The results of a comprehensive review of art therapies has shown that the treatment has little or no therapeutic impact on the positive (hallucinations and delusions) or negative symptoms (social withdrawal and loss of motivation) of schizophrenia.
The research was conducted by Keith Laws, Professor of Cognitive Neuropsychology at the University of Hertfordshire, with William Conway, former student at University of Hertfordshire, and is to date the largest analysis of the effects of art therapy in reducing the symptoms of schizophrenia. The study looked at data from 948 participants who participated in nine randomised controlled trials of art therapies over the last decade.
While the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence advocates the use of art therapy for patients with schizophrenia, there have been several more, larger-scale and well-controlled trials published over the last decade, which prompted the review.
Art therapies for the treatment of schizophrenia were developed to help patients who may have lost verbal function as a result of their condition, or as a way for individuals to engage with psychotherapy in a non-judgemental, creative space.
While much research and debate has centred on the value of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) in psychosis, much less attention has been paid to the role of art therapies as part of the spectrum of treatments.
The review found that while art therapies had no impact at all on positive symptoms, a ‘small’ benefit emerged for the negative symptoms of schizophrenia. However, this reduction only occurred in non-blind trials, where those rating the symptoms knew who had received the art therapies and who had not – suggesting some possible bias.
Keith Laws, Professor of Professor of Cognitive Neuropsychology at the University of Hertfordshire, commented: ‘Art therapy has some advantages over more traditional talk-based psychological interventions for those who might find conventional talking therapies difficult. However, as the largest assessment of available data, our review indicates that national guidelines proposing art therapy to reduce negative symptoms may require some reconsideration.’
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