Families and significant others play a crucial role in helping people who suffer with schizophrenia. We understand that schizophrenia can be a demanding illness, and often family members and others have to take on a lot more responsibility and make adaptations to help manage the illness and support someone with schizophrenia.
Embarking on family therapy can be a valuable experience for everyone as it provides the opportunity for all members of the family (and significant others) to express and explore each other’s thoughts, emotions and interactions. Through this open dialogue, a greater understanding and appreciation for each other can emerge. This can improve relationships and help individuals develop ways to support each other that make life more manageable for everyone involved.
How can schizophrenia affect the family unit?
Schizophrenia can impact the whole family in different ways:
- For someone with schizophrenia, their environment and interactions can greatly affect the severity of their symptoms and ultimately, their recovery. A high level of “expressed emotion” such as yelling, shouting, fighting or hostility within a family may increase the strength of the illness, which can lead a person to experience more psychotic episodes. It may be that the symptoms of schizophrenia lead to the increased stress within the household, creating more tension and higher levels of emotion, or there may be others reasons for the conflict.
- Children can often be too young to fully understand mental illnesses such as schizophrenia and the influence they can have on their family life. They may blame themselves or feel isolated from their peers if someone in their family has schizophrenia.
- Family members who give up jobs or hobbies to help manage the illness can sometimes see their own wellbeing affected.
Through family therapy, people can start to express and alleviate some of the difficulties that they face as a result of the illness, learning about it and getting answers to all of their schizophrenia questions.
What happens during family therapy?
Family therapy for schizophrenia typically includes education, stress reduction, emotional processing and regulating as well as structured problem solving.
The group will work together to improve their knowledge of the illness and its management. This helps to promote empathy and affective support, while also changing any unhelpful communication patterns that exist.
Connecting with the family
If the person with schizophrenia is hospitalised, the family will work with a therapist to get answers to any questions they have. Within the sessions, they will also work with the therapist to determine the most suitable long-term treatment for the person with schizophrenia, and how family therapy will work best going forward.
Sharing and learning
The family will work together to learn more about the illness and how they can help to manage it. As families can be a resource to help to reduce the symptoms, this is an important phase.
If the person with schizophrenia has any specific needs, these will be talked about in the session. The family will discuss the requirements, consider a range of possible solutions or support, and agree on a detailed plan to help the person.
Working together for improvements
During this time, there is emphasis on the patient gradually resuming responsibility. There may be tasks assigned to the person, which will typically be undemanding to start with, but will become more ambitious overtime.
Families will also work together to learn how to help sustain the person at this stage, so they can support them and prevent escalations or psychotic experiences.
Family therapy at Priory
During family therapy at Priory, our aim is to encourage people in close relationships to help each other.
We work together with people living with schizophrenia and those who are significant to them, encouraging a mutual understanding of the mental health condition and facilitating healthy dialogues that explore family dynamics and relationships.
Through this sharing of information, families can educate themselves on schizophrenia and how it impacts the person that they care about. We find that families come away from sessions feeling empowered, as they learn new skills to help their relative on the road to recovery.