Rationale and state of the art in early detection and intervention in psychosis

Tecelli Domínguez, Joan Manel Blanqué, Jordi Codina, Mónica Montoro, Lluis Mauri, Neus Barrantes-Vidal*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


Schizophrenia-spectrum disorders have a chronic and episodic course that results in impairment of all life domains. Pharmacological and psychosocial treatments provide symptom relief, but there is not a cure for schizophrenia and many patients suffer chronic impairment. In addition, it is expensive both in economical terms and also in terms of personal costs for both patients and their families. International interest has grown over the past 15 years in the prognostic potential of early identification and intervention in the prodromal and first-episode phases of psychotic illness. This focus is associated with increasing optimism about the benefits of implementing treatment as early as possible in the course of psychosis at least to help improve the course of illness, reducing its long-term impact. The most recent epidemiological studies have shown that patients with longer duration of untreated psychosis (DUP) have worse short-term outcomes in terms of treatment response, positive symptoms, negative symptoms, and global functioning. Neuroimaging studies have also indicated that prolonged untreated illness is associated with more pronounced structural brain abnormalities, while this is less prominent earlier in the course of the disorder. Therefore, early detection aims to reduce treatment delay in the hope of improving prognosis and reducing illness severity. Early intervention in psychotic disorders has gained momentum in the last decades, and there is now an estimated 200 centers worldwide offering specialized services for young people experiencing their first episode of psychosis. Each of these programs has unique characteristics and distinctive features in terms of treatment modalities and assessment tools, but most have a number of common elements and goals: a) early detection of new cases, b) reducing DUP, and c) providing better and continued treatment during the «critical period» of the early years of the disease. Moreover, the role of family work in early psychosis can be crucial given that relatives are the main informal caretakers of persons with mental health problems. Family interventions in early psychosis usually offer psychoeducation and/or individual and group family therapy, communication and problem solving training, which can help to develop coping strategies and reduce distress and burden. Intervention programs in early psychosis are usually composed by interdisciplinary teams, providing a wide range of integrated services that typically include psychoeducation, clinical case management, and group interventions. Specific interventions generally include pharmacotherapy, stress management, relapse prevention, social and employment rehabilitation support, and cognitive and family therapy. Given the complex etiology and clinical manifestation of psychosis, treatment packages for people experiencing early psychosis need to be individually tailored to specific needs rather than applied homogenously across early psychosis patients. The current challenge in the implementation of psychological interventions in the early stages of psychosis are: 1. to adapt treatment modalities that have been proven effective in stable and residual stages of the disease to its early stages; 2. to develop new forms of therapy tailored to the specific characteristics of these early stages of psychosis (prodromal and ultra high-risk phase, onset and first episode psychosis, and «critical period» or post-crisis psychosis); and 3. treatment packages need to be individually tailored to their specific needs rather than applied homogenously across a group of patients. The aims of this paper are: 1. to present the basic concepts, rationale and state of the art of the early detection and intervention paradigm; 2. to review and present the main detection and intervention programs in early psychosis and 3. to provide an overview of the current psychotherapeutic approaches in early psychosis.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)341-350
JournalSalud Mental
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2011


  • Early detection and intervention
  • Early psychosis
  • Need-adapted treatment
  • Psychotherapeutic approach


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