Psychotherapy for Early-Onset Psychosis

The rate of new-onset psychosis peaks during young adulthood.  This is the time when most people are going to school or just starting to work. Psychosis can negatively affect a person’s intellectual, social, and personal growth for the rest of his or her life.  Schizophrenia is one of the most significant causes of disability and years of life lost to disability in young people.

Psychiatrists (physicians who specialize in mental illness) can help young adults with psychosis using team-based collaborative approaches.  The overall treatment goal is to address simultaneously biological, psychological, and social factors affecting both the person with psychosis and his or her family.  The best approach incorporates psychotherapy for patients and their families as a key intervention promoting recovery and relapse-prevention (see References below).

The ACE project is an important research study completed at the University of Melbourne in Australia. The researchers were interested in whether Active Cognitive Therapy for Early Psychosis (ACE) would contribute to recovery.  ACE is a psychotherapy approach where issues are identified, prioritized, and addressed using a cognitive behavioural approach. This type of psychotherapy is described in a manual that is available here.

The researchers found that patients who received 20 sessions of ACE over 14 weeks had better return to function than those assigned to the “Befriending” group.  This study is one of a growing number of studies supporting the incorporation of psychotherapy in the treatment of schizophrenia-spectrum disorders (Ref 5).

If you or a loved one is affected by psychosis, there is support and advocacy available.  Visit the Schizophrenia Society of Canada or the Schizophrenia Society of Ontario for more information.  Talk to your Family Physician or qualified health care professional and use Psychotherapy Matters.


1. Pratt J. Schizophrenia in the 21st century: new insights and translation into improved therapies. J Psychopharmacol. 2015 Feb;29(2):83-4. Read it here.

2.Wyatt RJ, Henter ID. The effects of early and sustained intervention on the long-term morbidity of schizophrenia. J Psychiatr Res. 1998 May-Aug;32(3-4):169-77. Review. Read it here.

3. Malla AK, Norman RM, Voruganti LP. Improving outcome in schizophrenia: the case for early intervention. CMAJ. 1999 Mar 23;160(6):843-6. Review. Read it here.

4. Bendall S, Allott K, Jovev M, Marois MJ, Killackey EJ, Gleeson JF, Alvarez-Jimenez M, McGorry PD, Jackson HJ. Therapy contamination as a measure of therapist treatment adherence in a trial of cognitive behaviour therapy versus befriending for psychosis. Behav Cogn Psychother. 2015 May;43(3):314-27. Read it here.

5. Jackson HJ, McGorry PD, Killackey E, Bendall S, Allott K, Dudgeon P, Gleeson J, Johnson T, Harrigan S. Acute-phase and 1-year follow-up results of a randomized controlled trial of CBT versus Befriending for first-episode psychosis: the ACE project. Psychol Med. 2008 May;38(5):725-35. Read it here.

Help is available at Psychotherapy Matters

To find a psychotherapist available to work with individuals and families struggling with psychosis, use the link provided here, scroll down to “Help with…” and select “Schizophrenia or psychosis”


Information provided here and anywhere else on is for learning purposes only and should not be used to guide treatment of clients/patients. Copyright © 2016

Vicky Nguyen
Vicky Nguyen

Vicky is a psychiatrist and recent graduate from the Northern Ontario School of Medicine (NOSM). She completed her PhD and MD training at the University of Toronto. Her research interests are directed at promoting innovative practices and policies to address sub-optimal wait times, access, equity, and quality of health care services for disadvantaged populations in Ontario. She is certified to provide IPT and CBT. She is trained to provide other types of therapy including DBT, and Psychodynamic Psychotherapy.

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