Schizoaffective Disorder Treatment

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What is Schizoaffective Disorder?

Schizoaffective disorder is one of the most commonly misdiagnosed conditions because, based on the presentation, it can look very similar to schizophrenia or a mood disorder. It’s also very rare, affecting only a third as many people as schizophrenia, with a lifetime prevalence rate of 0.3 percent. Having the disorder not only exposes you to a unique set of challenges because of psychosis and mood disturbances, but you may also be the subject of a misdiagnosis. So, let’s discuss the condition, how it’s diagnosed, and how it’s treated at the URP Behavioral Health residential program.


Schizoaffective disorder is a severe mental illness that combines the core symptoms of schizophrenia and mood disorders. Since it’s part of the schizophrenic spectrum of psychotic disorders, it’s marked by symptoms like hallucinations or delusions. What differentiates it from other disorders in the spectrum is the occurrence of mood-related symptoms that occur in prominent mood disorders like major depression or bipolar disorder. Although it can lead to impairments in functioning, the right combination of treatments can help you manage everyday problems.

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Types of Schizoaffective Disorder


You can experience either one of two major types of schizoaffective disorder. These types differ based on the mood disturbances involved:


  • Depressive Type: In this type, you experience depressive episodes, which are characterized by low mood, feelings of hopelessness, and a lack of motivation to do everyday tasks.
  • Bipolar Type: In this type, you experience manic episodes in addition to depressive episodes. During manic episodes, you display symptoms like engaging in reckless behavior, restlessness, and irritability.

How Schizoaffective Disorder Affects People


Schizoaffective disorder can lead to problems in functioning at home, work, and in relationships. An inability to act in social situations can lead to feelings of loneliness and impact your ability to keep a job. You may also need support to help with daily functioning at home. With treatment, you can learn to manage symptoms and gain independence in some areas.


Who Gets Schizoaffective Disorder?


The psychotic symptoms and mood disturbances associated with the condition become more prominent during adolescence or young adulthood. Factors that can increase your risk of developing the disorder include exposure to highly stressful events, a family history of mental illness, and neurotransmitter imbalance.


How is Schizoaffective Disorder Diagnosed?


To specifically diagnose schizoaffective disorder, your psychiatrist will examine whether you meet the criteria. It’s mentioned in the fifth edition of the APA’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders and includes the following:


  • An uninterrupted period during the illness when you experienced a major mood episode (this can be depressive or manic), along with at least 2 of the following: delusions, hallucinations, disorganized speech, disorganized behavior, and negative symptoms. (one of the two must be hallucinations, delusions, or disorganized speech)
  • Hallucinations or delusions for over two weeks without a major depression or manic episode.
  • Symptoms that meet the criteria of a major mood episode


Lastly, the symptoms of mental illness shouldn’t occur due to a medical condition or substance abuse.

Treatment of Schizoaffective Disorder

When treating schizoaffective disorder, mental health practitioners must take a multifaceted approach. At URP Behavioral Health, our interdisciplinary team of professionals prepares an individualized treatment plan that comprises the following.


Medications for Schizoaffective Disorder


Because schizoaffective disorder is part of the schizophrenia spectrum, it involves you experiencing psychotic symptoms like hallucinations and delusions in addition to mood disturbances. Therefore, pharmacotherapy will likely be a major part of your treatment plan. Your psychiatrist will prescribe a mix of the following medications depending on your symptoms and the type of schizoaffective disorder you’re diagnosed with.


When you have the depressive subtype, then your psychiatrist will prescribe antidepressants to help you manage feelings of hopelessness. They also help you concentrate better, which is important since mood symptoms can make it difficult to focus during therapy sessions.


In schizoaffective disorder, symptoms like hallucinations and delusions can make you less receptive to psychotherapy and other interventions. Additionally, you experience negative symptoms like poor concentration and reduced emotional expression. To address positive and negative symptoms, your psychiatrist will prescribe atypical antipsychotic medications. These drugs also have fewer side effects, making them suitable for long-term treatment plans.


In the case of bipolar subtype schizoaffective disorder, prescribing antidepressant medication can lead to a neurotransmitter imbalance and a consequent manic episode. Therefore, your psychiatrist will recommend taking a mood stabilizer that can prevent both the highs and lows of manic and depressive episodes.

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In addition to pharmacotherapy, our team of mental health specialists emphasizes psychotherapy as a long-term method to reduce symptoms and improve functioning.

Individual Therapy

The first type is individual therapy, which involves one-on-one sessions with your therapist. In these sessions, your therapist will employ a suitable approach, like cognitive behavioral therapy, to help you develop better coping skills.


It’s common to experience dysfunctional thought patterns when you have schizoaffective disorder. With talk therapy, you’ll develop a therapeutic alliance with your therapist, providing you with the opportunity to understand your condition better and effectively manage symptoms.

Group or Family Therapy

During family therapy, you and your family members, such as your parents, siblings, or partner, will attend a session with your therapist. Here, your mental health practitioner will provide them with helpful strategies to strengthen communication, resolve conflicts, and cope with the challenges that may occur as a result of your condition.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

CBT is an effective therapy option to help with the depressive symptoms of schizoaffective disorder, as well as psychotic symptoms that don’t respond to medication. You’ll work with your therapist to understand how your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are connected. Learning about this connection can prevent you from engaging in dangerous or harmful behaviors whenever you experience distress.

