Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The God particle gets going

As of yesterday, the Large Hadron Collider is up again and running at CERN*, albeit at a more modest pace than originally planned. Quantum physics geeks have something to celebrate - the smashing of the subatomic particles is expected to yield further insights into the origins of the Universe.

CERN’s Director of Research Sergio Bertulocci said “This opens the door to a totally new era of discovery. It is a step into the unknown where we will find things we thought were there and perhaps things we didn't know existed”.

*The European Centre for Nuclear Research


In the interests of distancing Chris and his parents from becoming permanent patients of the mental health industry, I am in discussions with Dr. Stern to reduce not only the medications but also the number of psychiatrists that Chris sees. Dr. Stern seems open to drop one of the two medications, and would also be willing to oversee the process herself, rather than have Chris continue with Dr. XXX for the med monitoring. This two doctor arrangement was suggested by the staff psychiatrist when Chris left the hospital last May so that Dr. Stern would be free to concentrate on the head shrinking.

All this sounds reasonable, to me at least. It remains to be seen whether Ian will buy it. Ian has fresh memories of Chris's downward spiral when he was off the meds briefly and is in no mood to jeopardize his own ability to wake up every day and go to work.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Little Angels

Little Angels is a BBC reality program about parenting, where a psychologist is called in to help the parents learn some techniques to cope with an out-of-control child. Like many BBC shows (Life's Laundry comes to mind), it pulls no punches. It is horribly painful to watch. You can only feel smug for so long that these parents are clueless before it begins to dawn on you that you have been there yourself in some way or other.

Single mothers and absent fathers abound on the show. This is Britain after all. However, it is not just limited to the usual suspects. Some of the parents are actually married!

I am not talking about little Peregrine having mere temper tantrums. I am talking about little Peregrine having major meltdowns, trashing the place, hitting his grandmother, kicking and biting and spitting, refusing to eat and tossing the plates on the floor. Little P. and Little Olivia run the show, they are monsters, but then it all begins to fit once the psychologist spends some time with the parents. Mother and father are ineffectual, to say the least, responding angrily when it is not called for, and failing to respond adequately when it is.

In other jurisdictions these tiny tykes run the risk of being put on antipsychotic medication, but thanks to the Mary Poppins swat team, instead, the parents are taught how to set limits, how to negotiate, etc.

That these children will grow up and develop psychosis, is anyone's guess. Prison is always a possibility, as is also what used to be called juvenile delinquency. Or, these children may be perfectly fine, despite the rotten parenting. What I am convinced of is that a Mary Poppins psychologist to teach young families how to parent is state money well spent.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Rope climbing

Chris's unwillingness to stretch himself may not be solely related to his taking low doses of meds, I am sad to report. I wish it were that simple. Time and experience has taught me that it is not.

It occurred to me after my long talk with Chris this evening, by which point I was becoming very discouraged by his lack of motivation, that he was also unwilling to stretch himself in the womb. You see, he arrived twenty-seven days overdue. He didn't even poke around a lot while he was in there. You may ask in this day and age, how can that happen? How can it be that he wasn't induced?

He wasn't induced because I felt nature should take its course and my doctor was okay with that. I couldn't imagine forcing a delivery if the baby wasn't ready. We monitored the situation with weekly stress tests at the hospital involving orange juice. Finally, something started happening, and it was a good thing because my obstetrician was just about to drag me in to the hospital. The doctor didn't take vacations as far as I knew (the Chinese tend to be workaholics), otherwise Chris would be a Sagittarian rather than a Capricorn.

Back to my point, which is actually on the topic of risk/reward. Chris is like a rat, who doesn't see cheese as an incentive to climb a rope. He didn't see it then, he doesn't see it now. Somewhere in between he got it. No longer. Current medications are partially responsible, but not entirely.

This is why early on I tried to convince Dr. Stern to refer Chris for other kinds of therapy in conjunction with what she is giving him. Up until now it has been perceived as unhelpful, and maybe disloyal. I have had to deal with Ian, who is against bringing in other therapists in deference to Dr. Stern. I would like to bring in someone to do past life regression, hypnosis, anything that could shed some light on the fetal situation. Chris needs an emotional cracking open which may take reaching back into the pre-birth environment to bring about.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Risk/reward and dopamine

Here is an e-mail I sent recently to Chris's psychiatrist, Dr. Stern. I based my concerns about the continued use of the meds on the dampening of dopamine levels to suppress anger and anxiety while simultaneously suppressing the risk/reward incentive.

