Randomized trial to evaluate the efficacy of cognitive therapy for low-functioning patients with schizophrenia

Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2012 Feb;69(2):121-7. doi: 10.1001/archgenpsychiatry.2011.129. Epub 2011 Oct 3.


Context: Low-functioning patients with chronic schizophrenia have high direct treatment costs and indirect costs incurred due to lost employment and productivity and have a low quality of life; antipsychotic medications and psychosocial interventions have shown limited efficacy to promote improved functional outcomes.

Objective: To determine the efficacy of an 18-month recovery-oriented cognitive therapy program to improve psychosocial functioning and negative symptoms (avolition-apathy, anhedonia-asociality) in low-functioning patients with schizophrenia. Design, Setting, and

Participants: A single-center, 18-month, randomized, single-blind, parallel group trial enrolled 60 low-functioning, neurocognitively impaired patients with schizophrenia (mean age, 38.4 years; 33.3% female; 65.0% African American).

Interventions: Cognitive therapy plus standard treatment vs standard treatment alone.

Main outcome measures: The primary outcome measure was the Global Assessment Scale score at 18 months after randomization. The secondary outcomes were scores on the Scale for the Assessment of Negative Symptoms and the Scale for the Assessment of Positive Symptoms at 18 months after randomization.

Results: Patients treated with cognitive therapy showed a clinically significant mean improvement in global functioning from baseline to 18 months that was greater than the improvement seen with standard treatment (within-group Cohen d, 1.36 vs 0.06, respectively; adjusted mean [SE], 58.3 [3.30] vs 47.9 [3.60], respectively; P = .03; between-group d = 0.56). Patients receiving cognitive therapy as compared with those receiving standard treatment also showed a greater mean reduction in avolition-apathy (adjusted mean [SE], 1.66 [0.31] vs 2.81 [0.34], respectively; P = .01; between-group d = -0.66) and positive symptoms (hallucinations, delusions, disorganization) (adjusted mean [SE], 9.4 [3.3] vs 18.2 [3.8], respectively; P = .04; between-group d = -0.46) at 18 months. Age was controlled in the analyses, and there were no meaningful group differences in baseline antipsychotic medications (class or dosage) or in medication changes during the course of the trial.

Conclusion: Cognitive therapy can be successful in promoting clinically meaningful improvements in functional outcome, motivation, and positive symptoms in low-functioning patients with significant cognitive impairment. Trial Registration clinicaltrials.gov Identifier: NCT00350883.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Adult
  • Antipsychotic Agents / therapeutic use
  • Cognition Disorders / etiology
  • Cognition Disorders / psychology
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy*
  • Combined Modality Therapy
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales
  • Schizophrenia / complications
  • Schizophrenia / drug therapy
  • Schizophrenia / therapy*
  • Schizophrenic Psychology
  • Single-Blind Method
  • Social Adjustment
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Antipsychotic Agents

Associated data

  • ClinicalTrials.gov/NCT00350883