Is there an association between caregiver antipathy and psychosis? A systematic review

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PURPOSE: Existing reviews of trauma and psychosis have identified associations between childhood emotional abuse (CEA) and psychosis. However, conceptual issues relating to assessment of CEA limit the conclusions that can be drawn from the literature. The aim of this review was to identify and evaluate studies reporting an association between childhood experiences of caregiver antipathy (i.e. criticism, hostility, coldness, or rejection from a parental figure experienced prior to age 17 years) and psychosis symptoms/diagnosis.

METHODS: Five databases were systematically searched for articles published until May 2020. Studies were evaluated against inclusion/exclusion criteria, and a narrative synthesis of findings was completed. Study quality was assessed by two independent raters.

RESULTS: Fourteen studies comprised of 1,848 participants met inclusion criteria. Twelve of these studies found significant associations between caregiver antipathy and psychosis, and two did not. There was evidence that adults with schizophrenia-spectrum diagnoses report more severe caregiver antipathy in childhood than non-clinical controls and that caregiver antipathy severity is positively correlated with psychosis symptom severity. Most studies received weak or moderate quality ratings and all used cross-sectional or case-control designs which showed associations, rather than causal relationships, between childhood caregiver antipathy and later psychosis.

CONCLUSIONS: Future research would benefit from more rigorous and valid assessment of CEA, use of multivariate methods to account for possible patterns of co-occurrence, and longitudinal study designs to make more robust causal claims. The findings may have important implications for the delivery of psychological care for people with psychosis who report adverse caregiving experiences.

PRACTITIONER POINTS: People with schizophrenia-spectrum diagnoses may report more severe caregiver antipathy in childhood than non-clinical controls. Caregiver antipathy severity appears to be positively correlated with psychosis symptom severity in clinical and non-clinical populations. Clinicians should consider the possible impact of caregiver antipathy on psychosis symptoms, their content and distress maintenance. Clinicians should also recognise the potential impact of adverse caregiving experiences on therapeutic relationships, patterns of help-seeking and service engagement. Best practice in clinical services would be to adopt individual, formulation-based approaches within trauma-informed models of care.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)798-821
Number of pages24
JournalPsychology and Psychotherapy: Theory, Research and Practice
Issue number3
Early online date17 Feb 2021
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2021


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