Dear Dr. Stern,

The concerns I expressed about the medication suppressing the risk/reward incentive I think is very real. While Chris seems very stable in many ways, he lacks an enthusiasm and a willingness to stretch himself. I am puzzled why he is content to continue to audit one course at a time at university, rather than jump in for credit. Ian and I have not been pushing him in any way, just the opposite. We are letting things go along at the pace he wants to set. But, he is 26 now, and time is moving on. Leading a fuller life requires being willing to take some risks.

I don't want Chris to become a perpetual patient and that is a risk that is very real the longer he continues with the medication. Already, because of the Serdolect (a drug I never wanted him to take), he has to check in with his family doctor to have ECGs. This is keeping him a patient by adding new medical visits to his schedule. In one week recently he had two appointments with you, one with Dr. XXX, and one with Dr. YYY for the ECG. I am all in favor of the work you are doing with him and twice a week is fine as long as you feel that greater progress is being made, but I am not at all in favor of adding medical complexity of more doctors and unnecessary medical tests.

Dr. XXX is connected with a program that I wanted to extract Chris from because the program failed to deal with the root cause of psychosis, offering instead a biochemical view of mental illness that didn't help Chris for the two years that he was enrolled in the program. I feel that our wanting to meet with Dr. XXX and her chief threatens the program's established view of mental illness as biochemical. This view is rapidly becoming out-of-date due to many recent published articles and books that question the efficacy of medications to treat mental illness and that look once again at mental illness as a logical reaction to pain.

I am sharing my concerns with you because I think you share to some degree the points I am raising. I do not have confidence that Dr. XXX and her boss feel to the extent you do that there is a time limit to medication. I hope they prove me wrong. I have been thinking, but have not mentioned to Ian, if we could eventually trade Dr. XXX for a private psychiatrist to monitor the meds (and work with you to reduce/eliminate them when the time comes). I know that you don't want to be side-tracked by focusing on meds when you see Chris, and you like the idea of a second person to handle the meds. A private psychiatrist would be more open to working with the desires of the patient, instead of imposing the thinking of the institution on the patient. I have never met Dr. XXX, but know the program she is involved with.

These are my concerns which I thought I should share with you before we meet with Dr. XXX in the near future.

Best regards,

Rossa Forbes

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Cheap, effective and long-lasting

You don't need to spend a lot of money on new and different mental health therapies when there is one intervention that is guaranteed to work. This "secret" is not found in institutional programs nor is it promoted by mainstream mental health organizations, but it does work.

The institutional program that Chris was enrolled in for two years thought that as an institution it could replicate the secret, but it couldn't. An institution cannot do this. It tried to integrate the young people back into the community by giving them a reason to wake up every day, to interact with people their own age, to not become marginalized and excluded. It encouraged the "patients" to express themselves through art therapy, role playing, music and group therapy. I'm not saying these aren't worthy goals. It's just that this focus misses the real problem.

What it failed to grasp is that the constructs surrounding the defense mechanism of the individual are the result of the individual interacting with the familial environment, not the result of a biological disease nor of the schools he went or friends he has known. He is the way he is because of who he is is in relation to us. Exploring the different therapies that I have written about on this blog has made me understand the importance of emotional vibration. Emotional vibration begins in the womb.

So, the secret is very simple. The family (mother, father, close relatives) needs to accept the person as he or she is, not exclude him or her, value the person, empathize, sympathize, understand their own involvement in why this has happened, take steps to change, and give it time.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

People who are critical probably don't belong in support groups

If I wanted to bowl I'd join a bowling league. If I wanted to golf, I might join a golf club and read Golf magazine. If I wanted to meet more people with my interests while developing and improving my skills I could do any number of things. One thing I am not inclined to do is to join a support group for family members of people who are labelled somewhere on the mental health spectrum.

I thought it was a good idea once. It is what people are supposed to do, isn't it? You join these support groups and you learn to cope, hopefully you learn greater compassion for your relative, you meet other people in the same boat so you feel you are not alone.

