Views of Schizophrenia
A simple internet search for the word reveals a profusion of definitions with similar typecasting; e.g. Schizophrenia is “a chronic, severe, and disabling brain disorder...” (NIMHa, 2007), or “a severe, lifelong brain disorder,” (Medline, 2007), or a “disease.”
The reader may perceive something approaching a unanimity of opinion on the idea; i.e., that since this “disease” involves the brain and these authorities have deemed it to be “lifelong,” it must ipso facto be something strictly biological. A host of inferences follow: “it’s all in the genes,” “you’re born with it,” “there’s something wrong with their brains,” “the poor parents,” “medicine can cure them, if only we can find the right medicine,” “there’s no hope,” etc..., etc...
This writer thinks most of these views are about as useful as earlier ideas that people with schizophrenic symptoms were guilty of witchcraft. At least the same National Institute of Mental Health Report listed above candidly admitted:
“…schizophrenia is believed to result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. All the tools of modern science are being used to search for the causes of this disorder.” NIMHb, 2007.
Nature or Nurture?
In fact, medical science has been looking for a biological cause for schizophrenia for close to a century and has yet to find one. Over that time, many announcements of such “findings” have been made – always accompanied by the greatest publicity, but none were proved to be verifiable.
Another curious fact of this “disease” is that people who have it sometimes spontaneously recover. How then is it a disease? Or a brain disorder? Or lifelong? It is a rare disease indeed where people spontaneously recover and where there is no known physical etiology.
What about the “environmental” factors mentioned; i.e., the family backgrounds of the people who develop schizophrenic symptoms?
Peter Breggin, M.D. (p. 103, et seq.; see generally, 1994) speaks of one of the seminal reports on schizophrenia in the history of psychiatry, the study of the Genain Quadruplets (all of whom had schizophrenic symptoms). He notes that the report of the study recites the potential “biological” evidence for schizophrenia in that case in almost inexhaustible detail – but somehow neglects to consider it noteworthy that the family life of the quadruplets included such horrors as having acid poured on their genitals.
John Modrow, did not suffer the same horrors as the Genain Quadruplets; but did endure a significant amount of craziness from his parents, which he describes throughout his outstanding book “How to Become a Schizophrenic.”
Modrow notes that:
“The claim that most schizophrenics come from perfectly normal families deserves careful consideration… (regarding a case study he presented earlier)… Although the parents in this family appeared to be very ordinary and sensible people, they were later found to be playing with their daughter’s mind, subjecting her to strange ‘telepathy experiments’… it took over a year of investigation to discover those parents’ bizarre behavior.”1995, pp. 205-206, emphasis original.
In spite of the extreme craziness of his own parents, Modrow still thinks of them as “basically decent and relatively normal” (1995, pp. 206); but also says:
“Had a psychiatrist examined my parents… he would have found… nothing strange or odd… Moreover, had that psychiatrist known my parents intimately for several years he probably would have retained his favorable opinion of them… However… there is no doubt in my mind that their behavior towards me was the major cause of my schizophrenic breakdown.”
Modern Psychoanalysis of the Schizophrenic Patient
It is no accident that the decisive text in modern psychoanalysis is entitled “Modern Psychoanalysis of the Schizophrenic Patient.” (Spotnitz, 1985). Though the theory and techniques in that book are equally applicable to all sorts of mental difficulties, Dr. Spotnitz arrived at those results through his groundbreaking work with schizophrenic patients.
Spotnitz (1985, p. 17) proceeded from the premise that “Regardless of etiology… there is no evidence that the condition is not completely reversible.”
“The operational concept follows: Schizophrenia is an organized mental situation, an intricately structured but psychologically unsuccessful defense against destructive behavior. Both aggressive and libidinal impulses figure in this organized situation… Obliteration of the object field of the mind and fragmentation of the ego are among the secondary consequences of the defense.”
Spotnitz, 1985, p. 57, emphasis original.
As to the “environmental” variables, Spotnitz says:
1985, p. 68, emphasis original.
“It is unnecessary to postulate that a particular type of relationship produced the infantile pattern. It may be in part innate and in part learned. Even in cases where it was taught by the mother, her attitude may not have been pathological; there may simply have been a disequilibrium between her emotional training and the infant’s impulsivity. The dynamics of the mother-child relationship are not uniform in these cases. More significant than whether the parent actually loved, hated, or was indifferent to her infant is the fact that the totality of his environment failed to meet his specific maturational needs…”
In this writer’s opinion, the techniques set forth in “Modern Psychoanalysis of the Schizophrenic Patient” work equally well with other mental difficulties because mental conditions have much in common – they are all part of the human condition.
One could even say that mental difficulties are normal; part of being human - the only question being whether we still function well in spite of our difficulties, or whether those difficulties have reached intolerable proportions, such as with the schizophrenic condition.
The Talking Cure
Many people will use Herculean efforts to appear normal, to distinguish themselves from those with problems, to split themselves off from the idea that they themselves might have any mental difficulties at all.
In spite of the efforts and protestations of these ordinary people, however, skilled observers may have little difficulty seeing the underlying troubles. And, if the troubles reach a stage where they seriously interfere with the individual’s ability to love, work, or play it may be time to seek help.
When we speak of the physical illnesses we tend to think of cure as involving the complete eradication of anything relating to the condition, Not so with mental conditions – in those cases, the cure consists of placing the individual in a position where he or she can love, work and play without serious hindrance – where they can be productive and enjoy life.
The particular weakness of the individual is not likely to be completely eradicated. If a person tends to display in a phobic, or an obsessive-compulsive, or a schizophrenic, or any other way, they could have some resort to their characteristic mechanisms even after being cured. After all, we do not cure people from being human; nor do we seek to.
But, the person who has been competently treated by a modern psychoanalyst will be able to enjoy the whole range of human feelings and action available to the best of us.
Breggin, P. (1994). Toxic Psychiatry, New York, St. Martin's Press.
Medline. (May 24, 2007). Service of the U.S. National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health, online at http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/schizophrenia.html
Modrow, J. (1995). How to Become a Schizophrenic, Everett, Wash., Apollyon Press.
NIMHa, (March 1, 2007). “Schizophrenia,” National Institute of Mental Health, online at http://www.nimh.nih.gov/healthinformation/schizophreniamenu.cfm
NIMHb, (Jan. 24, 2007). “What Causes Schizophrenia?” National Institute of Mental Health, online at http://www.nimh.nih.gov/publicat/schizoph.cfm#symptoms
Spotnitz, H. (1985). Modern Psychoanalysis of the Schizophrenic Patient: Theory of the Technique, Second Edition, New York, Human Sciences Press.
© 2007, James G. Fennessy, M.A., J.D.
Matawan, New Jersey 07747