First-of-its-kind psychosis training for caregivers

(WNDU)
Published: Nov. 27, 2019 at 4:05 PM EST
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More than 3.5 million Americans have been diagnosed with schizophrenia. Every year, 100,000 more have their first psychotic episode.

Despite this, experts in the field say there's very little support or education for families or caregivers.

Now, there are training psychosis sessions for patients' loved ones.

Luis Viquez's partner, Arturo, was diagnosed with schizophrenia 20 years ago. He wants to protect Arturo by not using his last name or photos, but Arturo's presence is all around their home, with his art. As a caretaker, it was trial by fire.

"I wish I had some of the skills then that I have now to help a little better. But I just didn't know," Viquez said.

Two hundred twenty-five family members and loved ones of patients with psychosis heard facts about it and ways to help.

"We coached them in how to talk to the individual that they love so that they're really communicating with their loved one and not their symptoms," said Dr. Sarah Kopelovich, an assistant professor of cognitive behavioral therapy for psychosis at the University of Washington.

Experts tell family members to keep their statements short, simple and clear. Speak in a calm voice. Give the person physical space rather crowding them. Don't challenge them over the delusions.

The sessions focused on cognitive behavioral therapy, which has been effective in combination with medications and social support.

"So, if family members and treatment providers and peers can all be speaking the same language, can all be using the same kinds of strategies, then we're going to be that much more effective at helping people recover," Kopelovich said.

Viquez says it helps a lot to get tools on how to listen and talk to Arturo.

"This training gives you a glimpse of a sort of like a ray of light where you can actually say, 'OK, maybe this is where you're coming from,'" he said.

The last training session was funded by the state of Washington and philanthropists. The University of Washington is seeking funding for a second training in or around Seattle in the spring, as well as more across the country.

MEDICAL BREAKTHROUGHS

RESEARCH SUMMARY

TOPIC: FIRST-OF-ITS-KIND PSYCHOSIS TRAINING FOR CAREGIVERS

REPORT: MB #4661

BACKGROUND: Schizophrenia is a chronic and severe mental disorder that affects how a person thinks, feels, and behaves. People with schizophrenia may seem like they have lost touch with reality. Symptoms usually start between ages 16 and 30. In rare cases, children have schizophrenia too. Treatments include antipsychotic medications, coordinated specialty care (CSC), and psychosocial treatments. Learning and using coping skills to address the everyday challenges of schizophrenia helps people to pursue their life goals, such as attending school or work. Individuals who participate in regular psychosocial treatment are less likely to have relapses or be hospitalized. (Source: https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/schizophrenia/index.shtml)

TREATMENT: For those who care for someone with schizophrenia, HelpGuide.org lays out seven main points to follow: take care of yourself, build your support network, encourage treatment and self-help, monitor medication, watch for signs of relapse, prepare for crisis situations, and explore housing options. Living with family works best if the person with schizophrenia functions at a fairly high level, can maintain friendships, is involved in activities outside the home, the interaction among family members is relaxed, the person with schizophrenia intends to take advantage of available support services and the living situation does not negatively impact the lives of any young children in the home. (Source: https://www.helpguide.org/articles/mental-disorders/helping-someone-with-schizophrenia.htm)

NEW RESEARCH: Sarah Kopelovich, PhD, Assistant Professor and Professor of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Psychosis at the University of Washington says that people with any mental illness tend to do better when family members are involved. "Psychosis can be a very isolating experience, in part because other people don't share that individual's reality, and in part because people just don't know how to interact with them. You can imagine how profound it is when you can talk to them about their interests or it's OK to talk about the voices or to explore these beliefs that you're not on the same page about. In fact, it can improve your relationship. And then we gave them some information about coping skills so how to coach their loved one to cope better with the experience of voices or delusions, and then we talked about self-care - how important it is to take care of yourself in this process because that makes you a better caregiver as well," said Kopelovich. (Source: Sarah Kopelovich, PhD)