I would not make a good support group member because I want my relative (a.k.a. my "son") to relinquish his label, not to embrace it. I don't want to perpetuate his problems, I want to help him get over them and get on with life. I'm willing to admit that I am part of his problems, and I'm working on that, too. My experience with attending what passed for a support group for families opened my eyes to the fact that support groups perpetuate illness, just like bowling groups perpetuate bowling. Except in the second case that's a positive, and in the first case, it's a negative. There used to be stigma surrounding mental illness. Stigma does serve one useful function and that is to make some patients and some families damn anxious to get rid of the problem. Acceptance of a condition that you believe is a biological illness doesn't have this galvanizing effect.

One thing most support groups do is tell you that medication is important to your functioning. There has been a whole slew of articles recently that medication prolongues depression and turn something episodic into something chronic. See this one from Beyond Meds. Schizophrenia is no different.

Oh, how I suffered whilst faithfully attending the support group. Everybody in the group was suffering. The mothers were tearful, the fathers were stoic. Everybody was scared. If I felt depressed, how was my son supposed to feel hearing his particular condition discussed so gravely and clinically? What was probably a coming of age crisis for him was turning very rapidly into something chronic and maybe even contagious, judging by the fact the room was full. The support group included several psychiatrists, nurses, social workers, psychologists and art therapists in addition to the stricken family members.

This kind of support group perpetutates suffering and turns the sufferer into a chronic patient. I never learned from the support group that all I had to do was to believe my son was well, to take some personal responsibility for the crisis and time would take care of things. The doctors seemed to be the people taking personal responsibility for the outcomes. All questions were funnelled through them, and of course, they dispensed the medications. It was always about the meds, never about how Chris and I could improve on the mistakes of the past.

I might want to join a support group that took an entirely different approach (buck up, you're fine, maybe you might want to consider exploring certain kinds of non-drug therapies, talk, really talk with each other) because the outcome would be to leave that episode in your life where it belongs - in the past.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Strange double standards

A top health website invited me to subscribe to other blog feeds on their site that share my interests. My interests are really only singular (schizophrenia) but I am willing to stretch myself so I included bipolar as a second interest.

The site then suggested some treatment options that might further interest me in both these categories.

Aside from a long list of nearly identical meds in each category, beginning with Abilify and ending with Zyprexa, the other "help" targeted to these pharmaceutically very similar conditions was interesting, or rather "telling."

In the complementary/alternative medicine category, bipolars apparently benefit from crying, holistic health, marijuana, meditation, music, pets, running and yoga while their identical twin, the schizophrenic, can only take advantage of music and pets!

Under the treatment program category, bipolars may benefit from not only psychotherapy, but cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavioral therapy and group therapy, while their "twin" only is thought to benefit from mere psychotherapy.

Apparently this website doesn't think that people with schizophrenia will benefit from diet and vitamin support, because they get zilch here, while their bipolar twin is thought to benefit from taking fish oil. Wow, fish oil!

Music and pets while ignoring everything else except drugs? Sounds like this website sees schizophrenia as hopeless and chronic.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Ego death

Strange, perplexing dreams last night. I started off in a swamp with other people, then moved further up the road to a very ordinary house, whose owners were allowing paid guests to view Christian themed tableaus acted out by their children. I didn't stay long enough to watch. I moved on to another interior where the owner ran some sort of volunteer, not-for-profit, talent agency/character search. We watched three groups of aspiring young women from behind the glass walls of the office. Her husband was hovering somewhere in the background, occasionally shouting out his approval of one character or another. I couldn't understand why my old friend from college wasn't considered worthy. The odd thing was, while I was dreaming, I felt that I had dreamed this dream before - the swamp sequence, the religious house, the talent agency.

In another dream later that night, I was driving my car along a frozen canal in a city where I used to live and the weight of the steamroller in front of me caused the ice to crack apart. I had enough warning and was determined to free myself from the seatbelt before my vehicle sank. I was floating above the vehicle at the time, looking down on it which gave me plenty of time to release the damn seatbelt before I landed safely on the embankment and the car sank below the ice. There was a press conference held on the embankment, but no one knew that someone (Me!) had survived the unfolding catastrophe on the canal.

