older psychiatryCognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) has little effect on the symptoms of schizophrenia, a new international study has found.

Schizophrenia is experienced by about 1 in 100 people. CBT is recommended as a treatment for the condition by a number of organisations, including the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence.

But a study has found that CBT had only a small therapeutic effect on schizophrenic symptoms. This included the key “positive” symptoms such as delusions and hallucinations, which CBT was originally developed to target.  

The paper, ‘Cognitive-behavioural therapy for the symptoms of schizophrenia: systematic review and meta-analysis with examination of potential bias’, is published online in the British Journal of Psychiatry.

Keith Laws, professor of cognitive neuropsychology at the University of Hertfordshire and one of the authors of the paper, said: “This study is a new meta-analysis of CBT in the treatment of schizophrenia.  It is the most comprehensive study of its effect on symptoms ever undertaken – covering fifty randomised controlled trials published over the last twenty years.  

“We even translated papers from foreign languages, such as Chinese – so our study covers everything worthy of examination.”

This research raises the question of whether CBT should continue to be recommended in clinical practice. “With this evidence, the current government policy which mandates this treatment for all patients with schizophrenia in England and Wales needs to be reconsidered”, said Professor Laws. “Even this small effect disappeared when only studies where the assessors were blind [where investigators who make the assessments don’t know which group of patients had received the therapy] were taken into account.” 

To view the full paper, click here.