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Is Schizophrenia Curable?

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. was in private practice for more than thirty years. He is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the states ...Read More

A young man sent in a question asking if his psychosis is curable. His psychiatrist told him that he is greatly improved but that his anti psychotic medication is at a maintenance level that should be continued.

Just one day after this E. Mail question was posted, an article entitled, “Is Recovery Attainable in Schizophrenia?” was posted on the Internet. The article was written by Peter J. Weiden, MD, Professor of Psychiatry, Center for Cognitive Medicine & Department of Medicine; Director, Psychosis Program, University of Illinois at Chicago Medical Center, Chicago, Illinois.

Dr. Weiden does not speak in terms of cure, when it comes to Schizophrenia, but of recovery.

For many years, the psychotic illnesses, especially schizophrenia, were viewed as degenerative and, therefore, incurable and without any hope of recovery. That view has now changed but the definition of recovery is complicated and open to debate.

The term recovery in this area of psychiatry usually refers to the ability of a patient to function: be employed, involved in family and relationships and generally function in the world, on a daily basis with little or no impairment. 

The reason for the complexity of this issue is that a patient with schizophrenia may continue to experience symptoms while functioning. Other patients may become free of symptoms but remain unable to function.

According to Dr. Weiden, patient and psychiatrist need to work jointly on objective and goals to be met in treatment. He points out that patients are able to achieve recovery and, therefore, function in society. In his view, schizophrenia is not a degenerative disease. It is important for doctor and patient to believe that things can and will get better.

Dr. Weiden also points out that Cognitive Behavioral Therapy modified for the psychotic illness, along with medication, is effective in helping patients achieve goals having to do with functioning.

Dr. Weiden does caution that recovery depends a lot upon remaining drug and alcohol free, a major problem for many who have psychotic illnesses.

Is there, as yet, a cure for schizophrenia? Probably not. However, there are many illnesses for which there is no cure but in which people can regain their lives without being hampered by their symptoms.

The young man who sent in the E. Mail question wanted to know if he would have to take his medication for the remainder of his life. Dr. Weiden would probably say that it depends upon the nature and severity of his psychotic illness. My guess is that he probably will need to continue medication but can function at work, in romance and in life in general.

This is a very sensitive issue, particularly for people with this illness and their families. That is why I am encouraging everyone to submit their comments, opinions and questions.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD

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