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Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.
Dr. Schwartz's Weblog

Is Schizophrenia Curable?

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. Updated: Oct 20th 2010

Is Schizophrenia Curable?A young man sent in a question asking if his psychosis is curable. His psychiatrist told him that he is greatly improved but that his anti psychotic medication is at a maintenance level that should be continued.

Just one day after this E. Mail question was posted, an article entitled, "Is Recovery Attainable in Schizophrenia?" was posted on the Internet. The article was written by Peter J. Weiden, MD, Professor of Psychiatry, Center for Cognitive Medicine & Department of Medicine; Director, Psychosis Program, University of Illinois at Chicago Medical Center, Chicago, Illinois.

Dr. Weiden does not speak in terms of cure, when it comes to Schizophrenia, but of recovery.

For many years, the psychotic illnesses, especially schizophrenia, were viewed as degenerative and, therefore, incurable and without any hope of recovery. That view has now changed but the definition of recovery is complicated and open to debate.

The term recovery in this area of psychiatry usually refers to the ability of a patient to function: be employed, involved in family and relationships and generally function in the world, on a daily basis with little or no impairment. 

The reason for the complexity of this issue is that a patient with schizophrenia may continue to experience symptoms while functioning. Other patients may become free of symptoms but remain unable to function.

According to Dr. Weiden, patient and psychiatrist need to work jointly on objective and goals to be met in treatment. He points out that patients are able to achieve recovery and, therefore, function in society. In his view, schizophrenia is not a degenerative disease. It is important for doctor and patient to believe that things can and will get better.

Dr. Weiden also points out that Cognitive Behavioral Therapy modified for the psychotic illness, along with medication, is effective in helping patients achieve goals having to do with functioning.

Dr. Weiden does caution that recovery depends a lot upon remaining drug and alcohol free, a major problem for many who have psychotic illnesses.

Is there, as yet, a cure for schizophrenia? Probably not. However, there are many illnesses for which there is no cure but in which people can regain their lives without being hampered by their symptoms.

The young man who sent in the E. Mail question wanted to know if he would have to take his medication for the remainder of his life. Dr. Weiden would probably say that it depends upon the nature and severity of his psychotic illness. My guess is that he probably will need to continue medication but can function at work, in romance and in life in general.

This is a very sensitive issue, particularly for people with this illness and their families. That is why I am encouraging everyone to submit their comments, opinions and questions.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D.

Readers who live in the Boulder, Colorado metro area, or in Southwest Florida may contact Dr. Schwartz for face-to-face consultation. He is also available for psychotherapy through Skype video for those who are not in Florida or Colorado. He can be reached via email at dransphd@aol.com for details.

Reader Comments
Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

its none curable? - dizzylizzy - Nov 25th 2014

"No meds? no thearapy can cure it?

schizoaffective, Meds and prognosis - - Nov 28th 2010

Being schizoaffective, but haven been blessed with parents of high IQ and expectations of higher degrees and career employment for their children, and surrounded in a good family environment I do beleive it is possible to wean off the meds.  

It takes the expectation that the psychiatrist/councelor will be truly willing and believing to the getting of the root of what is causing the voices to manifest, the unrest of the subconcious so to say. 

 It seems to need living life in a moral and nonregret decision making way.

It is essential also to have a supportive environment, family and community, even an educational one, that is positive and encouraging. It does not hurt that one member of the family will not accept less from the one afflicted with the mental disease.

After the family passes, it is IMPERATIVE that the 'client' remain strong, persistent and live in a community that provides services that are progressive, and free from stigma and harrassment. 

Forward planning is necessary for this day. This includes where one should live, work and go to school, with a bankroll to keep one as independent as possible and as private as possible.

This includes maintaining a hard stance with the sometimes sneaky MHMR and work ticket programs which may subtly pressure thru back door deals the above 'client' to lesser unacceptable jobs and not the career to which they came from and to which they should continue forward to by previous agreement. 

