Following four weeks of receiving shiatsu sessions, patients hospitalized with chronic schizophrenia showed statistical and clinical improvements on all scales of psychopathology and side effects that were used as outcome measures in this study.

“Shiatsu as an Adjuvant Therapy for Schizophrenia: An Open-Label Pilot Study” involved 12 subjects with chronic schizophrenia from an inpatient psychiatric ward. To be eligible for the study, participants had to have a diagnosis of schizophrenia; be between the ages of 18 and 60; be relatively stable for at least one month prior to the start of the study, as determined by the treating psychiatrist; and be capable of cooperating within the shiatsu sessions.

These sessions took place twice a week for four weeks, and each shiatsu intervention lasted 40 minutes. The sequence used in each session depended entirely on the individual subject. The shiatsu therapist observed the patient’s appearance and voice, and took note of his or her specific complaints and medical history. The practitioner also touched areas of each subject’s body to identify “zones of excessive or diminished energy in the body or internal organs and autonomic nervous system.”

Using these observations, along with the principles of traditional Chinese medicine, the shiatsu therapist applied pressure to relevant trigger points of each participant’s meridians.

During the study, no changes in ongoing pharmacotherapy were permitted, and if such changes were deemed necessary, the participant was to be removed from the study.

Assessments of the subjects took place at baseline, before the study started; at two weeks, halfway through the study; at four weeks, which marked the end of the study; and at 12 weeks, which was the two-month follow-up point.

Outcome measures were evaluated at each of these points in the study using an array of psychopathology and side-effect scales. These rating scales assessed such factors as illness severity, positive or negative psychopathology, depression, anxiety, daily functioning, common side effects of antipsychotic medications and involuntary movements of various parts of the body.

Results of the research revealed the addition of twice-weekly shiatsu sessions to standard psychopharmacological and psychosocial interventions produced a significant improvement in the clinical status of each of these schizophrenic subjects, on all outcome measures.

“The improvement in a range of scores measuring positive and negative symptoms, depression, and anxiety is impressive and certainly warrants further investigation,” state the study’s authors. “Further studies should be conducted under double-blind conditions.”

Authors: Pesach Lichtenberg, Agnes Vass, Hamutal Ptaya, Shany Edelman and Uriel Heresco-Levy.

Sources: Department of Psychiatry and Neuroscience Research Department at Herzog Memorial Hospital, Jerusalem, Israel; Efshar Gam Aheret Institute, which provides instruction in traditional Chinese medicine, Jerusalem, Israel; and Hadassah Medical School of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel. Originally published in Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine (2009) 15(5): 44-46.