Schizophrenia affects up to one in a hundred people at some point and can cause hallucinations, delusions, and loss of energy and motivation. Creative psychological interventions such as art therapy are widely used in combination with drugs. But the effectiveness of art therapy is unclear.
Professor Mike Crawford of Imperial College London, UK, and his team examined the benefits of group art therapy among 417 adults with a diagnosis of schizophrenia. The patients received group art therapy or non-art group activities each week for a year, or standard care.
The art therapy involved a range of art materials which the patients were encouraged to use “to express themselves freely.” Non-art group activities included board games, watching and discussing DVDs, and visiting local cafes.
This study differs from previous trials of art therapy by focusing on clinically important differences in outcomes. It also provides detailed information about attendance rates, and offers art therapy of a duration that is more like that in real-life clinical practice.
When patients were assessed after two years, overall functioning, social functioning, and mental health symptoms were similar between the groups. Levels of social functioning and satisfaction with care were also similar.
Patients offered a place in an art therapy group were more likely to attend sessions than those offered a place in an activity group. However, the levels of attendance at both types of group was low, with 39 percent of those referred to art therapy and 48 percent of those referred to activity groups not attending any sessions.
Writing in the British Medical Journal, the researchers state, “While we cannot rule out the possibility that group art therapy benefits a minority of people who are highly motivated to use this treatment, we did not find evidence that it leads to improved patient outcomes when offered to most people with schizophrenia.”