I woke up, and lay there quietly. Then I heard a cat in heat, yeowling piteously like a new born baby crying in the night. I thought of Chris, and his first month of life, when my supply of milk was inadequate yet I was refusing to supplement. I was sure I could get it right and just needed a little more time. This logic was a reflection of the power of the "breast is best" thinking that was so widely promoted. It was almost considered poisoning your baby to think of introducing a Nestle's product into its developing immune system. So, I struggled on and Chris continue to yowl and not gain weight at the required rate. When I finally added bottled milk into his diet, he fell silent, a look of beatific joy on his face.

Walking to work this morning, I reflected on the intense conversation Chris and I had the evening before where he told me that he has no idea who he is. He had also been thinking a lot about the number three that day and noticing how it tied into many coincidences that he encountered. He didn't know what anything meant anymore, if it ever meant anything at all. I thought about my dream. It had three sequences (the swamp, the house and the talent agency). I recalled that I had "auditioned" once for the part of "receptionist" at the aptly named Three Characters Talent Agency and that there were three groups of people auditioning at my dream talent agency.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is holistic recovery from schizophrenia. I sometimes ask myself, even though it's all very interesting, are we getting anywhere? Are we knowing ourselves more or are we deluding ourselves into becoming bystanders in the game of life? I like to think Chris and I are getting somewhere, and that what we are experiencing is true healing, even if it doesn't come swiftly and has a habit of arriving disguised as something else.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

"Shudder" Island

Saturday evening Ian and I saw Shutter Island, the new Martin Scorsese film starring Leonardo DiCaprio. It is a film noir, set in a fictitious asylum for the criminally insane in Boston Harbor, 1954. People may dismiss the film as giving psychiatry and the insane the "Hollywood" treatment, and there is always some truth to that when it comes to Hollywood, but I feel the film goes deeper and makes some interesting observations. The film is about trauma and doesn't shy away from linking trauma to a later diagnosis of insanity.

So, Hollywood is there, but mainstream psychiatry continues to avoid linking trauma to insanity. It is nobody's "fault" they say except your faulty brain chemisty. Pushing the diseased brain model of psychiatry for decades has prevented people en masse from regaining their health and well-being by confronting their deepest pain. If you believe that movies are the vanguard of social change, then be prepared for a sea change in treatments for mental health. It's already evident in the number of books and articles taking the pharmaceutical industry and the medical profession to task for mental illness disease-mongering and drug treatments that are not only ineffective, but also ensure life long patients.

I am looking forward to reading Robert Whitaker's latest book, due to be released in April, Anatomy of an Epidemic: Magic Bullets, Psychiatric Drugs, and the Astonishing Rise of Mental Illness in America. Whitaker is the author of the highly acclaimed Mad in America.

A review of this book by Daniel Dorman, UCLA School of Medicine, posted on Amazon, exposes the growing link between recovery outcomes and long term use of drugs.

Why are so many more people disabled by mental illness than ever before? Why are those so diagnosed dying 10-25 years earlier than others? In Anatomy of an Epidemic investigative reporter Robert Whitaker cuts through flawed science, greed and outright lies to reveal that the drugs hailed as the cure for mental disorders instead worsen them over the long term. But Whitaker’s investigation also offers hope for the future: solid science backs nature’s way of healing our mental ills through time and human relationships.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Building of the Ego

Chris reports on his sound therapy progress

The past few weeks with sound therapy have been constructive, as we increasingly moved into the world of imagination. As the shaman says, “Sound is linked to memory”, and he's really helped me by letting me release tension, from the present as well as the past. I remember hearing Ray of Light by Madonna at the end of my last session, which really describes his therapy in a nutshell.

What we did this time was the same six-color palette played in sequence, and the shaman gave me a “keyword” associated with each color. They were:

red: opposites
orange: movement
yellow: action
green: distance
blue: sound
violet: form

I didn't know quite what to expect. A very interesting thing happened, which accelerated the time it took to achieve “zen” with the color therapy. Beginning with red (opposites), all the tension left me and I entered into a different space, a space that was not defined by my body but rather was defined by my “rational” mind, the part of me which had preferences and opinions. My mind was liberated, and while I did not enter into free fantasy or “lucid dreaming,” I was questioning things I took for granted, and how I defined most things against my body. At green and blue I was released completely from the present and concentrated on my memories, and I became aware of the life flowing in my limbs and the changes, I could see how my legs had become stronger but less flexible since I started treating the body like a machine.

