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Study suggests drug-free therapy hope for schizophrenia

Cognitive therapy is a “safe and acceptable” method for treating people with schizophrenia who not taking antipsychotic drugs, according to a UK study.

Although cognitive therapy has helped those with schizophrenia when given in combination with antipsychotics, its effectiveness in individuals not taking drugs was previously unknown.

The new study, led by Manchester University and published in The Lancet, assessed whether cognitive therapy could reduce psychiatric symptoms in 74 individuals, aged 16-65, with schizophrenia spectrum disorders who had stopped taking antipsychotics for at least six months.

Cognitive therapy involved a therapist working collaboratively with a patient to reappraise psychotic experiences and modify unhelpful thought patterns and behaviours.

Participants were randomly assigned to cognitive therapy – 26 sessions over nine months – plus treatment as usual, or to treatment as usual alone. Change in symptoms was rated at regular intervals over 18 months on the Positive and Negative Syndrome Scale (PANSS).

Average PANSS scores were consistently lower in the cognitive therapy group than in the usual care group. After 18 months, 41% participants receiving cognitive therapy had an improvement of more than 50% in the PANSS total score, compared with 18% for usual care.

The study authors are about to start research comparing cognitive therapy alone with antipsychotic medication alone and with a combined treatment in schizophrenia patients.


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