Recovery from Schizoaffective Disorder: Finding the Best Treatment
If you or your loved one is struggling with schizoaffective disorder, the future can seem uncertain and even frightening. But by exploring schizoaffective treatment options, you can better understand the kinds of supports available to help restore stability and functionality. Depending on your situation, the best chance for recovery from schizoaffective disorder may be found in a residential facility, allowing for an immersive and complete healing experience that opens up the possibility of true recovery.
Tanya Frank found her son in the laundry room early one morning staring at the wires coming out of a defunct telephone circuit board. “This is how they are monitoring us,” he said. “We have to cut some stuff out, change the receiver, I can do it.” He rifled through his toolbox as if it will hold the solution to their predicament while his mother looked on confused. When she asked who was listening, he took out a notebook and wrote, “We can’t trust anybody. Our computers and phones are bugged. Listen, hear that?” Tanya didn’t hear anything. “It’s a helicopter spying on us.”
Mental illness doesn’t always present itself so readily. For many, the symptoms are subtle, even unapparent to the untrained eyes. But seeing her son standing there in fear of an imaginary helicopter, Tanya knew she was in the presence of a devastating affliction. After a 72-hour psychiatric hold, the affliction had a name: schizoaffective disorder. “Basically, my son had a psychotic break,” she writes. “That’s what they call it when someone disintegrates from his psyche.”
Schizoaffective disorder can be a frightening experience both for those with the disorder and for their loved ones. The psychosis and mood disturbances that characterize the disorder deeply disrupt functionality and can leave you scared of what the future holds. Today, however, there are more sophisticated treatment modalities available than ever before that can alleviate the symptoms of schizoaffective disorder and help those diagnosed with it create a more stable life. By exploring the best schizoaffective disorder treatment options, you can develop a plan for moving toward not just remission of symptoms, but a fuller, happier life.
Exploring Treatment Options
Schizoaffective disorder is a complex illness that combines psychotic experiences with mood disorders (bipolar disorder or depression), creating a wide array of symptoms that treatment must seek to address. The primary forms of treatment available for schizoaffective disorder involve medication and psychotherapy.
Medication is typically the cornerstone of treatment and recovery from schizoaffective disorder. However, there is no one medication that helps everyone with this condition. Rather, medications are chosen based on each person’s specific symptomatology and may include:
- Mood stabilizers
Finding the right medication or combination of medications can be a process of trial and error as the doctor and client work together to determine how specific symptoms respond and whether or not side effects occur. It is imperative that you or your loved one is closely monitored in order to determine the efficacy and tolerability of pharmaceutical interventions. Residential treatment can be helpful as medication adjustments are being made, in order to monitor adherence and side effects.
While medications are a necessary part of recovery from schizoaffective disorder, they alone cannot address the full scope of needs. Psychotherapy, particularly cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), is essential to helping people with schizoaffective break through damaging patterns of thought and behavior while developing healthy coping skills. As the Mayo Clinic explains, “Psychotherapy may help to normalize thought patterns and reduce symptoms. Building a trusting relationship in therapy can help people with schizoaffective disorder better understand their condition and learn to manage symptoms.” While individual therapy is vital, therapy groups can also be a significant part of the healing process by helping you or your loved one break through social isolation, practice interpersonal skills, and enhance emotional regulation in a supportive environment.
Additionally, family therapy is typically a key piece of the treatment puzzle. As Ian Falloon writes, “Substantial benefits have been reported when optimal pharmacotherapy has been integrated with family-based interventions.” Family therapy provides a safe space in which your whole family has the opportunity to learn about schizoaffective disorder, explore its impact on your relationships, develop strategies for providing and receiving support in healthy ways, and deepen your bonds and connections. Not only has this been shown to “decrease relapse rates and reduce the need for hospitalization”, it also helps to ensure that each member of your family has the support needed to heal, both individually and collectively.
Life Skills Training
Schizoaffective disorder can compromise virtually every aspect of one’s life, including self-care and social and vocational function. Unfortunately, even if psychotic and mood symptoms are successfully controlled with medication, functional deficits can remain, preventing true recovery. As such, life skills training is a vital component of the healing process. This training includes:
- Social rehabilitation
- Vocational development
- Independent living skills
- Medication and appointment management
- Healthy self-care practices
Life skills training and integration into one’s daily life is an invaluable part of recovery from schizoaffective disorder not only due to its practical impact on someone’s life, but its profound emotional effects. Learning how to manage relationships, a job, a healthy lifestyle, and other aspects of day-to-day life restores a sense of agency, self-determination, and confidence. It imbues people with the hope and possibility that are so often stripped away by schizoaffective disorder and helps pave a path toward reaching one’s goals.
Long-Term Care May Be Best
As with other mental health disorders, early treatment results in the best chance at of schizoaffective disorder recovery. For some, this means that treatment can be successfully implemented on an outpatient basis either right away or following short-stay hospitalization. Unfortunately, many people struggle to find effective treatment even if they seek help in the early stages of the illness, particularly if they are also dealing with other co-occurring disorders, such as substance use disorders.
Without comprehensive care, relapse is common and many find themselves cycling in and out of hospitals as their illness progresses. Others may find relief from symptoms but continue to struggle with low function, sometimes leaving them unable to live independently. In these cases, more intensive treatment is necessary in order to restore health.
Long-term treatment programs can offer the kind, duration, and intensity of care to help people with schizoaffective disorder gain control over their illness and engage in a process of true recovery that goes beyond remission of symptoms. In a warm, nurturing environment, you or your loved one can participate in a broad spectrum of therapies designed to target not only symptomatology, but enhance functionality and overall quality of life.
While the diversity and quality of formal therapies are an invaluable part of this process, the long-term, immersive nature of these programs provide the opportunity to deeply integrate new learning in a way that fosters lasting change. With the guidance of highly trained clinicians and compassionate peers, clients are able to continually gain and practice new skills in a safe and structured milieu. As you or your loved one gain new abilities, the supportive scaffolding can be slowly removed to allow for greater independence and self-determination. Of course, family involvement must be woven in throughout of this process.
Schizoaffective disorder is not a curable illness, but with the right treatment approach in the right environment, people living with this condition can create stable, meaningful lives and see themselves beyond the confines of the disorder. At the same time, families can find the support they need to grow stronger individually and collectively, ensuring that everyone has the resources they need to thrive. By working together, you can start the journey toward a healthier, more joyful future.
BrightQuest offers comprehensive long-term treatment for people living with mental health disorders as well as co-occurring substance use disorders. Contact us to learn more about our renowned program and how we can help you or your loved one create lasting wellness.