Completing the session, for the second part the shaman gave two keywords or combinations, red (“opposites”) and each other color, eg. “opposites and distance.” Looking at each combination, you were forced to ask what is an opposite, and this freed me from judgment. I was always looking at how fast something moved, or how loud a sound was. With movement, I defined an upward motion versus a downward motion, but when it came to green (opposites and distance), things looked completely different. How far away is one person when talking to another person? What if you measure from one cell of the body to another, or one atom to another? Then the distance from one person to the next could be greater than “the length of a football field”. How you define your perspective is as important as the objective world you perceive. The issue of personal space: there is a limit somewhere between your body and someone else's, where you can share your feelings without becoming a slave to every little outside stimulus.

When it came to “opposites and form,” red and violet, I pictured myself in a building, and the contrast between my body and the naked structure of an apartment building, and I saw myself fall through the building from the top to below the ground. The shaman told me that often in psychology a building represents the human ego, so I found a connection between the ego (the building) and the body, and the way to transcend the ego (the confines of the building) was to shift my focus away from my body. There the session ended. I didn't especially enjoy being stuck in a building and was happy to keep my new awareness of the connections between my body and the physical world around me.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Palliative half-measures

My oldest "child" may be twenty-six years old and given a different label, but I share the same apprehensions as outlined by the New York Times article "Concocting a Cure for Kids with Issues."

My middle "child" Alex (age 23) has been seeing a dermatologist to get to the bottom of his fairly mild eczema. $1600 later and several doctors visits and lab tests later, he is no more aware of what the underlying problem is than when he started. I have suggested that he look into gem therapy, which I think has real healing possibilities and if that doesn't work, you move on to something else in your personally designed program for wellness.

The New York Times article says . . .
These parents often don’t trust the mental-health professionals who usually treat children with “issues,” as we euphemistically tend to refer to problems like learning disabilities, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, autism or other developmental difficulties. They find offensive the prospect of having a child “labeled” when his or her development doesn’t correspond to what seem like random, overly restrictive norms. They find the notion of putting children on psychotropic medication frightening and unacceptable. They want to find concrete causes for their children’s diffuse, often difficult-to-understand problems and, ideally, to find cures. They want their children to achieve, and they’re dissatisfied with what they feel are the palliative half-measures offered by pediatricians, psychiatrists, psychologists and learning specialists.

I like the use of the term "palliative half-measures." It summarizes my frustrations over the years with conventional approaches.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Hothouse flowers

A mesmerizing story about Japan's Chrysanthemum Throne hothouse appears today in the New York Times. As uniquely Japanese as the tale appears, what lies beneath is universal. Crown Princess Masako, who suffers from depression and is not often seen in public, now appears to have a daughter who may be showing early signs of nervousness.

Then there is the Washington Post story about Patrick Kennedy not seeking re-election for a ninth term. I give him credit for weathering the storm of the public eye for sixteen years despite having familial tendencies toward drink and manic-depression.

Kennedy says he intends to work for mental health and addiction issues from his home base of Portsmouth, Rhode Island. "As exciting and as meaningful as work is and as my career is, ultimately something clicked inside of me that there was something that was missing," Kennedy says. "I want a fuller life."

I wish him the best of luck. I can guarantee him a fuller life if he, for personal and professional reasons, decides to investigate the healing world of holistic mental health. He can also develop a reading list of the great inner life authors - Hermann Hesse, Kierkegaard, Neitsche, to name just a few. The Big Bang and energy medicine should be on the reading list, too. We are put here on earth to do more than simply cope with our problems. We can transform them.

"We grew up in a family where there was very little tolerance for self-exploration," says a cousin, Christopher Kennedy Lawford. "I think now he has this freedom . . . to do some real exploration of who he is and what he wants to do in his lifetime. That's a valiant exploration, and a needed one.

"Gandhi," he adds, "said the man who conquers himself is greater than the man who conquers 10,000 armies."

