Psychological treatment

Psychological treatment or ‘talking therapies’ help people adapt to living with schizophrenia.

An important aspect of psychological treatment is the person with schizophrenia developing a positive relationship based on trust and hope with their healthcare team. Having an open and honest relationship means everyone gets the full story, both patient and healthcare professionals.

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is a type of treatment that a mental health professional can use to help a person develop coping skills, improve thinking, and learn how to manage symptoms of schizophrenia. CBT can also help with treating symptoms of anxiety and depression, which can be common in people with schizophrenia.

Being able to talk to someone is an important part of the overall treatment process. Receiving general counselling can help, but the important thing is they can talk to someone if they are feeling down. This could be a doctor, relative or friend.

Social therapy

Psychosocial education can increase a person’s understanding of the symptoms of schizophrenia and treatment options. Social therapy can also encourage friends and family members to support the person with schizophrenia, as with understanding, comes a better idea of the full story of schizophrenia and its management.

Having support allows the person to feel less isolated and more understood. When friends and family are involved there is less chance of relapse, more likelihood of taking medication, a reduced incidence of schizophrenia symptoms and improved relationships.

Group activities or self-help groups can also help with social skills. The focus may vary, but activities can help with coping skills, provide opportunities for exercise, help develop relationships and facilitate information exchange with people going through the same experience. Talking to other people with schizophrenia can not only foster new friendships and social interaction, but may provide benefit by interacting with people going through a similar experience.

Quick guide to medications

Today’s doctors aim for “recovery” in mental health. In the case of schizophrenia, recovery means being able to live well with the condition, and to feel in control of the condition, its treatment and daily life. One of the key ways to achieve recovery goals is taking regular medication.

Different ways to take medication

Medication can be given as a daily tablet, solution or dissolving wafers, or as a long-acting injection.


Oral medications

(daily tablets, solutions or wafers)

Most people will start on an oral treatment so that the doctor can make sure the medication is suitable for that person, is effective and has minimal side effects.

Oral medications may be useful for people who:

  • prefer taking tablets to having an injection
  • have had no problems sticking with medication regimens in the past
  • have support from family or friends
  • trust their healthcare professionals and have a positive relationship with them
  • have a doctor or relatives who check to make sure they are taking their medication as prescribed
  • have the insight to realise that their medication is beneficial

Long-acting medications

(injection given by a health care professional every 2, 3, 4 or 12 weeks)

One of the most common reasons for symptoms coming back is that the person has stopped taking their medication. For doctors, carers and the person with schizophrenia, this is not ideal, so many people choose treatment with long-acting antipsychotic medications.

Long-acting medications are useful for people who:

  • keep forgetting to take their daily medications – it’s one less thing to do every day!
  • keep stopping their medications – even though they should take them to control their symptoms
  • may not think they need to take medications – even though they need them to stay well
  • want to feel they are helping to prevent relapse
  • don't want their condition to impact their lives and so want to distance themselves from their condition
  • prefer to go to an appointment to receive an injection either once or twice each month or once every three months, rather than trying to remember to take a tablet once or twice each day

Different types of medication

Crisis support

What should I do in a crisis?

Thinking about suicide does not mean the person you care about is a bad person, or weak, or flawed. It means that they feel like they are struggling to cope right now. If they feel suicidal, have mentioned suicide or are in a state where you’re concerned they may harm themselves, tell them to let someone know how they feel. Stay with them until they get professional help, even if you’re speaking to them over the phone.

  • Contact a medical professional and tell them it is an emergency - call their doctor, psychiatrist, psychologist, counsellor or caseworker
  • Go to their GP or hospital emergency room. Wait there with them until they see a doctor
  • Dial 000 - the police or ambulance will be able to take them to hospital

You can also recommend they call Lifeline: 13 11 14 or The Suicide Callback Service: 1300 659 467 or Kids Helpline: 1800 55 1800.

Who is involved in treatment care?

