29 February 2012

Art therapy not so therapeutic for schizophrenics

by Will Parker

For people with schizophrenia, UK national treatment guidelines recommend group art therapy to improve mental health and social functioning, but a new study published in the British Medical Journal has found art therapy to be ineffectual.

Schizophrenia affects as many as one in 100 people at some point in their lives. While antipsychotic medication can reduce symptoms, many people continue to experience poor mental health and social functioning. Art therapy has been used as an additional treatment for people with schizophrenia but few studies, until now, have examined its clinical effects.

The new study, from Imperial College London, set out to examine the impact of group art therapy for people with schizophrenia compared with an active control treatment and standard care alone. The participants were split into three groups: 12 months of weekly group art therapy plus standard care; 12 months of weekly activity groups plus standard care; or standard care alone.

The art therapy patients were given access to a range of art materials and encouraged to use these to express themselves. The activity group patients took part in activities such as playing board games, watching and discussing DVDs, and visiting local cafes. The outcome measures included global functioning (their ability to carry out usual daily activities), mental health symptoms, social functioning and satisfaction with care.

The researchers, led by Mike Crawford, found no differences in global functioning and mental health symptoms between the three groups; and no differences in social functioning and satisfaction with care were found between art therapy and standard care groups.

"While we cannot rule out the possibility that group art therapy benefits a minority of people who are highly motivated to use this treatment, we did not find evidence that it leads to improved patient outcomes when offered to most people with schizophrenia," noted Crawford.

He added that studies of other creative therapies for people with schizophrenia, such as music therapy and body movement therapy, are more promising, and that it may be only when such activities are combined with other interventions that benefits are seen.

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Source: British Medical Journal