Cookies on this website

We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. If you click 'Accept all cookies' we'll assume that you are happy to receive all cookies and you won't see this message again. If you click 'Reject all non-essential cookies' only necessary cookies providing core functionality such as security, network management, and accessibility will be enabled. Click 'Find out more' for information on how to change your cookie settings.

Feeling Safe is a new treatment programme for persecutory delusions, which promises a step change in the treatment of severe mental health problems.

© Amber Anderson www.amberanderson.co.uk

The clinical trial results show that the new Feeling Safe programme is the most effective psychological treatment for persecutory delusions, with 50 percent of patients achieving recovery from their persecutory delusions.

Persecutory delusions – unfounded, strongly held beliefs that other people intend to harm us – have traditionally been regarded as a key symptom of psychiatric diagnoses such as schizophrenia. Fearing harm from those around them, patients often withdraw from ordinary life. The negative consequences of this withdrawal, for patients and family alike, can be profound.

The Feeling Safe programme was developed by researchers from the University of Oxford, who tested the treatment in a randomised controlled trial with 130 patients with persecutory delusions. The delusions had persisted despite use of standard treatments. The results are published today in the Lancet Psychiatry. Half of patients were found to achieve large benefits from the Feeling Safe programme, with a further quarter making moderate gains. The trial was funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) and the NIHR Research Professorships. It was also supported by the NIHR Oxford Health Biomedical Research Centre.

NIHR Research Professor Daniel Freeman, the developer of the Feeling Safe programme, Department of Psychiatry, University of Oxford, said:

Feeling Safe is the result of more than ten years of research and clinical practice. Its success has been built on listening carefully to patients, to really understand the causes of the problems they are facing. The trial results give us great cause for optimism in the treatment of a problem that is very common in people with psychosis, immensely distressing for patients and families, and yet often does not improve sufficiently with current treatments.

‘Over twenty sessions, the programme helps people to develop new memories of safety and addresses the factors that often maintain persecutory thoughts, such as worry, poor sleep, and low self-confidence. Feeling Safe is personalised and modular. Patients choose their preferred treatment elements and the order in which they undertake them. It’s an active therapy, based on the belief that people make gains by trying out things in everyday life. The results of the trial have been extremely pleasing. The challenge now is to reach the many thousands of people whose lives have been disrupted by severe paranoia.’

Persecutory delusions are typically treated with anti-psychotic drugs, but too many patients do not respond and side effects can be unpleasant. Four out of five patients with persecutory delusions are unemployed and spend less time in social and leisure activities and more time resting and ‘doing nothing’ compared with the general population. Life expectancy is on average 14.5 years shorter, due to largely preventable conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease -- illness to which inactivity is likely a major contributory factor. 

Dr Felicity Waite, clinical psychologist in the Department of Psychiatry, University of Oxford, said:

 

‘So many of the patients we visited were spending virtually all their time at home. They were acutely aware of all that they were missing out on. Our aim was to bring them back into everyday life, to help them get back to the things they like doing. The enthusiasm with which people have participated in the Feeling Safe programme, and the positive change it has brought about, has been wonderful to see.’

 A participant in the Feeling Safe trial said:

‘I was housebound. I missed out on so many things in life. I missed out on meeting my friends, family events, meals, training, sports, I was just in a very paranoid state. After a life-changing study – for me – I feel very, very safe. It worked. It really did. It helped massively. You get better sleep, feel more confident, be more active in the day. Genuinely, inside I feel very happy. It’s profoundly changed my life. I don’t have to worry any more about people potentially attacking me or thinking sometimes there’s a weapon in their pocket. That’s all floated away.’

 

To read the full paper, Comparison of a theoretically driven cognitive therapy (the Feeling Safe Programme) with befriending for the treatment of persistent persecutory delusions: a parallel, single-blind, randomised controlled trial.

Similar stories

Updating the circuit maps of the sympathetic neural network

A new review from Professor Ana Domingos’ lab and colleagues offers a fresh modern viewpoint on sympathetic neurons and their relation to immune cells and obesity.

Many adolescents game a lot without negative effects on their wellbeing

Although many school-age adolescents are spending considerable time gaming, it is not having a negative impact on their wellbeing.

Few mental health apps make it to real world, according to new Oxford University study

Despite enthusiasm for digital technology in addressing young people’s mental health, few effective apps have been successfully rolled out.

Study reveals association between diagnosis of a neuropsychiatric condition and severe outcome from COVID-19 infection, and other severe acute respiratory infections

New research from the University of Oxford has shown an increased risk of severe illness and death from both COVID-19 and other severe respiratory infections, such as influenza and pneumonia, among people with a pre-existing mental health condition.

New study shows clinical symptoms for Alzheimer’s can be predicted in preclinical models

Establishing preclinical models of Alzheimer’s that reflect in-life clinical symptoms of each individual is a critically important goal, yet so far it has not been fully realised. A new collaborative study from the University of Oxford has demonstrated that clinical vulnerability to an abnormally abundant protein in Alzheimer’s brain is in fact reflected in individual patient induced pluripotent stem cell-derived cortical neurons.