Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Play the ball as it lies

This is my last post before taking the month of August off. I am at a crossroads as to the direction of my blog. I hope that my time away will provide fresh insight or else help me to realize that my blog has served its purpose and it's time to close. Comments and suggestions are most welcome. I read and answer every e-mail.

A reader has asked me what I think the cause is of Chris's problems. I answered "me"! I am only being partly facetious when I say this. While there are probably many reasons for why Chris is the way he is, I do think that mental illnesses (in fact other illnesses, too) grow out of the family story. As painful as it is, I feel that self-examination is important to appreciate larger truths. Another way of looking at is that "the apple doesn't fall far from the tree". This to me is a comforting thought. It says that Chris's problems are not insurmountable, in fact, they are understandable in the family context.

Too many of us turn our problems over to institutions and seek medical answers when we could put more of the onus on ourselves to seek answers and to provide solutions. Nobody will ever care about your relative the way you do, or the way you should. Many readers will object to this last statement, citing personal circumstances, dual diagnoses and the impossibility of living with someone with a mental illness.

What I have noticed, is that Chris wants to be with his family. His behavior at home has, on occasion, tested our patience beyond all belief, but sending him away is only a temporary solution. While he is away is a chance for us to get our own house in order. The street is not an option for us, no matter how tempting it is in our worst moments. The loneliness of those diagnosed with a mental illness only intensifies when separated from the family. Sure, I can visit Chris every day in the hospital, but it's not the same.

What is missing in the mental health system, no matter where you live, is empowerment, helping patients and families to help themselves get better. If the customer is always right, then why isn't the patient, or the involved family member, by extension, always right? If, for example, a person does not want to take medications, then shouldn't this be an indication that some other solution should be sought? When families can't cope with the patient at home, then why aren't there affordable, short term, drug free treatment options to allow a needed time-out? Mainstream medicine is not very consumer oriented when it comes to allowing people to choose.

We do not play the ball as it lies when it comes to treating mental illness. Many people who have been labelled mentally ill are creative. They are inclined to art and music. Yet, the solutions we impose on them are scientific. We give them meds and talk about their biochemical imbalances, as if they are laboratory animals. Could they be telling us that the solutions to their problems (our problems) lie in the realm of art and music if we would only speak their language?


  1. We have corresponded in the past. Be it known I don't really like you. I do however feel compassion for both you and Chris. Your determination and perseverance needs to be acknowledged and if you do not give up you will help guide Chris to full recovery. I have followed your blog and I agree with many of your observations. I do however believe that you have varnished over the potential benefits of effective psychotherapy. I have worked with Jack Rosberg in the recovery of my son with great progress. He has been working several months, is returning to post secondary education next month and suffers no symptoms and is drug free.

    Jack and I agree that psychotherapy for schizophrenia can be administered by trained family members. I took the task on with my son. At Jack's request I have authored a paper that is posted on his web site and I invite you to explore it. In the paper I am both the father and the psychotherapist. Explore Jack's website in depth. You will find some interesting articles there. If you have any questions feel free to put them forward. The link to the article follows:

  2. The reason tht I haven't highlighted the importance of psychotherapy is simply because Chris currently sees his psychotherapist two times a week and I do not. Whatever goes on behind closed doors I am not privy to. I can't write about what I don't know. In my blog I discussed our Family Constellations Sessions, which are cathartic. I also linked Chris's social recovery to our participation in these sessions. There could be many explanations as to why Chris achieved social breakthrough so I am not going to pin it on only one intervention. That's just me. You obviously feel that Direct Confrontation Therapy did it for your son, so that's great.
    Where we do agree, and we agree on many things, is that schizophrenia has its roots in the family story. It is not a weird "disease" that comes out of nowhere, as many would have you think. It is an understandable human coping mechanism for people who care enough to "get inside it". I have cared enough to get inside it, and I see Chris as someone who did not know how to express his feelings. It is very scary for him to feel regular emotions, so he goes about it another way. I find this understandable and I don't want to single him out as being the one who has a "problem". He is "us".

  3. I agree with your comment about artistic ability in people with mental disorders. I think there is really little hope for the mentally ill as long as they are directed to modern psychiatric institutions for help. From my experience as a friend of several mentally ill people, I would agree that it seems as if they don't speak the same language, doctors & patients. Also, I've heard from several people that there is the additional problem of patients with various different mental problems being lumped together, which I think exacerbates this problem and brings about the legitimation of such bunk psycho-language theories, such as "schizophrenic soup". Artistic expression can be extremely beneficial for people with mental disorders. I have a close friend (a musician) who was diagnosed with schizophrenia 7 years ago, he has only been institutionalized once in the past 5 years, due not to an episode, but to a crazy roommate calling the baker boys, coincidentelly... he swears that if he didnt have music, he would have lost it years ago. Granted, this individual is surrounded by supportive friends and family, which I think has a lot to do with his success in achieving independence from institutional, or really any organized care... but the empowerment you talked about in this article that is oftentimes denied to people with mental disorders, and I think exacerbates the problems ... I fully believe can be harnessed through creative expression for many suffering individuals. It is simply another way of communicating.

    And I don't think you should stop blogging...there is so little information out there about holistic care for schizophrenia... I enjoy your comments & hope to see many of your ideas (I share many) taken seriously by the psychiatric community in the future.

  4. Also, I noticed your quote by sullivan below the picture up there... you may be familiar, but i recently read a book of essays by him, "schizophrenia as a human process"... he gives me hope for the care of this special population...

  5. I am planning to post a blog in Sept. where I list Sullivan among the Pantheon of Great Psychiatrists.
    Wish there were more like him. Where are these great and humane thinkers today?


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