DRUG FREE OPTION HELPING MENTAL HEALTH PATIENTS-

5:00AM Friday Oct 03, 2003  By REBECCA WALSH health reporter NZ Herald Friday Oct 03 2009 

People with schizophrenia should be given choices other than medication to help treat their illness, says a British psychology professor. Professor Richard Bentall of Manchester University has been in Auckland this week teaching health workers how to use cognitive behaviour therapy for people suffering delusions. He says mounting evidence shows the treatment can have a positive impact on mental health, in conjunction with medication or on its own.

Cognitive behaviour therapy aims to help patients get back in touch with reality. Many New Zealand psychologists and psychiatrists support its use, and they say more resources need to go into training mental health workers to be able to give such treatment. Professor Bentall said anti-psychotic drugs reduced patients’ risk of being readmitted to hospital, but medication worked for only about 70 per cent of patients.

Many also suffered serious side-effects, from diabetes and weight gain to sexual dysfunction. “Unfortunately in modern psychiatric care, every patient gets drugs whether or not they respond to them and irrespective of their side-effects,” he said. “That’s clearly wrong.” Cognitive behaviour therapy involved getting people to examine their beliefs and how those beliefs affected their behaviour. Patients were encouraged to collect evidence about whether their beliefs could be true, and find other more productive ways of looking at situations.

Professor Bentall said many people with schizophrenia heard voices, but they could be taught to challenge the belief the voices could control them. As a result of therapy some patients reported hearing fewer voices or reported being less bothered by them. In the United Kingdom, use of cognitive behaviour therapy was written into national health plans for treating people with psychotic problems. The director of clinical psychology at Auckland University, Dr John Read, said psychological treatments were used in a small number of cases in New Zealand and he was keen to see that extended. “The principle we are trying to establish is that people should be given the choice about types of treatment. “We want to get to the point where everyone is offered both. “Most people assume people with this diagnosis have to have medication and that it’s a biological illness. “This is a completely different approach, which makes it quite controversial.”

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