Individual psychodynamic psychotherapy and psychoanalysis for schizophrenia and severe mental illness

Psychodynamic treatment is an intervention that can be classed as one of the 'talking' therapies. The relationship between the person seeking therapy and the therapist form the main component of the therapy. Its use for people with schizophrenia as a sole treatment, without medication, has not been evaluated very well, apart from four studies in the early 1970s and 1980s. It is clear from the limited studies available that medication is an important part of any treatment for people with psychotic illnesses and should be used in conjunction with any talking treatments.

Authors' conclusions: 

Current data do not support the use of psychodynamic psychotherapy techniques for hospitalised people with schizophrenia. If psychoanalytic therapy is being used for people with schizophrenia there is an urgent need for trials.

Read the full abstract...

People with schizophrenia and severe mental illness may require considerable support from health care professionals, in most cases over a long period of time. Research on the effects of psychotherapy for schizophrenia has shown mixed results. Although pharmacological interventions remain the treatment of choice, the effects of treatments focusing on psychosocial factors affecting schizophrenia are important.


To review the effects of psychodynamic psychotherapy, psychoanalysis, or both, for people with schizophrenia or severe mental illness.

Search strategy: 

For the updated review, we searched the Cochrane Schizophrenia Group Trials Register (June 2008) which is based on regular searches of BIOSIS, CENTRAL, CINAHL, EMBASE, MEDLINE and PsycINFO.

Selection criteria: 

We sought all randomised trials of individual psychodynamic psychotherapy or psychoanalysis for people with schizophrenia or severe mental illness.

Data collection and analysis: 

We extracted data independently. For dichotomous data we calculated relative risks (RR) and their 95% confidence intervals (CI) on an intention-to-treat basis using a fixed-effect model. We calculated numbers needed to treat/harm (NNT/NNH) where appropriate. For continuous data, we calculated mean differences (MD) and weighted mean differences (WMD) using a fixed-effect model.

Main results: 

We included four randomised trials (total 528 participants, 5 comparisons). All used a psychodynamic approach and reported limited data.

For individual psychodynamic therapy versus medication alone we found significantly more participants in the therapy group were unable to be discharged (n=92, RR 8.35 CI 2.0 to 34.3, NNH 3 CI 2 to 6). We found no significant difference between groups in the number of participants who were re-hospitalised (n=24, RR 0.63 CI 0.3 to 1.4) during long-term analyses. At 12 months, fewer participants in the psychotherapy groups needed additional medications compared with those who did receive medication (n=74, RR 0.64 CI 0.5 to 0.8, NNT 3 CI 3 to 6), and also at three years follow up (n=87, RR 0.85 CI 0.8 to 1.0, NNT 7 CI 5 to 26).

For individual psychodynamic therapy plus medication versus medication alone we found no significant difference in suicide (n=92, RR 0.16 CI 0.01 to 2.9) or suitability for discharge (n=92, RR 1.09 CI 0.2 to 7.4). Also, we found re-hospitalisation rates in long-term analyses were equivocal (n=24, RR 1.00 CI 0.4 to 2.6). For insight-orientated psychodynamic psychotherapy versus reality adaptive psychotherapy we found no significant difference in re-hospitalisation rates (n=164, RR 1.20 CI 0.9 to 1.6), but we found study attrition favoured the insight-orientated psychodynamic psychotherapy group at 12 months (n=164, RR 0.46 CI 0.3 to 0.6, NNT 2 CI 2 to 4). For individual psychodynamic psychotherapy versus group psychotherapy we found no significant difference in global state 'not improved' (n=100, RR 1.27 CI 1.0 to 1.7). For individual psychodynamic therapy plus medication versus individual psychodynamic therapy we found rates of re-hospitalisation during long-term analyses were equivocal (n=24, RR 1.00 CI 0.4 to 2.6). There is no clear evidence of any positive effect of psychodynamic therapy and the possibility of adverse effects seems never to have been considered. We did not identify any trials using a psychoanalytic approach.