Understanding Your Options for Managing Schizoaffective Disorder

Schizoaffective disorder can be a confusing and intimidating diagnosis that so often only comes after initial misdiagnosis. Today, however, there are more ways of treating schizoaffective disorder than ever before, including medications, individual psychotherapy, and group therapies. By integrating various schizoaffective treatment options to create a comprehensive, integrative treatment picture, you can move toward renewed stability and enduring wellness.

For Julia, the diagnosis only came after she had already been in mental health treatment for years. From the age of 17 to 23, her psychiatrist told her she suffered from major depression. For six years, she dutifully filled her antidepressant prescriptions month after month. Although her mood elevated, so too did the delusions that had once been so subtle that they remained invisible to those around her and, for a while, even to herself. It was only when her psychosis reached a new and frightening level of severity that her diagnosis was questioned and she was given a new name for her illness: schizoaffective disorder.

For Brian, the psychosis was always at the center of his mental health treatment. In fact, it alone defined the diagnosis of schizophrenia he received at 26. For over a decade his depressive episodes were mistaken for the negative symptoms of schizophrenia—the lethargy, the social withdrawal, the flat affect. Meanwhile, his mania was attributed to schizophrenia itself rather than recognized as being rooted in a mood disorder. For him, the term schizoaffective disorder only arose when a new treatment provider suggested that he and his family keep a chart of his symptoms over time, revealing the cyclical qualities of bipolar disorder running through his psychotic experiences.

Schizoaffective disorder can be a difficult diagnosis to pin down. Even within the mental health community, there is much debate about its exact nature. For many, it is a diagnosis that comes only after others have proven incomplete. Unfortunately, it can also be an intimidating diagnosis—particularly if you were originally been diagnosed with a mood disorder, which may seem far easier to treat. However, schizoaffective disorder is treatable and, once an accurate diagnosis is made, you can start taking your first steps toward healing. Exploring schizoaffective disorder treatment options can help you realize that there are many paths toward recovery and decide which are right for you.

Understanding Medication Options for Schizoaffective Disorder

Medications are the cornerstone of schizoaffective disorder treatment and can be used to treat a broad range of symptoms. These medications commonly include:

  • Antipsychotics: Antipsychotics are used to relieve psychotic symptoms such as delusions and hallucinations. Antipsychotics may also provide relief from mood episodes and can in some cases be used as monotherapy.
  • Antidepressants: If you have depressive-type schizoaffective disorder, antidepressants may be used to address your mood symptoms. However, in recent years researchers have found that some antidepressants also appear to improve negative symptoms associated with schizophrenia such as social withdrawal, apathy, and speech disturbances. As such, antidepressants may have a positive effect on multiple aspects of depressive-type schizoaffective disorder.
  • Mood Stabilizers: If you have bipolar-type schizoaffective disorder, mood stabilizers are often recommended in order to prevent mood switching. Mood stabilizers may also be used for some people with depressive-type schizoaffective disorder.

Your doctor will work with you to find medications that will treat your symptom with minimal side effects. Today there are more and better tolerated pharmacological schizoaffective disorder treatment options than ever before and these medications can be instrumental in your recovery.

The Benefits of Individual Psychotherapy for Schizoaffective Disorder

While medication is an invaluable part of schizoaffective disorder treatment, research shows many still struggle with “persistent positive and negative symptoms, even when the patients are compliant with their medication instructions.” In addition, adherence can be a serious concern owing to both the nature of certain medications and the illness itself. As such, it is imperative to incorporate non-pharmacological approaches in the treatment picture to help you better understand and cope with your symptoms and your experiences.

Therapeutic modalities such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), psychodynamic therapy, and relational therapy can all help you give voice to your thoughts and feelings and develop the insight and skills necessary to move forward. By working with compassionate and expertly trained clinicians, you can explore both your psychosis and mood disturbances and create strategies for coping in healthy and effective ways. While the benefits of such therapies have long been known for mood disorders, it is now becoming increasingly evident that psychotherapy, particularly CBT, can “produce significant improvements in psychotic symptomatology and in distress associated with psychotic symptoms.” This is in part due to the way CBT can help you reality-test and de-catastrophize psychotic experiences, building your internal resilience while also help you re-contextualize your psychosis in a way that is less alienating.

Research is now also revealing trauma is deeply linked to the emergence of psychotic disorders and are known to be associated with mood disorders as well. As such, addressing experiences of trauma in therapy may be an important part of the recovery process. While many forms of psychotherapy can be used to address trauma, specific trauma-focused modalities such as Somatic Experiencing and Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing can be particularly beneficial, especially if you struggle to verbalize your experiences.

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The Possibilities of Group Therapies for Schizoaffective Disorder

Schizoaffective disorder can be profoundly isolating, both due to the symptoms of the illness and due to shame and stigma that so many with the illness experience. Unfortunately, the prospect of group therapy can also be intimidating due to these very same phenomena. However, group therapy can be critical to helping you break through isolation and realize that you are not alone. Surrounded by compassionate peers who share your experience of living with psychiatric illness, you share your struggles and find understanding, belonging, and camaraderie. For many, that is an extraordinarily powerful experience—to be heard, to be seen, and to be accepted. At the same time, group therapy provides an ideal space in which you can begin to practice vital communication, emotional regulation, and reality-testing skills.

While some therapy groups are talk-based, there is also a range of holistic therapy groups that can be beneficial to people with schizoaffective disorder. Yoga and meditation, for example, can help you nurture your relationship with your body, find healthy ways of relieving stress, and increase your sense of inner stability. Pottery and drumming can help you give expression to feelings and experiences for which words are inadequate, opening up new languages communicating in positive ways. Meanwhile, physical fitness can be wonderful for releasing tension and encouraging mind-body integration while helping you stay energized and active.

Integrating Treatment Options

Schizoaffective disorder is a complex illness, but with today’s options the possibilities for recovery have never been greater. The best way to harness the potential of treatment is to integrate multiple therapeutic modalities in an individualized plan in order to address the full scope of your needs in a way that is meaningful to you. Residential programs are often the best environments for this to take place.

Residential treatment programs provide a safe and comfortable environment in which your diagnosis can be confirmed via in-depth psychological assessment. You will then receive a plan tailored to your unique needs. Through an innovative mix of individual, group, and holistic modalities, you can explore every aspect of your illness learn how to harness your inner resources in order to create a more stable, balanced, and joyful life. The intensity of therapy made possible by the residential milieu means that you can receive more treatment in 6 weeks than would be possible in a year of outpatient therapy, helping you find rapid relief from suffering. At the same time, the close monitoring afforded by residential programs means that your team can continuously observe the effects of your medication to ensure efficacy and tolerability to optimize adherence.

Because the goal of residential treatment for schizoaffective disorder is to help you create a strong foundation for ongoing wellness, your team will work with you to address both acute symptoms and to formulate strategies for staying healthy once you leave treatment. This includes not only learning concrete skills that you can transfer into your everyday life, but developing a complete continuing care plan to ensure that you will have resources in place once you return home. Your family is encouraged to participate in this process in order to give you the support you need to take the next steps in your recovery journey. Together, you can take the next steps into a brighter, healthier future full of possibility and promise.

Bridges to Recovery offers comprehensive treatment for people struggling with mental health disorders as well as co-occurring substance use disorders. Contact us to learn more about our renowned Los Angeles programs and how we can help you or your loved one start the journey toward healing.