Not Everyone Needs Drugs - Allan N. Schwartz, PhD - Oct 25th 2010

Hi Ron,

We always run the risk of over generalizing when the term, "everyone" is used, especially in the area of psychiatry, psychology and mental health. The fact is that schizophrenia is a very complex disorder and never a joking matter. During my long career, I have seen people with milder versions of schizophrenia, people whe were misdiagnosed, people with brief psychotic episodes and every other variation.

However, when we speak of very real schizophrenia, accurately diagnosed, we rarely speak of "cure." What is now clearly established and is not theoretical at all is that this is a disease of the brain. MRI studies, fMRI studies, brain chemistry studies, studies of the billions of neurons in the brain, have all established the fact that things are very, very wrong in the brains of the people who suffer from the debilating disease.

For both patients, families and psychiatrists, this has been an extremely frustrating and difficult disease to treat. No one wants to take hope away from others. I have seen people with schizophrenia stabilize on medication and remain stable when there is psychotherapy and family education.

However, I have also witnessed the tragedy of those people who go off of their medications and relapse into hallucinations and delusions only to end up in the hospital once again. I also witnessed the tragedy of a man with schizophrenia who, against medical advice, went off of his medications and, one tragic day, climbed over the fence in an outdoor display of lions at the local zoo so that he could commune with them. He lost an arm. That was many years ago. I have also known other tragic outcomes, such as suicides.

This is an illness that can be controlled and the person enabled to function in the community, but with lots of support. Stress can unravel them easily.

To advise people with schizophrenia to go off of medications and delude them into believing that psychotherapy alone can help them and that vitamins can do the job, is irresponsible at best.

Those cases of "cures" were probably misdiagnosed and that does happen.

People need to have hope but not false hope. Yes, people can be helped to control symptoms and return to work and school. But, cure in schizophrenia: not yet, sadly.

Dr. Schwartz

Not everyone needs drugs - Ron Unger LCSW - Oct 25th 2010

It's sad that so many people get told that "schizophrenia" always requires that medications be continued.  The truth is that it is much easier for professionals to just continue medications, than it is for them to figure out who might be ready to get off, how to help them get off, who might never need them in the first place, etc.

If you want to find out about the huge number of studies that show a number of treatment options people have used, often to fully recover (meaning no more need for medication) I suggest going to http://psychrights.org/research/Digest/Effective/effective.htm

any illness can be cured - hugh bell - Oct 23rd 2010

after going through a difficult time in my life , and being detained in a mental health hospital i was diagnosed with shizophrenia ,i was at that time frightend and desperate for help ,at first i took the doctors advice ,and took all types of anti physcotic drugs in the hope ,they would as the doctor told me help with what i was experiencing ,some drugs had no effect at all ,others made me feel worse than when i was first admited to hospital i decided i no longer wanted take any more medication as there side effects did nothing more than make me a more ill person than when first admited , doctors would not listen to my oppinion and i was forcefully injected against my will ,i was being told i was ill and needed to have theese meds ,i could not undersatand why theese proffisionals did not at all listen to my concerns ,i kept refuseing to take meds and my next few months in hospital became the worst time of my life ,being forcibly held down while staff had to inject me they had no choice ,they had to follow doctors orders ,i was frightend and not being listend to , i lost all faith in our mental health system a system which i had seen help many patients and thought they would also do the same for me ,medication helps many patients and it gives me great satisfaction knowing our doctors help many patients to live back in our comunity haveing a better and more stable life ,  i have not took meds for over five years and as i knew they were not the soloution to my problem , i still have concerns as to why i was not listend to while in hospital over my concerns these meds were haveing on me ,i had no voice no one listend i felt alone ,,  many people belive there is no cure for schizophrenia, the majority of theese people are physciatrists and other people who work in the mental health proffession,i belive theese people are wrong ,to be diagnosed with this serious mental illness ,is bad enough for the sufferer ,but to also be told from respected and careing proffesion that you will have this illness for the rest of your life gives the person with this illness no hope of recovery or even a slight chance of beating this serious illness , there is alot of stigma towards people diagnosed with haveing a serious mental illness ,and i cringe when i hear how doctors and other mental health workers are trying to raise awareness in society regarding vunerable members of our society ,it is my oppinion that this proffession with there publications that this serios illness is not curable has only added alot of peoples judgement that there is no hope of recovery for our most vunerable members of society ,,i would like to say to everyone one who has been unfortunate to experience this illness including carers and there families ,never belive when you are led to belive there is no cure ,belive in yourselfs that together this illness will be beat never give up and never give up on the oppinions of doctors whom are putting this nonsense into everyones heads that there is no cure for this illness ,it takes courage strength and a determination from patients there family and freinds to make us all prove to doctors or anyone else that this illness can and will be beat ,, and they were wrong to offer no hope of a cure and they are in a small way themslves responsible for the patients that they have given no hope what so ever of fully recovering from this illness ,and to all the stigma that surrounds mental health issues ,if doctors offer no hope of recovery to these patients ,how can they expect other members of society to change there veiws ,schizoprenia is curable and i would like anyone who feels they have beat this illness to challenge the oppinions of any doctor who gave them no chance of recovery ,then and only then will yourselves and others in the future stand any chance of being heard ,and makeing health proffessionals realise you will not be branded with this illness with no hope of recovery ,,and i wish everyone afected bye mental illness a fast recovery and a fantistic future best wishes hugh

