Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Schizophrenia for Dummies

While vacationing in Florida last week, I dropped into a Barnes & Noble and headed straight to the psychology and body/mind/spirit section where the bright yellow and black cover of Schizophrenia for Dummies immediately caught my eye. Flipping through it convinced me that the title is, indeed, correct. This book is for dummies, or at least will not further your ability to overcome schizophrenia if you buy what it is selling.

To begin with, the cover invites the reader to "learn to help their loved one live a happier, more productive life." How patronizing. Note that there is no mention of the person with schizophrenia learning to help him/herself take charge of their own life. Using the term your loved one when it comes to schizophrenia may at times be necessary but it has the chill of a body on ice.

The inside of the book subtly reinforces the idea that your relative is, and will continue to be, dead/managed/dependent. The authors, Irene Levine, Ph.D. and Jerome Levine, M.D. are profoundly indebted, of course, to members of NAMI. The book trots out the usual stuff about myth busting such as the myth of split personality, the myth that people with schizophrenia are violent, the myth that bad parenting is the cause. All of these so-called myths have a basis that is conveniently forgotten these days.

There is a cartoon towards the end of the book that sums up the bias of the NAMI-indebted authors towards instilling a take charge of your own life perspective. An aging father is talking to his son in the son's bedroom. Why don't we talk to your doctor about adjusting your medication, and then see about building that underground railroad to all your friends' homes. Humor is needed, but the message is not encouraging. Dependent aging child, aging parent. How long is that child/man going to be living at home in the same bedroom he grew up in? The cartoon inadvertently raises the question, if the medications are really all that effective, as the father seems to believe, how come the kid is still delusional?


  1. "All of these so-called myths have a basis in fact that is conveniently forgotten these days."

    What facts? This is the problem I have with "schizophrenia". The hypothesis and postulations that people advance, including the so called medical professionals, are plucked out of their arses. There are no facts, only myths. For thousands of years people believed that the earth was flat and this belief was not presented as a theory. It was presented as fact. It was a fact only because a critical mass believed it to be so. One would have thought that when the facts were presented that people would have quickly changed their belief. They didn't and when they finally did we might ask did it really make that much difference? Perhaps only for those who were frightened about falling off the edge of the earth.

  2. I have to write quickly, so I am amending the sentence to say "have a basis". These myth busters have been bandied around so long they have lost any connection to what was actually observed originally. Stereotypes also are not fact, but they are remarked on in sufficiently large numbers to form a basis in the belief system. My belief system says that yes, the parents, being part of the family environment, have a role in the development of schizophrenia. I also believe that the personality looks "split" in bipolar. Isn't mania/depression a kind of split? And, when someone is floridly psychotic it is prudent to lock up any sharp utensils lying around the house. I believe all this based on observation. An uninitiated reader, on the other hand, by reading myth busters, might get the idea that things are the opposite of the way they often are. So, even the myths need to be deconstructed to get to a better understanding of what schizophrenia is and isn't.

  3. You have a good point here, Rossa. I haven't thought about it in this way before. Probably it would be much better to tell people what the split is all about, instead of just saying it's not the same as in DID, that in fact every human being who interacts/communicates with others has a responsibility towards these others, especially when the others are in one way or the other dependent on the first like children are on their parents, and that people who are in a very vulnerable state of mind indeed easily can feel threatened, and consequently feel the need to defend themselves, and that, unless you know these people's life story almost better than they do themselves, you have little chance to know what exactly might trigger their defence mechanisms, so you better be utterly respectful (sic!) and careful.

    On the other hand, that information might contribute to some more real understanding of the problem. So, it's hardly suitable for a book titled "Schizophrenia for Dummies".

    Btw: Lock up any sharp utensils, yes. Unless you know every second what's going on, and have the possibility to keep the situation under control, no matter what. Like at Soteria House. Or like in the story my therapist told me about a client of hers who was afraid he'd have to stab her if ever he came near a knife during therapy sessions. For the next many sessions she placed a knife on the table between him and her.

  4. I admire that therapist. Amazing anecdote. Question: What is DID?

  5. Dissociative Identity.

    It's another of the labels which is changing in the next edition (of the grey book).

    Sometimes people have co-consciousness.

    Mad Bad and Sad quoted someone who said, "It is not having more than one personality [which is the problem]. It is having less than one personality".

  6. Thanks for the DID explanation. It makes sense to me the part about less than one personality. That's what I have observed with SZ, the fading away of a personality that was tenuous to begin with. Fashioning a new and stronger personality over time comes with pain and insight.

  7. Rossa: What maybe makes it even more admirable is that my therapist's ability to walk is severely impaired (due to MD), so she wouldn't have had a chance to get away, or defend herself efficiently.

    Well, what she did, placing the knife on the table, was telling her client that he had a choice, that it was his responsibility. She did the same when she refrained from committing me although I was "a danger to self". The only right thing to do. It's the only way how you can make people not just understand but actually experience that they indeed have the freedom and capacity to make their own choices, and take responsibility for themselves. You actually put them in charge of their own lives - instead of reiterating empty phrases about the importance of people being in charge of their own lives without ever giving them the actual opportunity to really be. Of course, there's a risk included. But it's like Mosher said: "Risks are part of the territory; if you don't take chances nothing ever happens." I think, that applies to life in general, not only the territory of crisis.

    Probably the biggest risk is that people might feel threatened, in a more acute and direct fashion than for instance a voice that tells them to harm/kill someone. But such a situation isn't likely to arise unless you react with fear and an attempt to (forcibly) control the person in question... It's indeed a vicious circle, or spiral, where fear and aggression continuously are reinforced by each individual's reaction to the other. It should be the professional's task to break that circle, instead of contributing his/her share to make fear and aggression escalate.

    DID stands for "Dissociative Identity Disorder" aka "Multiple Personality Disorder".

  8. When I hear about therapists like yours, I realize there are brave souls out there who are actually walking the walk, not just talking the talk.

  9. So-called ‘Schizophrenia’ is a process of .uncontrolled siritual emergence or ‘spiritual emergency’.(See psychiatrist Stanislav Grof)

    In fact so-called ‘schizophrenia’ is not a disease nor is it a hopeless condition. It is a brilliant condition which is the concern of the psychology of the transpersonal or spiritual dimension of human nature i.e. 'transpersonal psychology'. In this light schizophrenia is a personal 'story' of a natural and temporary self-healing and self-organising process involving the dissolution and removal of illusions and false beliefs which originate from social conditioning. In this sense schizophrenia is a transformative process, a crisis of transformation or ‘psychospiritual crisis’. Furthermore it can be understood as a part of the human condition and as a process which reveals information about the nature of the human psyche or ‘human nature’.


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