Family intervention for schizophrenia

People with schizophrenia are more likely to experience a relapse within family groups when there are high levels of expressed emotion (hostility, criticism or over involvement) within the family, compared to families who tend to be less expressive of their emotions. There are several psychosocial interventions available involving education, support and management to reduce expressed emotion within families. In this review we compare the effects of family psychosocial interventions in community settings for the care of people with schizophrenia or schizophrenia-like illnesses.

Studies were conducted in Europe, Asia and North America with packages of family intervention varying among studies, although there were no clear differences in study design. Results indicated that family intervention may reduce the risk of relapse and improve compliance with medication. However data were often inadequately reported and therefore unusable. As this package of care is widely employed, there should be further research to properly clarify several of the short-term and long-term outcomes.

Authors' conclusions: 

Family intervention may reduce the number of relapse events and hospitalisations and would therefore be of interest to people with schizophrenia, clinicians and policy makers. However, the treatment effects of these trials may be overestimated due to the poor methodological quality. Further data from trials that describe the methods of randomisation, test the blindness of the study evaluators, and implement the CONSORT guidelines would enable greater confidence in these findings.

Read the full abstract...

People with schizophrenia from families that express high levels of criticism, hostility, or over involvement, have more frequent relapses than people with similar problems from families that tend to be less expressive of emotions. Forms of psychosocial intervention, designed to reduce these levels of expressed emotions within families, are now widely used.


To estimate the effects of family psychosocial interventions in community settings for people with schizophrenia or schizophrenia-like conditions compared with standard care.

Search strategy: 

We updated previous searches by searching the Cochrane Schizophrenia Group Trials Register (September 2008).

Selection criteria: 

We selected randomised or quasi-randomised studies focusing primarily on families of people with schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder that compared community-orientated family-based psychosocial intervention with standard care.

Data collection and analysis: 

We independently extracted data and calculated fixed-effect relative risk (RR), the 95% confidence intervals (CI) for binary data, and, where appropriate, the number needed to treat (NNT) on an intention-to-treat basis. For continuous data, we calculated mean differences (MD).

Main results: 

This 2009-10 update adds 21 additional studies, with a total of 53 randomised controlled trials included. Family intervention may decrease the frequency of relapse (n = 2981, 32 RCTs, RR 0.55 CI 0.5 to 0.6, NNT 7 CI 6 to 8), although some small but negative studies might not have been identified by the search. Family intervention may also reduce hospital admission (n = 481, 8 RCTs, RR 0.78 CI 0.6 to 1.0, NNT 8 CI 6 to 13) and encourage compliance with medication (n = 695, 10 RCTs, RR 0.60 CI 0.5 to 0.7, NNT 6 CI 5 to 9) but it does not obviously affect the tendency of individuals/families to leave care (n = 733, 10 RCTs, RR 0.74 CI 0.5 to 1.0). Family intervention also seems to improve general social impairment and the levels of expressed emotion within the family. We did not find data to suggest that family intervention either prevents or promotes suicide.