Childhood trauma, psychosis and schizophrenia: a literature review with theoretical and clinical implications


John Read, Department of Psychology, The University of Auckland, Private Bag 92019, Auckland, New Zealand.


Objective:  To review the research addressing the relationship of childhood trauma to psychosis and schizophrenia, and to discuss the theoretical and clinical implications.

Method:  Relevant studies and previous review papers were identified via computer literature searches.

Results:  Symptoms considered indicative of psychosis and schizophrenia, particularly hallucinations, are at least as strongly related to childhood abuse and neglect as many other mental health problems. Recent large-scale general population studies indicate the relationship is a causal one, with a dose-effect.

Conclusion:  Several psychological and biological mechanisms by which childhood trauma increases risk for psychosis merit attention. Integration of these different levels of analysis may stimulate a more genuinely integrated bio-psycho-social model of psychosis than currently prevails. Clinical implications include the need for staff training in asking about abuse and the need to offer appropriate psychosocial treatments to patients who have been abused or neglected as children. Prevention issues are also identified.