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Orgone energy

Actor Orson Bean's book, Me and the Orgone, about his experiences with orgone therapy under Dr. Elsworth Baker, is an interesting look at little known orgone therapy. My one disappointment with the book is that his therapy didn't involve the use of the orgone accumulator box that was so popular with beat generation writers and poets. According to J.D. Salinger's daughter, he used to sit for days at a stretch in the accumulator and drink his own urine. (Daughter obviously had "issues" with dear old Dad.)

Orgone therapy involves circulating the natural flow of energy around the body by pushing and pounding and pinching various places in the body to loosen the bodily armour (defense mechanisms) that build up due to life's traumas and layer like scar tissue. The body adapts, but is locked.

The trauma that Orson's Bean confided to in the book was how badly he felt when his parents got rid of his dog when he was about ten and that he never cried when his mother died. It was also obvious that he felt unfulfilled sexually and that was largely the reason behind his entering into orgone therapy. Three and a half years of orgone therapy once a week accomplished more than what ten years of psychoanalysis did for him. He felt released.

Orgone therapy involves the manipulation of what has come to be called putative (non-measurable) energy or chi. It can be consider a category of energy medicine and is cathartic in nature.

See also Psychiatric home remedies.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The relapse double standard

Trolling the Internet today for inspiration, here's yet another example of what I consider a double standard for how differently schizophrenia is viewed from other mental health issues when it comes to relapse. When someone with a diagnosis of schizophrenia relapses, cries go out that is is due to going off the drugs, which "everybody knows" someone with schizophrenia cannot do.

My point has always been that people will relapse if they haven't effectively dealt with their problems. Yes, I know it is also true that the drugs create problems so that withdrawing from them can lead to re-emergence of the symptoms, but that's not the point here I am making. Isn't it time that doctors attribute relapse in schizophrenia to the same reasons alcoholics, sex addicts or depressed people relapse?

Based on the addiction model, several sex addiction treatment centers have opened in recent years — including Pine Grove in Hattiesburg, Miss., where rumors have placed Woods. Twelve-step programs, often the foundation of substance abuse treatment, are a staple of such facilities.

But they may not reach far enough, Kafka said. Many patients with hypersexual behavior relapse after 12-step programs, he said, because they haven’t addressed other issues in their lives. He believes that certain moods or psychiatric conditions cause sexual behavior to become disinhibited and abnormal.

This insight is not shared by the medical professionals I have had to deal with, who insist that relapse is the inevitable result of simply not being on the medications.

The article in its entirety can be found here.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Where are the mothers?

Are there any mothers out there who are willing to share their pre-natal experiences with a child who later received a diagnosis of schizophrenia?

When I started blogging about my son's schizophrenia, I thought there might be other blogging mothers out there who were doing the same, but this doesn't appear to be the case. There are many mothers who blog about their child's autism, but where are the mothers who blog about schizophrenia? I am willing to widen my survey to include mothers of bipolar children (really, what's the difference?). Mothers of bipolar children also are in short supply in the blogosphere.

Mothers need to be here and to be heard in order to do the job that mainstream psychiatry is unwilling to do. That job is to dig back into our emotional memory bank, into the pre-natal environment, to begin to piece together our child/ourselves story.

I thought that my ten month silent pregnancy was hugely significant in Chris's later diagnosis, but the doctors were not at all interested. Not at all. So, I had to do the work myself, to piece together Chris's unique life in utero and why I believe that the life before birth is very important, not in a pathological sense, but in finding a reason for someone retreating from life into a fantasy world.

We all know that there was something unique about the experience, and I suggest that if we think about it, we can pinpoint some unusual things about the experience from conception through birth. The reason I am interested in hypnotherapy, for example, is exactly because it can delve into the hidden world of the womb and even past lives. Try suggesting adjunct treatment in hypnotherapy to your mainstream psychiatrist and see where that gets you. They don't want to go there. Most aren't trained to go there. You appreciate perhaps more than they do the importance of the pre-verbal life.

So, where are you or your friends who have a story to tell about what was unsual/strange/remarkable about the pre-natal experience?

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Satori system, post-traumatic stress and schizophrenia

The Financial Times copyright policy forbids distribution of this article by e-mail. You can google it using keywords Satori system, Financial Times and David Kaufman.

