Patients with schizophrenia often have very poor interpersonal skills. Making appropriate eye contact, controlling the volume of their voice, and participating in a conversation can all be difficult for them. The goal of social skills training is to teach patients basic life skills, including how to interact with other people.
A typical social skills training class might focus on only one feature of social interaction, like how to make good eye contact. Patients will learn about appropriate eye contact, practice using role play, and receive feedback from a therapist. After the lesson, patients will be asked to use this new skill in the real world and talk in the next session about how it worked.
Social skills training can also help patients learn a variety of basic skills, including taking care of basic hygiene, preparing meals, and managing their money. Classes might include basic cooking lessons, fire safety, or how to write a check. As you can see, social skills training is very different from psychotherapy. Indeed, Michael Green at the University of California, Los Angeles, has noted that social skills training is like taking dance lessons: It is a practical, hands-on process.
Does social skills training work? Alex Kopelowicz at the University of California, Los Angeles, found that patients improved with social skills training. Other studies, however, have found that patients improve very little, if at all. Some critics of social skills training suggest that patients have a hard time taking what they learn in a class and applying it to their real lives.
Perhaps some of the memory or attention problems that schizophrenia patients experience make learning new skills difficult. In order to address this issue, researchers are now focusing on developing methods to help patients improve their learning skills.
Heather Barnett Veague, Ph.D.
Heather Barnett Veague attended the University of California, Los Angeles,
and received her Ph.D. in psychology from Harvard University in 2004. She
is the author of several journal articles investigating information processing
and the self in borderline personality disorder. Currently, she is the Director
of Clinical Research for the Laboratory of Adolescent Sciences at Vassar
College. Dr. Veague lives in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, with her husband
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