How Long-Term Residential Treatment for Schizoaffective Disorder Can Help Your Adult Child
If your adult child has been diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, you want them to recover as quickly as possible. However, schizoaffective disorder is a complex illness, particularly if it has gone untreated or undertreated for some time, and outpatient care may not meet your loved one’s needs. By exploring the benefits of long-term residential treatment, you can decide on the best course of action to help your child regain wellness and heal as a family.
“I still remember the feeling of fear and hope,” says Karin as she tells me about the day her daughter, Lauren, was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder. “On the one hand, there’s the realization that your child has a chronic mental health disorder, something that can’t be cured. And on the other hand, there is tremendous relief in finally having a name for what is wrong.”
Lauren’s path to diagnosis was, as it so often is, complicated. From the time she was in her late teens, her evolving symptoms gained a number of names over the years – depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia. Each label brought new treatments and those treatments failed to bring meaningful relief for her full spectrum of suffering. Schizoaffective disorder, however, seemed to capture her experience more fully. “Having that diagnosis was a path to healing. I knew this was an illness she would have for the rest of her days, but I also knew there are treatments that can help people live full, stable, and productive lives. That’s what I clung to,” says Karin.
But despite understanding the possibilities of treatment, Karin did not fully understand what that treatment would look like in practice. Or, perhaps more specifically, her hope for what treatment would look like was vastly different than reality. “I wanted to walk out of that office with a prescription that would solve everything,” she laughs. “It took both of us a while to accept that that isn’t how it works and that, in fact, such an approach can be counterproductive.”
When your adult child is diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, it is natural to want them to heal as soon as possible. After all, your deepest instinct is to protect them and do anything in your power to ensure their health and happiness. However, treatment of this complex condition is rarely simple and regaining stability can require more than outpatient care or even short-term inpatient treatment. For many, particularly those who have lost significant functionality, long-term residential schizoaffective treatment offers the best way of restoring emotional, cognitive, and behavioral health.
Exploring the Benefits of Long-Term Residential Treatment for Schizoaffective Disorder
Schizoaffective disorder comes with a multifaceted collection of symptoms that can profoundly disrupt your loved one’s ability to think, feel, and act in healthy ways. It is also a disorder that presents unique challenges to diagnosis due to the symptomological overlap with illnesses such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and depression. In fact, there is disagreement in the medical community about whether schizoaffective disorder is “a variant of schizophrenia or a mood disorder, a condition in which schizophrenia and a mood disorder are co-morbid, or a unique psychiatric disorder,” further illustrating the challenges to correctly identifying the presence of schizoaffective disorder. As a result, many people with this condition receive incomplete treatment—sometimes for extended periods—before correct diagnosis made, preventing them from benefiting from early intervention. By the time schizoaffective disorder is identified, it has often caused significant damage and healing becomes a more challenging prospect. However, even when schizoaffective disorder is diagnosed early, the inherent complexity of the illness often means that outpatient and short-term residential care are insufficient in creating true and lasting recovery.
In light of this, long-term residential treatment may be necessary in order to achieve the best outcomes, offering distinct advantages over other types of treatment settings. These benefits include:
More Precise and Rapid Creation of Medication Protocols
Medication is the cornerstone of schizoaffective disorder treatment. Often, your adult child’s medication plan will include a combination of drugs designed to address their varied symptoms, including atypical antipsychotics, mood stabilizers, and/or antidepressants. While these medications can be highly effective in diminishing or even eliminating symptoms, finding effective and well-tolerated drugs can be challenging for a variety of reasons, including the fact that both efficacy and tolerability can take time to become apparent. Additionally, not all symptoms may be observed at the time of initial diagnosis, which means that the original medication plan may not be adequate to address unrecognized symptomatology.
A long-term residential treatment program allows for close monitoring of efficacy and tolerability, both as the result of clinical observation and self-reporting. By giving clinicians and patients plentiful opportunities to evaluate the medication plan, it can more easily be fine-tuned than it would be in an outpatient setting. Meanwhile, long-term duration of care means that close monitoring extends beyond the 30-90 days of most short-term residential treatment programs. This is critical, as it allows for swift intervention in case of relapse or breakthrough symptoms, which are common.
