The purpose of this overview is to appraise the studies on the efficacy and effectiveness of family interventions in decreasing relapse in schizophrenic patients. The studies were identified by means of a computerized MEDLINE search, and the scanning of review articles and the reference lists of the primary articles identified. More than 300 citations were reviewed, and the potentially relevant articles revealed six randomized controlled trials that were included in this meta-analysis. The criteria for selecting potential studies as well as for the meta-analysis were tested by means of an inter-rater reliability check that showed a good agreement between two independent raters (
K= 0·83, and K= 0·82, respectively). There were independent assessments of the quality of the studies selected, and data extraction comprised a descriptive information of the study population, the types of interventions, and the relevant outcome measurements. The total number of patients included in the six trials was 350 (181 in the control group and 169 in the experimental group). Regarding the decrease of relapse in the experimental group, the pooled odds ratios and their 95% confidence intervals were: 0·30 (0·06, 0·71) for six months; 0·22 (0·09, 0·37) for nine months; and 0·17 (0·10, 0·35) for the 2-year follow-up. Two to five patients needed to be treated to avert one episode of relapse in a nine-month follow-up. The changes in Expressed Emotion status between experimental and control group combining nine months and one year follow-ups were shown to be marginally significant ( P< 0·06), in favour of the experimental group. Emotional over-involvement was also marginally significant ( P< 0·07), and there was no statistical difference in the distribution of criticism and hostility. In addition, the experimental group showed a significant increase with drug compliance and a reduction in hospitalization over time. These findings are discussed in light of the potential ingredients in the efficacy of family interventions by focusing on the limitations of using relapse as primary outcome in the assessment of efficacy trials with schizophrenic patients.