New program may help schizophrenia sufferers

November 13, 2011

A new program being tested in California is hoping to help.

Gene Foster has schizophrenia and struggles to connect with people around him. But thanks to social cognition training, he's beginning to feel less alone.

"Most individuals with schizophrenia have trouble with social functioning, reading social cues, emotional cues or putting themselves in someone else's position," said Dr. Michael Green, a psychiatry professor at UCLA.

In an effort to figure out why, Dr. Green began analyzing brain scans.

"There are certain parts of our brain that are active when we think about other people. It's called a mentalizing network. Individuals with schizophrenia, just don't activate this network anywhere near as strongly as healthy controls do," he said.

Dr. Green and his colleagues believe these skills can be taught through slides, mirrors and public observation.

"How are they feeling today? Do they look happy? Are they sad? Are they angry? All kinds of different emotions," said Dr. Green.

Through reading others, patients also learn about themselves.

"We're rather successful in training individuals in how to manage their own emotions and how to maintain a good mood or get rid of a bad mood," said Dr. Green.

For patients like Foster, the difference is quite noticeable.

"I think it's helped me a lot the last few weeks with trying to make eye contact and judging their facial expressions," said Foster.

The end goal of the training is to help patients function within their community.

They meet twice a week for 12 weeks and with a combination of medication, it does seem to be helping.

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