of schizophrenia which include hallucinations, delusions, and grandiosity. The negative refers to the negative symptoms which include anhedonia, social withdrawal, and emotional withdrawal.

While the study used a small sample size and a much larger size would be needed to draw definitive conclusions this is still a great finding. This isn’t to say that this is the end of the use of antipsychotics in the realm of schizophrenia treatment. This just isn’t true. There will always be those that absolutely require this type of medication for any type of stability much less remission.

For those that could take part in CBT as an alternative this is absolutely astonishing considering the side effects that antipsychotics as a class of medications bring to the table. It’s a sad reality for some that this class of medications can actually worsen some of the symptoms of schizophrenia, namely the negative symptoms.

Paving the Way for CBT

At the very least cognitive behavioral therapy certainly seems to be a very worthy adjunct treatment option for individuals with schizophrenia. CBT has a proven track record and it could very well be what people need. It’s not just a superb option for individuals suffering from schizophrenia but for those suffering from all types of mental illness. This includes (but is not limited to) anxiety disorders, major depression, drug addiction, OCD, and even ADHD.

The only drawback to CBT is the cost. Even if one has health insurance it can still be a burden. The cost is especially disheartening when you consider the fact that around 60-80% of people with mental illness are unemployed. That number is very worrisome. When one can barely afford to breath air, drink clean water, and eat food how will they be able to pay for therapy?

Nonetheless, cognitive behavioral therapy is without a doubt proven to be an effective treatment option for all types of folks. It may not work for everyone but there is a significant chance it will work for a large amount of the population.

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