Therapy and No Meds - spiritual_emergency - Oct 21st 2010

Cindy, this thread may be of interest to you.  It provides some information on three of the most promising therapeutic approaches I have come across in relation to schizophrenia/psychosis and recovery... with minimal or no medication.

The first program (and the one that is closest to my own experience) is that of John Weir Perry.  Perry was a Jungian trained psychiatrist who worked with schizophrenic individuals for over 40 years.  Among the individuals who passed through his experimental Diabasis project (part of the San Francisco health care system), 85% recovered with no medication. 

The second program was pioneered by psychiatrist, Loren Mosher. 

Loren Mosher was "was the first Chief of the Center for Studies of Schizophrenia at the National Institute of Mental Health, 1969-1980. He founded the Schizophrenia Bulletin and for ten years he was its Editor-in-Chief. He led the Soteria Project." Like Diabasis, the aim of the Soteria Project was to provide a comfortable residence where individuals could move through their crisis with empathic and respectful support.   It too produced a rate of recovery that was superior to traditional (medication based) treatments.

The third program -- Open Dialogue Treatment - was developed in Finland by clinical psychologist, Jaakko Seikkula. 

"Among those who went through the OPT program, incidence of schizophrenia declined substantially, with 85% of the patients returning to active employment and 80% without any psychotic symptoms after five years. All this took place in a research project wherein only about one third of clients received neuroleptic medication."

So, those are three very successful examples of therapeutic treatments that produced very successful rates of recovery without the typical heavy emphasis on anti-psychotic medication.

You can find that thread in the forum community.  Links to sources are provided along with additional links to related materal: htp://community.mentalhelp.net/showthread.php?t=4976

Good luck to you in your own recovery.

~ Namaste

could i find a doctor? - Cindy - Oct 21st 2010

I am willing to be a test case!, If only I could find a doctor who will slowly reduce my medication, then discontinue my meds. and still focus on my recovery in treatment with a therpist.

I was told at a young age that I would have to be on medication for the rest of my life. I only believe that there was a fork in my road that I just could'nt handle at that time, but with therpy I could get over it. simple! no meds required.

In therpy most therpists do not want to focus on past issues, I believe you can work them out, so you can learn and move on. It's good to focus on the future too, but the stumbling block, the issue, that got you into a break down is Important too, and being at an acceptance place might be all there needs to be worked out.

Has there ever been a research study with just therpy and no meds.?

 

 

 

 

 

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