Psychosocial Treatments

A common symptom among patients with schizophrenic disorders is that they isolate themselves due to feelings of apathy or due to paranoia. To encourage socialization with others and participate as members of the community, URP Behavioral Health offers psychosocial treatments as well.

Vocational Skill Training

During treatment, you’ll undergo vocational skill training to enhance employability. Holding a steady job can be a helpful part of the rehabilitative process because it assists with functioning and quality of life. It also prevents the risk of symptoms worsening due to stressful circumstances like financial problems.

Communication Skills

Research indicates that effective use of communication skills is positively associated with role functioning. Therefore, it’s common for individualized treatment plans to include sessions where your therapist will help build communication skills. These skills allow you to form healthy relationships and become a member of the community.

Problem-Solving Skills

When you have schizoaffective disorder, it becomes difficult to manage the problems associated with day-to-day living. A deficit in problem-solving skills can impair your ability to live independently and make informed decisions. Working with a therapist to build your problem-solving skills allows you to approach problems systematically without experiencing distress.

Inpatient Treatment for Schizoaffective Disorder

Because schizoaffective disorder can impair your ability to maintain proper functioning, mental health specialists recommend an inpatient treatment program. Here’s what you can expect when you enroll in a residential program at URP Behavioral Health.


Assessment and Diagnosis


You’ll start by receiving an assessment from the interdisciplinary team of psychiatrists, therapists, and physicians. It involves undergoing certain tests to better understand your mental and physical health.

Medical Evaluation

A physician will ask about your symptoms and check your medical records to determine if there’s a medical reason behind them. For instance, poor sleep habits, a head injury, or a brain disorder. You’ll undergo blood tests to check for traces of illicit substances or alcohol.

Psychiatric Evaluation

A psychiatrist will ask about your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors for a clearer understanding of your symptoms. They’ll also speak to your family to get information about your routine, ability to function, and relationships.


Lastly, they’ll conduct a diagnosis by comparing your symptoms with the criteria mentioned in the DSM-5, which is published by the American Psychiatric Association. If you meet the provided criteria, you’ll receive a diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder.

Evidence-Based Treatments


A major component of treatment will include evidence-based therapies. These are effective therapies like cognitive behavioral therapy, individual therapy, and group therapy, which are proven to manage symptoms of schizoaffective disorder. Because they’re structured and time-sensitive, such therapies start showing results in a few weeks.


Holistic Therapies


Because the treatment center takes a holistic approach to recovery, your mental health practitioner will recommend a range of complementary therapies that are designed to promote relaxation and well-being. These include animal-assisted therapy, nutritional counseling, acupuncture, and therapeutic massage. You’ll also receive life skills and vocational training to improve your quality of life post-treatment.


Comfortable Amenities


Often, people struggling with mental disorders don’t live in an environment that’s conducive to recovery. In fact, exposure to stressors in the environment can exacerbate symptoms. It’s why inpatient treatment centers have a calming environment that offers privacy, hygienic living conditions, and other comfortable amenities. For instance, freshly prepared gourmet meals, private accommodation, a fully-equipped gym, and outdoor recreational facilities such as a basketball court, picnic area, and swimming pool.

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Living with Schizoaffective Disorder


Having schizoaffective disorder can make lead to problems such as relationship difficulties, unemployment, and poor physical health. You also experience a higher risk of engaging in substance abuse and self-harm behavior. Dealing with psychosis and mood disturbances can make it much more difficult to carry out everyday tasks, which is why the first step involves seeking treatment.


Even after you undergo inpatient treatment, it’s important to see your mental health practitioner from time to time. Further therapy sessions give you the opportunity to reinforce what you learned during therapy and build on your current coping skills. You’ll also need to take your medication for the prescribed period to avoid experiencing severe symptoms that impair function.

FAQs for Schizoaffective Disorder

Some of the most commonly asked questions about schizoaffective disorder treatment are as follows:

The length of your residential treatment program depends on factors such as the severity of symptoms and level of insight. Research suggests that better insight improves the occurrence of positive and negative symptoms. At URP Behavioral Health, your case manager and primary psychiatrist will prepare an initial treatment plan that lasts a few weeks and modify it on a bi-weekly basis. Long-term care for schizoaffective disorder can last between 30 to 60 days.

A combination of pharmacotherapy and psychotherapy is the best option for schizoaffective disorder. Psychotherapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, is helpful in alleviating mood symptoms that occur due to the condition and coping with difficult experiences. Additionally, seeking family therapy is an effective method to improve your relationships within the family unit. It will inform your family members how to cope with the difficulties of living with someone who has schizoaffective disorder.

One of the best coping skills for schizoaffective disorder is psychoeducational, which involves learning more about the condition and what triggers symptoms. Secondly, you can join support groups to surround yourself with people with a similar diagnosis. By interacting with a group, you learn how other people deal with the effects of their symptoms. Thirdly, you should implement self-care strategies, which include getting enough sleep, maintaining a nutritionally balanced diet, and maintaining social relationships. Another important skill involves engaging in stress-relief activities like yoga, exercise, or therapeutic massage.

According to researchers, schizoaffective episodes are triggered by environmental and biological factors. Environmental factors include highly stressful events such as abuse, neglect, isolation, and losing a loved one. Meanwhile, biological factors include changes in brain chemistry, such as an imbalance of important neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin, which can contribute to psychotic and mood symptoms. Moreover, there’s a genetic component to schizoaffective disorder, so having a relative with the condition increases your risk of developing schizoaffective disorder as well.

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