Besides your family member or friend’s psychiatrist, the mental health team will consist of some of the following people: GP, case manager, nurse, psychologist, social worker, and occupational therapist.

  • Crisis team member

    These are mental health professionals who work in teams to provide assistance during periods of high stress. They may include psychiatrists, psychiatry registrars, general practitioners (GPs), psychologists, social workers, occupational therapists or nurses.

  • Case manager

    Often a hub of mental health care, the case manager can be one of the most frequent points of contact after discharge from hospital. They coordinate post-discharge care with other members of the healthcare team. Unfortunately due to resources, your family member or friend may not always be assigned the same case manager after subsequent hospital discharges. For carers, the case manager can be a valuable source of information and support.

  • GP

    Registered medical practitioner, who has a general training in all areas of medicine, including psychiatry, and manages your general health care

  • Occupational therapist

    A person trained to provide therapy through creative or functional activities that promote recovery and rehabilitation.

  • Pharmacist

    An important part of the healthcare team, the pharmacist not only dispenses prescription medications, but also looks for medication interactions and can be a valuable source of information about medication side effects.

  • Psychiatric nurse

    A person specially trained to provide promotion, maintenance, and restoration of mental health, including crisis and case management. Nurses can administer medications but cannot prescribe them.

  • Psychiatrist

    A medical doctor who specialised in psychiatry, a branch of medicine that deals with the study, treatment and prevention of mental illness and the promotion of mental health.

  • Psychiatry registrar

    A registered medical doctor doing specialist training to be a psychiatrist.

  • Psychologist

    A person who works to apply psychological principles to the assessment, diagnosis, prevention, reduction, and rehabilitation of mental distress, disability, dysfunctional behaviour, and to improve mental and physical wellbeing.

  • Social worker

    A person with specialised training in individual and community work, group therapies, family and case work, advocacy and the social consequences of disadvantage and disability, including mental disorders. They can provide psychosocial treatments for mental disorders and assist with welfare needs such as finance or accommodation.

It’s a good idea to go to appointments prepared, so write down questions in advance and take a pen and paper to write down the answers given to you.

Where is treatment received?

The setting for the treatment of schizophrenia is usually determined by the nature of the illness.

Community treatment

Where possible, people with schizophrenia are treated in the community to reduce the distress and disruption to their lives.

Home care is where the patient is living at home - a schizophrenia treatment team can visit them as needed for support, and during crisis situations.

If the person is in recovery or remission, they can attend regular outpatient appointments for treatment. When a person is well, arrangements can be made for what will happen in the event of a relapse. These are called Advanced Care Directives.

Advance Care Directives are a good way to document treatment or care preferences in the event someone becomes so unwell they cannot make decisions at the time. This gives the person living with schizophrenia a sense of control and helps them to have a say in how they would like to be treated.


If someone is at risk of harming themself or others, or if they are extremely distressed by their schizophrenia symptoms, the best option may be a short stay in hospital for treatment and care. Sometimes this may be necessary, even though it may not be what they want at the time. Where possible, treatment should always occur in the least restrictive environment. It’s why hospitals are used only when absolutely necessary. Hospital inpatient care may be appropriate when your family member or friend needs a place away from major stressors, or when medications need major review or other treatments are needed that can only be delivered in hospital.

Going into hospital can be a distressing experience for both the patient and people who care about them. As a carer, you may be able to stay with your family member or friend while they are admitted and get settled in. Family or friends can visit and spend as much time with them as they wish, during their stay in hospital.

Involuntary hospitalisation

Involuntary hospitalisation is governed by the Mental Health Act in each State or Territory. Like orders to receive other forms of psychiatric treatment, an order for involuntary hospitalisation should be regularly reviewed, and you should be informed in writing of your rights.

Set a calendar reminder to discuss treatment options for schizophrenia

Set yourself a reminder to discuss treatment options, as well as patient and carer support programs with your family member or friend’s healthcare professional.