This privately developed technology is being used by the US military in veterans centers and in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is becoming widely available in US spas and the developers are partnering with Mental Health America to distribute 250,000 MP3 complimentary downloads to U.S. servicemen (emphasis, my own)

The Satori system uses alpha, theta and delta frequencies to induce relaxation by lowering brainwaves, lowering serotonin levels and bringing the body into a REM-like state. Lucid dreaming anyone?

The client winds down in a specially designed chaise longue type chair where vibrational energy is pumped in via headphones and four strategically placed transducers (which I suspect are located under the length of the chair and in contact with the body.)

I have written elsewhere (here, here, here and here) about Chris's encouraging experiences with the sound shaman, using a different sound therapy approach but having in common the use of vibrational energy and sound to heal. According to the FT article, the Satori system helps disable your innate "fight or flight" response.

All of this is wonderful, but why isn't Mental Health America making these downloads freely available to people with schizophrenia, their natural constituency? Come on, what's the difference between Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and schizophrenia? Dr. Loren Mosher said shell shock (PSTD) resembles schizophrenia but in PSTD it seems obvious where the stressors came from and in schizophrenia it is not so obvious. Okay, PSTD, like autism, is a hot topic, and schizophrenia, as usual, suffers from a dirth of outside the box thinking.

I will follow up with Mental Health America and see if not distributing the free downloads to their natural clients isn't just an oversight.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Medication - the low hanging fruit

There was a strange book review in the New York Times last week by Abigail Zuger. She managed to heap praise while smugly writing with a "didn't I tell you so" attitude on Judith Warner's new book, We've Got Issues; Children and Parents in the Age of Medication.

Strange because the reviewer took such obvious delight in Ms Warner's sadder but wiser girl perspective about how she naively thought that the overmedication of children was a fact, and gosh, six years later she couldn't find a parent out there who was thrilled about medicating her with drugs. This is news?

Dr. Zuger, an assistant medical professor at Columbia University, is entitled to her opinions, but she is unfortunately trying to present her opinions as medical truth. They are just opinions but will be construed as fact because she's a doctor. Treating troubled children is more than symptom management for a calmer classroom: the medications seem actually to change the structure of the brain, helping it develop in what all evidence indicates is the right direction. More children in treatment should spell the beginnings of a healthier adult world.

What? Dr. Zuger is equating treatment with drug taking, not with treating the underlying problem. The "changes the brain for the better" argument is dangerous thinking and has no scientific basis but it sure is promoted by pharmaceutical companies. They, together with medical professionals pushing the enhanced brain function, have turned college students on to the perceived benefits of self-medicating prescription drugs for the purposes of competitive advantage. (Mother's tip: Dr. Abram Hoffer's niacinimide remedy for schizophrenia gives you focus with side benefits, not side effects.)

More children in treatment will lead to even more children in unnecessary treatment as our college students have demonstrated. There is a "me, too" effect here, and who can blame them? Similarly, if I were a mother of a school age child and observed that all the other kids had this competitive advantage, I would be tempted to ask why should my child be denied this harmless drug that protects the brain and increases focus? That's discrimination, isn't it?

Dr. Zuger goes out of her way to paint a disparaging picture of naive but caring twits like me who think that young children's mental health should be managed in a different way. After all, almost nothing is known about the effects of antipsychotic medications on developing brains, reason enough to stay away from them. The effects on developed adult brains are pretty awful, the effectiveness of the medications are being widely questioned by science, and then there is the obesity problem. Why would we foist the same problems on children?

The answer to why we do this despite knowing the risks is found in the same article. There are only 7000 child psychiatrists in the United States. Lack of insurance and/or geographical access to psychiatrist means that most children will never see a psychiatrist, or else that one psychiatrist you do have access to is going be extremely overworked. Time, money and access being a problem, it's cheaper for psychiatry to go for the low hanging fruit. Medication is that low-hanging fruit.

I see it this way. Your child (or the child in you if you are an adult) is being sacrificed for the "easy" solution, which is always the cheap solution when society is looking for mass "fix-its." Mental health, unfortunately, does not lend itself well to one size fits all solutions. Increasing the number of child psychiatrists is a good idea if children and families are helped to find non-drug ways of dealing with their problems. (The job I naively thought psychiatrists were suppposed to be doing in the first place.) If it leads to a proportional increase in the number of children on psychiatric drugs, the potential benefit has been lost.

