What is Schizophrenia?
Schizophrenia is a debilitating psychotic disorder that is both chronic and severe in nature. People with schizophrenia often report hearing voices that others don’t hear. In addition they may be paranoid in nature and believe that others are reading their minds, controlling their thoughts or plotting harm against them. Those affected are often terrified, withdrawn, anxious or extremely agitated and it’s not uncommon to experience regular delusions, catatonia or vivid hallucinations. Because of this strange behavior, past sufferers of the condition were often thought to be possessed by demons and were often tormented, exiled, imprisoned or murdered because of this fear.
The condition itself distorts the way the brain processes stimuli in the world around us. Scans of healthy brains compared to those affected with schizophrenia have shown differences mainly in the frontal lobes, hippocampus and temporal lobes. In addition, reductions in size of these areas – particularly the frontal cortex and temporal lobes – are often reported and the disease is often a degenerative one that finds key areas in the brain losing volume year after year if left untreated.
While the exact cause of schizophrenia is unknown, there are risk factors that play a role in development of the disorder. Combinations of genetic and environmental factors are the most common precursors to the condition. It’s also reported that about half of those affected with schizophrenia are regular – and excessive – users of drugs and alcohol. Though it’s not generally believed to be a cause of the illness, the substance abuse issues often make the condition much worse and lead those affected with other psychological issues such as stress and anxiety, depression, or suicidal thoughts.
The onset of schizophrenia generally happens in early adulthood – from the late teens to the mid-twenties – and is often spotted by friends and loved ones before the affected person ever realizes that something is wrong. Schizophrenia is still considered to be a rather rare condition and only affects about 1% of the population (about 2.2-million people).
Methods Used in Schizophrenia Therapy
The first step to treating schizophrenia is proper diagnosis. There are a host of psychological disorders that can present similar symptoms, and combinations of disorders are not uncommon.
When symptoms are present, a doctor will commonly perform a complete medical history check as well as a physical examination. There are no laboratory tests to diagnose schizophrenia, so the doctor often uses various testing methods such as x-ray and blood tests in order to rule out physical illness or substance abuse. After completion of the physical, the doctor will often refer you to a psychologist in order to better analyze and diagnose the disease. Psychiatrists and psychologists use a specially designed interview and assessment in order to evaluate new patients for specific psychological disorders and this is where the initial diagnosis typically happens.
Once diagnosed, your mental health professional will assess the severity of the disorder and prescribe an appropriate treatment plan. Since this is a disorder that affects everyone differently, it’s not uncommon to use a combination of therapies in order to better treat the symptoms and to help you retain a sense of normalcy.
Medications, psycho-social therapy, hospitalization or electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) are the most common forms of treatment for those affected by schizophrenia. In general, medication is utilized solely to treat the symptoms of schizophrenia while additional treatment methods are utilized to help the patient recognize triggers that could lead to psychotic episodes.
It’s important to note that the social stigma paints those with schizophrenia as dangerous and violent. Statistically, this is quite the opposite. Only those with advanced forms of the disorder – typically those experiencing vivid hallucinations or hearing voices – have shown a tendency for aggressive behavior, but even this is typically a fear response, not one of outright aggression. People with schizophrenia, however, can be a danger to themselves, and suicide is not uncommon. Typically, those with schizophrenia are shy, quiet and withdrawn, and prefer to be left alone.
Why Hire a Therapist
Schizophrenia isn’t a condition that’s easily treatable, and it certainly isn’t anything you would want to take on yourself. Those affected by the illness often need professional help, and they would be doing themselves a great disservice by not seeking it. The number one cause of premature death amongst those affected by schizophrenia is suicide, which outlines the severity of the disorder and the need for professional help.
A qualified therapist will help you – or your loved one – to regain some sense of normalcy and remain at a high functioning state if it is indeed possible. If you are affected with a more severe case of the disorder, the therapist can provide treatment options as well as referrals to facilities that can better handle the overall care of you or your loved one.
What to Look for When Finding A Therapist
Schizophrenia – while rare – isn’t a disorder that’s completely foreign to most therapists. Ultimately the decision when finding a qualified professional is going to come down to who you feel most comfortable with, and who you feel gives you – or your loved one – the best course of treatment to remain as independent as possible. Finding a therapist with previous experience with schizophrenia, or paranoid schizophrenia is often the best course of action.