FOR people with schizophrenia who can’t or won’t take drug treatment, cognitive therapy could be a viable therapeutic alternative, according to a groundbreaking trial published in The Lancet.

The research, involving scientists from the Universities of Durham, Newcastle and Manchester, suggests that cognitive therapy - sometimes known as “talking therapy” - could be safe and effective in reducing psychotic symptoms compared with treatment as usual.

Study co-author, Dr Alison Brabban, a fellow of the Wolfson Research Institute at Durham University and national adviser for severe mental illness, said: “Our results show that cognitive therapy is an acceptable intervention for people who are usually considered to be very challenging to engage in mental health services.

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“Antipsychotic medication, while beneficial for many people, can have very severe side effects, such as sudden cardiac death, serious weight gain, and various metabolic disorders.” The current study assessed whether cognitive therapy could reduce psychiatric symptoms in 74 patients aged 16 to 65 years with schizophrenia spectrum disorders who had decided not to take or had stopped taking antipsychotics for at least 6 months.

After 18 months, seven (41 per cent) of 17 participants receiving cognitive therapy had a significant improvement compared with three (18 per cent) of 17 receiving treatment as usual.

Douglas Turkington, professor of psychiatry at Newcastle University, and joint lead author on the paper, said: “One of our most interesting findings was that when given the option, most patients were agreeable to trying cognitive therapy”.