Referring people with schizophrenia to group art therapy does not improve their mental health or social functioning, finds a study published in the British Medical Journal today.
The findings challenge national treatment guidelines which recommend that doctors consider referring all people with schizophrenia for arts therapies.
Schizophrenia is a severe mental disorder which affects as many as one in 100 people at some point in their lives. While antipsychotic medication can reduce symptoms, many people continue to experience poor mental health and social functioning.
Art therapy has been used as an additional treatment for people with schizophrenia, and is recommended in national treatment guidelines, but few studies have examined its clinical effects.
So a team of researchers led by Imperial College London set out to examine the impact of group art therapy for people with schizophrenia compared with an active control treatment and standard care alone.
The study involved 417 people aged 18 or over with a diagnosis of schizophrenia. Participants were split into three groups: 12 months of weekly group art therapy plus standard care; 12 months of weekly activity groups plus standard care; or standard care alone.
Art therapy patients were given access to a range of art materials and encouraged to use these to express themselves freely. Activity group patients were encouraged to take part in activities such as playing board games, watching and discussing DVDs, and visiting local cafes. The use of art materials was prohibited.
Outcome measures included global functioning (ability to carry out usual daily activities), mental health symptoms, social functioning and satisfaction with care. Levels of attendance at both art therapy and activity groups were low.
The researchers found no differences in global functioning and mental health symptoms between the three groups, and no differences in social functioning and satisfaction with care between art therapy and standard care groups.
Professor Mike Crawford, from the Department of Medicine at Imperial, said: “This research shows that many people with severe mental illness enjoy being creative, but being involved in activities alone does not seem to lead to improvements in mental health. Severe mental illness can reduce people’s confidence in their abilities and their relationships with others and we need to find new ways to harness the arts to help people overcome these difficulties.”
The research was funded by the National Institute for Health Research, Avon and Wiltshire Mental Health Partnership NHS Trust, Belfast Health and Social Care Trust, Camden and Islington NHS Foundation Trust, and Central and North West London NHS Foundation Trust.
MJ Crawford et al. “Group art therapy as an adjunctive treatment for people with schizophrenia: multicentre pragmatic randomised trial.” British Medical Journal, published online 28 February 2012