Client: “The Mafia has put my house under surveillance.”
Clinician: “Well, that’s possible…. But, what makes you think it’s the Mafia? Could it be another organization? Or something else altogether? How could we figure this out?”
CBT has been demonstrated to be effective for persistent psychotic symptoms in people who have failed to respond to treatment with antipsychotic medication. The goal is not to persuade the person that he or she has a mental illness. Rather, it is to reduce the intensity of the symptom and the distress it causes. Clients are helped to identify coping strategies that reduce the cues leading to hallucinations and delusions and the patient’s reactions to these symptoms. For one client, being alone or bored might be a cue leading to an increase in hallucinations; he or she can be taught to try out ways to cut down isolation or boredom. Others may learn to reduce auditory hallucinations by humming, talking to others, or even reasoning with the unpleasant voices and telling them to go away. Similarly, a person might be taught to test the reality of delusional beliefs against an alternative interpretation of events and, for example, return to her church social group about which she has harbored paranoid fears. This approach does not cut down on rates of relapse in psychosis, but it does reduce the distress that results from positive symptoms.
CBT for persistent psychotic symptoms is now one of the American Psychiatric Association’s practice guidelines for the treatment of schizophrenia and it has been incorporated into the Schizophrenia Patient Outcomes Research Team (PORT) recommendations. We now have an effective psychotherapeutic intervention for people with schizophrenia. Those clinicians who are accustomed to simply establishing the fact that hallucinations and delusions are present may now need to pay more attention to the content of these symptoms. Just talking to the client in detail about the thing that bothers him or her most may, in itself, prove to be therapeutic.