Increased Medication Adherence
While finding the right medication is paramount, so too is adherence to medication plans. This is true both to gain an accurate understanding of efficacy and tolerability and to allow for optimal benefit once effective and well-tolerated pharmacological treatment has been identified. However, many people with schizoaffective disorder struggle with adherence, compromising treatment outcomes. A long-term residential treatment program can administer medication when your child is not yet ready to take on the responsibility of self-management. They will also receive the support and skill-building necessary to gradually take greater responsibility for their own adherence as they become prepared to do so. Clinicians can also work with your loved one to identify barriers to adherence and work to overcome them, including helping them cope with side effects to improve tolerability.
Intensive, Broad-Spectrum Care
The value of pharmacotherapy for schizoaffective disorder is indisputable. However, medication alone is rarely enough to achieve full relief from symptoms, particularly as medication targets primarily positive symptoms, leaving negative symptoms untouched. Today, there is growing recognition of the need for broad-spectrum, integrative care that combines a variety of therapeutic modalities to address the unique needs of each client. Approaches such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), solution-focused therapy, motivational interviewing, and holistic and experiential therapies can be combined to help your child develop the insight and skills necessary to establish greater self-understanding, emotional regulation, social awareness, and resilience.
While the benefits of such modalities have long been known in the treatment of mood disorders, there is now increasing evidence of their value for psychosis as well. In particular, CBT is known to help clients with schizoaffective disorder cope with psychosis by reframing both psychotic experiences and feelings about those experience using normalization and reality-testing techniques. As a result, CBT can improve both positive and negative psychotic symptoms that remain unaddressed by medication. Significantly, these improvements have been found to be durable in nature.
Although these treatment modalities may be offered within outpatient and short-term residential settings, long-term, intensive engagement is can help your loved one achieve the best results. This is in part due to the strong therapeutic alliances fostered by long-term residential care programs, which has been linked to better treatment outcomes as well as better medication adherence for both mood and thought disorders. Long-term engagement in psychotherapy also encourages the deeper integration of new skills by allowing for continuous practice in a supportive setting, facilitating true and lasting change.
Unlike other treatment settings, long-term residential care provides unique opportunities for fostering increased independence and self-sufficiency. This is due to the ability of these programs to vary the amount of structure over time, helping your child gain the skills necessary to move on to new levels of independence while still benefiting from meaningful and appropriate support. Rather than targeting solely acute symptoms, long-term residential treatment environments can gradually shift the treatment to maintenance and independent living as your loved one moves through the recovery process. This transition depends not only on psychiatric stabilization, but on learning and practicing concrete self-management skills, discovering a sense of purpose, and creating realistic goals. For people struggling with compromised functionality, this is a critical part of self-development.
In order to nurture your adult child on this journey toward greater independence, it is essential that your loved one’s treatment providers are experienced in this kind of care. Supporting people with high levels of emotional and functional impairment in achieving self-sufficiency according to their abilities is a fundamentally different process than short-term intervention and working with a long-term treatment program ensures that your loved one is supported by clinicians specializing in guiding them on such a path. Finding true recovery is not simply about addressing immediate symptoms, but helping your loved one harness their inner resources and nourishing their mind, body, and spirit.
Healing from Schizoaffective Disorder as a Family
When your loved one engages in a long-term schizoaffective treatment process, your support is essential to creating powerful transformation. As such, choosing a treatment program that invites your participation throughout their time in care is of utmost importance. Working together, you can gain deeper insight into your loved one’s experiences and learn how to provide meaningful support while simultaneously getting the help you need to cope with your adult child’s illness. At the same time, the therapeutic process and transformations that come with this kind of treatment can require changes in how your family functions. The family services offered by long-term treatment programs will guide you toward a fuller understanding of your changing family dynamics and how to cope with them to ensure you stay healthy both individually and collectively.
There are no easy answers to schizoaffective disorder. But by connecting to high-quality treatment and committing to the recovery journey, you and your family can find renewed stability, wellness, and joy. Together, you can help unleash your child’s potential and create a brighter, more fulfilling future.
BrightQuest offers long-term residential treatment for people struggling with mental health disorders and co-occurring substance use disorders. Contact us to learn more about our renowned program and how we can help you or your loved one start on the path to healing.