Talk therapy coupled with early intervention and low doses of anti-psychotic medication can be more effective for people with schizophrenia than routine treatment, a major US study said Tuesday.

The research published in The American Journal of Psychiatry suggests a new and more effective approach to mental healthcare, which many experts complain is sorely lacking in the United States.

“We feel that getting the right treatment at the right time is really key,” said lead researcher John Kane, professor and chairman of the department of psychiatry at The Hofstra North Shore-LIJ School of Medicine.

“That means a combination of medication and family psycho-education, supportive education and employment, and individual therapy,” Kane told AFP.

“And that should be given by a team that is working together and focused on helping the patient.”

The project, funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, was implemented in clinics around the country and involved 404 patients.

In an approach modeled after programs already in place in Australia and Scandinavia, a team of specialists “offered recovery-oriented psychotherapy, low doses of antipsychotic medications, family education and support, case management, and work or education support, depending on the individual’s needs and preferences,” said the study.

The results published were based on two years of follow-up with the patients, some of whom reported learning how to better control their reactions to hearing voices.

Those who were treated with the new approach “remained in treatment longer, and experienced greater improvement in their symptoms, interpersonal relationships, quality of life, and involvement in work and school,” compared to those given routine treatment.

So just what is routine care in the United States? Part of the challenge is that it varies enormously, said Kane.

“Some clinics may be doing a terrific job, other clinics maybe less so,” he told AFP.

In some places, patients may not get the same level of educational support for themselves and their families, to help them deal with their illness, he said.

“We need to make routine care a little bit more uniform and a little more evidence-based so that we know that everyone is getting access to the things that have been shown to be helpful,” Kane added.

As for costs, the researchers have not yet published any projections or calculations, but Kane said he believes the new approach will prove cost-effective in the long run.