for better mental health

Schizophrenia

Explains schizophrenia, including possible causes and how you can access treatment and support. Includes tips for helping yourself, and guidance for friends and family.

What treatments are there for schizophrenia?

Experiences of schizophrenia will vary from person to person, as will the treatments that work best for them.

On this page you can find information on:

Can I recover from schizophrenia?

There isn't currently a cure for schizophrenia. Some people find many of their symptoms get better with treatment, while others find that they stop for long periods or never come back. For other people schizophrenia is something they learn to live with long-term.

Talking therapies

The main type of talking therapy recommended for the treatment of schizophrenia is cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), which helps you identify and change any negative thoughts or behaviour that is making your life hard. CBT aims to help you:

  • cope with symptoms of psychosis such as delusions or hearing voices
  • ease stress so your symptoms don't get worse
  • manage any side effects from medication
  • cope with other problems like social anxiety and depression, which people with schizophrenia may also experience.

Talking therapies for schizophrenia should focus on helping you cope with your symptoms, rather than trying to convince you that your beliefs or experiences are wrong.

With all types of counselling or psychotherapy, the most important thing is the quality of the relationship you develop with your therapist. Therapy is far more likely to be successful if you find your therapist supportive and helpful.

Some research suggests that schizophrenia is caused by trauma at a young age, so it may also be worth exploring the option of psychodynamic therapy. This type of therapy will help you to understand deep-rooted or unconscious thoughts.

For more information see our pages on talking therapy and counselling, which includes advice on how to find a therapist or counsellor.

"A lot of people want help with understanding why they are experiencing their symptoms and want help to live their lives without distress. The goal isn't always to eradicate symptoms but to understand them, tolerate distress and address any deeper problems."

Medication

If you are first diagnosed during a psychotic episode, you are likely to be offered medication. Doctors usually prescribe antipsychotic drugs (also known as neuroleptic drugs or major tranquilisers) to help with schizophrenia.

Medication for schizophrenia affects people in different ways. Some people find it helps reduce symptoms of psychosis, while others don't feel much better.

When taking antipsychotics for schizophrenia, you may find that you:

  • have side effects – it's best to tell your doctor about these
  • need to try more than one type of medication before you find what works for you
  • take them for a short time only, or need to be on them long-term.

See our page on antipsychotics for more information.

Medication really helps some people but isn’t right for others. Before deciding to take any drug, it's important to make sure you have all the facts you need to make an informed choice. See our pages on things to consider before taking medication and your right to refuse medication for more information.

If you want to stop taking medication

Some people find antipsychotics unhelpful or want to stop taking medication because they feel better. It's important not to stop suddenly as this can cause withdrawal symptoms. Reducing your dose slowly is important.

It's best to speak to your doctor or care team if you want to stop taking medication, even if you don't think you need it any more. See our page on coming off psychiatric medication for more information about coming off medication.

It's also a good idea to talk to your care team about any over-the-counter medicines or complementary therapies you want to try, in case they interfere with your medication.

You can watch Laura, Joe, Ziaul and Steve talking about their experience of taking antipsychotics in this video.

Arts and creative therapies

Art, music, dance or drama therapies may help you express how you are feeling, especially if you find it difficult to talk about things or feel distant from your feelings.

They can also help you come to terms with traumatic events that you may have experienced in the past and which might be contributing to your psychotic experiences.

As with all treatments, different things work for different people at different times in their lives - it's not easy to predict which type of therapy you will find useful. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommends that doctors consider arts therapies for everyone with a diagnosis of schizophrenia and similar problems like schizoaffective disorder and psychosis.

See our pages on arts and creative therapies for more information.

"I think medicine can help with short term psychotic issues, but the underlying issues and depression side of things has been better dealt with through therapy and lifestyle changes."

Family intervention

Family intervention focuses on helping family members talk to each other about what helps, solve problems and plan for a crisis. Your GP or community mental health team (CMHT) will be able to find out if this is available in your area.

For more information on treatment for schizophrenia, including a list of questions you might want to ask your doctor, see NICE's schizophrenia treatment guidelines.

"I've had one major and three minor episodes but am able to lead a pretty normal life. I've made good friends through my experience but am more distant with others. I'd say to others that you can get through the worse times and to always have hope."

This information was published in November 2020. We will revise it in 2023.

References are available on request. If you would like to reproduce any of this information, see our page on permissions and licensing.

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