Friday, 23 June 2006

Body psychotherapy for hard-to-treat schizophrenia

We all know about the hallucinations and delusions, but it’s actually schizophrenia’s so-called ‘negative symptoms’ – the emotional withdrawal, slowing of movement, and lack of responsiveness – that are the most difficult to treat. Now a new study suggests ‘body psychotherapy’ could succeed where so many drug treatments fail.

Over a course of body psychotherapy, patients describe how their bodies feel; perform ‘travelling movements’ – walking in different directions at different speeds; mirror each others’ movements; and create group sculptures.

Frank Rohricht and Stefan Priebe, who conducted the trial, said body psychotherapy is based on the premise that “movement and emotional experiences are biologically and experientially associated”. This is supported by the fact the brain’s emotional centre – the limbic system – is anatomically and functionally linked with the basal ganglia, a brain region involved in movement control.

Of 24 patients with schizophrenia who, on top of treatment as usual, received 20 sessions of body therapy over 10 weeks, half showed a clinically significant (i.e. 20 per cent) reduction in their negative symptoms relative to a pre-treatment baseline – they were less emotionally blunted and performed more spontaneous movements. By contrast, just 21 per cent of a control group of 21 patients who received supportive counselling on top of their treatment as usual, showed a significant improvement in their negative symptoms relative to baseline.

Both groups were equally satisfied with the treatment and therapeutic relationship, suggesting the superior effect of body psychotherapy was not due to these non-specific factors.

Rohricht, F. & Priebe, S. (2006). Effect of body-oriented psychological therapy on negative symptoms in schizophrenia: a randomised controlled trial. Psychological Medicine, 36, 669-678.

Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.

Link to the European Association of Body Psychotherapists.