If you have schizophrenia, you will most likely be prescribed medications and talk therapy as part of your treatment plan. But you may also be curious about whether mindfulness based therapies such as meditation or yoga can help.
The short answer is, they probably can. While you don’t want to use them instead of drug therapy, they can be a useful addition to it. While they may not fully relieve primary symptoms, they may help you cope better with them and relieve associated problems. They can also help relieve stress.
Here is a look at five different mind/body techniques and what the research shows.
Meditation for Schizophrenia
There’s a lot of evidence that meditation can help with schizophrenia. Meditation itself appears to change brain structure, and some of these changes may help people with mental disorders such as schizophrenia. Some of the best research is with mindfulness meditation. This is a form of meditation where you focus on being aware of what you sense and how you feel in the moment, without any judgment. Early research suggests that it can:
- Improve anger and aggression if you’re going through an active phase of schizophrenia, where you may have symptoms such as hallucinations
- Decrease symptoms of depression and anxiety if your schizophrenia has stabilized
- Enhance your awareness of your disease
- Shorten lengths of inpatient stays and reduce rehospitalization rates
One 2019 Chinese study found that 8 months of mindfulness meditation led to significant reductions in persistent hallucination and delusion symptoms of patients who have had severe schizophrenia for more than 2 decades.
An easy way to start is to try a loving-kindness meditation. These focus on developing feelings of goodwill, kindness, and warmth toward others. One study published in the Journal of Schizophrenia Research found that loving-kindness meditation was associated with decreased negative symptoms and increased positive emotions among people with schizophrenia. If you want to try this, check out an example online.
Music Therapy for Schizophrenia
Up to 80% of people with schizophrenia have auditory hallucinations – they hear things that aren't real. Music therapy may help. In a 2018 study published in Issues in Mental Health Nursing, Turkish patients with schizophrenia and auditory hallucinations listened to music based on the Rast tonality, which is thought to induce feelings of relaxation. Patients had fewer hallucinations upon discharge and follow up, and at 6 months reported improved quality-of-life scores compared to a placebo group.
Another 2018 study published in Frontiers in Neuroscience examined the effects of a classical music intervention on patients with schizophrenia who were assigned either to a 1-month Mozart music intervention or no music group. Afterward, researchers did MRIs of their brains and found that the music intervention was linked to improved functioning of the insula, a part of the brain that helps process sensory information. As a result, patients reported an improvement in symptoms, although the effects disappeared once music therapy was stopped.
If you want to find a music therapist, check the American Music Therapy Association.
Yoga for Schizophrenia
There’s not a lot of evidence that yoga can help patients with symptoms of schizophrenia. But there are some promising small studies that show it can be of benefit, especially as an add-on treatment to standard care.
A 2021 study published in Frontiers in Psychiatry found that people with schizophrenia who participated in a weekly 50-minute yoga session reported that it improved their well-being, pain, and mood. It also distracted them from disturbing symptoms such as hallucinations. Another small study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine found that people with schizophrenia who participated in an 8-week therapeutic yoga program showed significant improvement in symptoms compared to a control group.
If you have schizophrenia, yoga is thought to help you in the following ways:
- Yoga may help your body respond better to medications. Many antipsychotic medications raise your risk to develop obesity, diabetes, and high cholesterol. But yoga itself helps lower stress hormones such as cortisol. In turn, this can help your body get better control of your blood glucose, cholesterol, and total lipid levels.
- It can improve sleep, which is often disrupted in people with schizophrenia.
- It’s thought to raise oxytocin levels, a hormone related to improved mood that may also help treat schizophrenia symptoms.
- Yoga may also improve levels of certain brain chemicals such as gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which are thought to be involved in schizophrenia.
Art Therapy for Schizophrenia
If you have schizophrenia, it may be hard for you to convey thoughts and feelings. Art therapy – where you use creative techniques such as drawing, painting, sculpting, or collaging to express yourself – can help. It also may fight side effects of psychiatric medications like drowsiness or lethargy because it keeps your mind active.
Research suggests it can help improve self-esteem and social functioning among people with schizophrenia. One very small study also found that people who did 12 weekly sessions of group art therapy had statistically significant reductions in negative symptoms compared to a control group. But a larger study of over 400 adults with schizophrenia found that those who did weekly art group therapy for a year didn’t have any reduction in symptoms compared to a control group.
If you do decide you want to try art therapy, ask your therapist for a referral to a certified art therapy program. Local hospitals may also offer programs.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) for Schizophrenia
This is a type of relaxation exercise that helps to reduce stress and anxiety in your body by having you slowly tense, then relax, each muscle. The goal is to teach you self-awareness as to when you feel tension and give you tools to help relax.
A 2019 review of five studies of over 200 adults with schizophrenia found that PMR did help relieve anxiety and improve well-being and social functioning. But the studies all looked at different numbers and lengths of sessions, so it’s hard to tell how much is needed to help.