So, let's call medication what it is, which is a cheap intervention, but let's not pretend that it is something more noble than it is or that medication will somehow "protect the brain" when there are other therapies and ideas out there that work and which don't produce side-effects. The poorer you are, the better your chances that you'll be handed a drug and told to go away.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Rethinking relapse

For every psychiatrist and patient who thinks believes that schizophrenia is a chronic biological disease that causes people to invariably relapse because of their "disease" after discontinuing their medication I am thrilled to present the following excerpt from the recent New York Times magazine article, Depression's Upside

Consider a 2005 paper led by Steven Hollon, a psychologist at Vanderbilt University: he found that people on antidepressants had a 76 percent chance of relapse within a year when the drugs were discontinued. In contrast, patients given a form of cognitive talk therapy had a relapse rate of 31 percent. And Hollon’s data aren’t unusual: several studies found that patients treated with medication were approximately twice as likely to relapse as patients treated with cognitive behavior therapy. “The high relapse rate suggests that the drugs aren’t really solving anything,” Thomson says. “In fact, they seem to be interfering with the solution, so that patients are discouraged from dealing with their problems. We end up having to keep people on the drugs forever. It was as if these people have a bodily infection, and modern psychiatry is just treating their fever.”

I, too, relapsed the first time I tried to go off an antidepressant. I got back on the medication for a few months, rethought my exit strategy, looked further into homeopathic substitutes, and the next time I attempted to get off them, I was successful. For a while during this ordeal, I almost had myself convinced I was chronic. So what, then, is so special about coming off medications when the person is diagnosed with schizophrenia? The difference, I suspect, is stigma. Many doctors just can't get out of their heads the idea that schizophrenia is chronic and that medications prevent someone from relapsing. They are afraid of the lurking beast. Rather than revert to treating the patient with understanding and empathy, they pile on drugs to prevent the scarier aspects of psychosis from rearing their heads. The meaningful but hard work of psychiatry is avoided in favor of prescription writing.

Coming off schizophrenia drugs should involve exactly the same thinking that this study has shown. In other words, you analyze the situation, you add more non-drug therapies (like CBT or other therapies I write about in this blog) and you resist the conclusion that most doctors are only too willing to hand you, that people with schizophrenia will always need their drugs because they just can't function without them.

Relapse can mean that you are simply not there yet, that you haven't yet developed the coping strategies and the self-awareness that is needed for a steadier toe-hold on life. It doesn't mean that you are a chronic case. Relapse can occur while on the drugs or off the drugs but has a lot to do with your particular circumstances at the time. People often relapse witin a year of getting off their drugs. Relapse at this stage should not be attributed solely to the fact that the person is off the drugs. It is a dangerous connection to make. A far better way to look at it is to reason that maybe there are other things that you should be doing to develp your life coping skills, to make you more emotionally resilient. This is a strategy coming out of strength, not weakness. The weaker response is to succumb to the fear that there is nothing you can do to change, to admit that you are chronic and forever dependent on your drugs.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Alligators and humans

While in Florida Ian and I took an Everglades tour. I learned several odd and interesting things. One is that back in the 1980s one out of three adult males in Everglades City were involved in smuggling drugs from Colombia. Everglades City is tiny, more like a hamlet, but it does have an international airport (read Colombia-USA), as the guide cheerfully pointed out.

I learned that alligators are fresh water creatures, unlike crocodiles, which thrive in salt water. Florida has mainly alligators, but also a small number of crocodiles. According to our guide, an alligator stays under water a good deal of the time, but the soft membranes behind its eyes pick up vibrations through the water from the surrounding environment, enabling the alligator to sense what is on land. I began to wonder if the soft membrane in alligators heads are similar in function to the soft spots (fontanelles) in newborn humans.

Human fontanelles are known to serve two functions, to allow the baby's head to ease through the birth canal and for rapid brain growth during the first two years of life.

It seems reasonable (to me, at least) that there could also be a third function to human fontanelles, that of sensing the environment, just as alligator soft spots do. The implication would be that babies in utero and in their first two years of life pick up much of the information in their environment due to vibration. Remember that the human ear is fully formed by the fourth month of pregnancy and then of course, there is the umbilical cord shared with the mother which also picks up vibrations from the mother and the environment.

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?