Schizophrenia Spectrum Disorders

What is schizophrenia spectrum disorder? How is it diagnosed and treated? A better understanding of this disorder might be derived from an understanding of the terms used to identify it.

Schizophrenia is a mental disorder characterized by reduced emotional expression, abnormal social behavior and the inability to distinguish what is real and what isn’t. Persons with schizophrenia might talk about hearing voices, experience hallucinations, and suffer delusions.

Spectrum refers to a range of linked conditions sometimes extending to include singular symptoms and disorders, as they relate to psychology, it also refers to patterns of behavior that impact multiple life areas and create distress for the person suffering them.

The Symptoms of Schizophrenia Spectrum Disorders

Schizophrenia spectrum disorders are a range of disorders with the same symptoms as schizophrenia. Some of these include:

  • autism
  • delusional disorder
  • schizoaffective disorders
  • schizophreniform disorder
  • schizotypal
  • schizoid personality disorders

They are defined by abnormalities in one or more of the following symptoms: catatonia, delusions, disorganized thinking and speech, grossly disorganized or abnormal motor behavior, and hallucinations.

The DSM V (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition), lists the range of observed behaviors that psychologists look for before diagnosing schizophrenia spectrum disorders.

The Treatment of Schizophrenia Spectrum Disorders

Because of the nature of the disorders, persons who suffer from them rarely seek treatment and when they do it is to deal with extremely stressful periods in their lives so the treatment is short term to deal with the immediate problem. However, when someone is diagnosed with schizophrenia spectrum disorders, the treatment recommended is psychotherapy.

While long term psychotherapy should be avoided because of its poor outcome and financial drain, psychotherapy is the common treatment for this disorder. Building a trusting therapeutic relationship with someone suffering schizophrenia spectrum disorders will be a slow, gradual process. People, who suffer this disorder, usually maintain social distance with people in their lives and as such a trusting therapeutic relationship with a therapist might never fully develop.

In addition, most patients suffering from schizophrenia spectrum disorders usually terminate therapy as soon as the particular crisis is over as such, psychotherapy should be focused on brief therapeutic approaches with simple treatment goals to assuage current pressing concerns or stressors in the patient’s life.

The key to good treatment of these disorders is consistency and stability. People who suffer this disorder feel no need to interact with others hence a steady consistent approach will help. Be supportive without smothering the patient with empathy and be prepared for some acting out and long periods of silence.

The goal here, however, is not to encourage introspection but to normalize the patients feelings bringing them into proper focus.

When a patient has developed enough minimal social skills and abilities, they could be introduced to group therapy and even then may remain silent. Group leaders, however, must be careful not to let other group members criticize the individual for not participating. If the group is tolerant, the patient may gradually begin to participate. This though, could take a very long time before it happens.

Finally, get the patient involved in their own therapy: have them try out new techniques and get them to gradually see the world isn’t the big scary place they see, they can have supporting social attachments that are not filled with fear and rejection.