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Understanding Treatment for Schizophrenia

Finding out that you have schizophrenia can be scary. There are treatments that work: people living with schizophrenia can live full and meaningful lives. The goals of treatment and recovery are to learn to manage symptoms, reduce the number of relapses, and develop a personal plan for success by setting and meeting goals for home, work, and relationships. As a Veteran who experiences schizophrenia, it is important that you find the treatment that is right for you and in line with your goals and values. As a caregiver, being fully informed of treatment options will help you be an effective support for your loved one.

Treatment most often includes both medicine and counseling. Medicines can help your symptoms, and counseling and therapy help you change how you think about things and deal with the illness. Treatment may last a long time but may take different forms and be done with different frequencies depending on what you are dealing with in your life. Most people living with schizophrenia develop a recovery plan that they follow over the course of their lifetime and can return to and update as needed. Your treatment and recovery plan may change as your experience of schizophrenia and your life change.

If you struggle with alcohol, drugs, or tobacco or have other mental health problems, such as depression, you need to treat these problems too. 

Taking medicine

Medicine is an effective part of treatment for most people living with schizophrenia. There are many medicines to choose from and it may take a bit of time to figure out which medicine is best for you. Find the medicine that works best for you by working closely with your healthcare provider. Tell your healthcare provider which symptoms the medicine helps you with and how much, and talk about any side effects. Medicines may be used to treat a range of schizophrenia symptoms, but they are most helpful in reducing hallucinations and making your thinking less disorganized and scary. Medicine may not cure schizophrenia, but it can make you feel better and make life easier for you. It helps many people living with schizophrenia feel better, so they can pursue the important goals and activities in their lives.

Medicines used most often to treat schizophrenia include:

  • First generation antipsychotics, such as haloperidol and chlorpromazine

  • Second generation antipsychotics, such as risperidone and aripiprazole

  • Clozapine

  • Other medicines may also be used

Most medicines that treat schizophrenia come in pill form and are taken daily. Some medicines come in the form of a shot (injection). These are called long-acting injectables. The shots are given less frequently (for example, once every 4 weeks) and are done by a healthcare provider. With long-acting injectables, you don’t have to remember to take the medicine every day, but you may have to make more frequent visits to your healthcare provider.

Counseling and therapy

Counseling and therapy are important parts of treatment. You may work with a mental health treatment provider such as a psychologist, licensed professional counselor, clinical social worker, or psychiatrist. Find a therapist you trust and feel comfortable with. A good therapist not only provides help but gives you support and encouragement. If you don't feel good about working with one doctor or therapist, try another one.

Counseling helps you improve your relationships, deal with your symptoms, and meet your goals. It often focuses on the problems and plans of everyday life. Counseling can take place one-on-one or in a group setting. Group counseling also helps you make friends and learn social skills. Here are some types of treatment that may help you:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) helps you change the way you think about things. It can help you understand why it's important to prevent a relapse and take steps to do so. CBT may help reduce delusions and hallucinations.

  • Behavioral family therapy for schizophrenia, also called family-focused therapy for schizophrenia or family psychoeducation. This is a type of counseling that focuses on everyday life and helps you and your family work out problems when they occur. It includes education about schizophrenia and its treatment. Family therapy is important because your family can play a large role in supporting you if you have schizophrenia.

Road to recovery

Treatment of schizophrenia is about more than reducing symptoms. It is about helping you live the way you want and reach your full potential. The process of moving towards these goals is known as recovery.

Recovery is not the same as being cured and doesn’t mean you will be symptom-free. It is being able to live a full life and enjoy meaningful activities with as little trouble as possible from your symptoms. Recovery may help you manage your symptoms so that you can be an active member of your community. It can also help you know how to respond when you feel badly or you think your symptoms are starting to increase. Many different supports and programs are available to support your recovery:

  • Case management is when a provider, such as a social worker, helps you organize the many different parts of your treatment. Case managers can help you get connected with resources such as medical care, benefits, and specialized treatment programs to support your recovery.

  • Assertive community treatment is a program where case managers provide a lot of support. You receive this kind of help in your own home or community.

  • You may want help finding a place to live, a job, or getting back to school. Special programs called supported housing, supported employment, and supported education, where a provider supports you with these goals, can be helpful.

  • Social skills training can help you develop skills to communicate with people in your life, make friends, find a romantic partner, improve relationships, and communicate with healthcare providers.

  • Learning about schizophrenia and skills to manage your symptoms can improve your quality of life and the lives of those who care about you. Group programs such as Illness Management and Recovery and Wellness Recovery Action Planning may help with this.

  • Support groups give you the chance to talk with people who are going through the same things you are. Certified Peer Support Specialists can give you this kind of support. These are people in recovery from mental illness who are trained to help others by sharing their stories, and providing support and suggestions.

  • Take care of your physical health too. Look into programs to help you with diet, exercise, managing your weight, and quitting smoking.

Other treatments

If medicine and therapy are not helping you, your healthcare provider may suggest electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). In this procedure, your healthcare provider uses electricity to create a brief and mild seizure. This may change your brain chemistry and help your symptoms.

When you relapse

If your symptoms come back, it's called a relapse. Treatment can help prevent or reduce relapses and make it possible for you to go to school, work, and have successful relationships. Here are some ways to help yourself:

  • Learn how to recognize the first signs of relapse, such as not wanting to do things with others, and have a plan to deal with it and get help right away.

  • If you need help deciding whether to see your healthcare provider, read about some of the reasons people don't get help and how to overcome them.

  • Take your medicine. This makes a relapse less likely.

  • If side effects are making your life hard, talk with your healthcare provider to see whether you can try a different medicine.

  • Treat health problems that may happen along with or because of schizophrenia. These include obesity, substance abuse, type 2 diabetes, and heart and lung problems.

  • Stay in counseling or therapy and continue with your recovery plan.

What to think about

It may be hard to understand and accept that you have an illness, and it's easy to become discouraged. You can help yourself by focusing on your recovery goals and learning to see schizophrenia as one part of your life, not your entire life. Make managing your schizophrenia well one of the many successes in your life. 

Author: StayWell Custom Communications
Last Annual Review Date: 3/1/2019
Copyright © The StayWell Company, LLC. except where otherwise noted.
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