Recovery From ‘Psychosis’

In making sense of what has been deemed as ‘psychosis’ it is essential that we see so called symptoms as profoundly meaningful attempts to survive overwhelming and distressing life experiences.  There is inherent meaning in madness which is inextricably bound up in unresolved, traumatic experiences. These meanings may be communicated in a number of highly symbolic, metaphorical and literal ways and need to be untangled, teased out and examined within the context of the person’s life history. Each voice is an echo of the person’s experience so an attitude of curiosity, understanding and compassion towards all voices is the best stance as it will encourage and support internal communication and ultimately, self acceptance.

This work demands seeing the world and human experience in new ways including an understanding that reality is shaped by experience. This, combined with a willingness to view life through the lens of the person’s subjective experience enables the co-creation of a shared meaning to emerge, deepening mutual understanding and leading to increasing acceptance of self and other.  To support and nurture healing from ‘psychosis’, faith in the possibility of recovery is vital.

The Tale of An Ordinary Little Girl

Psychosis Journal CoverThe Tale of an Ordinary Little Girl won the 2010 Award for Best Paper in the Second Volume of Psychosis (Category B: Experienced-based articles).

Hearing voices, self-harm, eating “disorders” and dissociation, when viewed objectively, are frequently classified as symptoms of serious mental illnesses and disordered personalities that require treatment, eradication and cure.

This convenient societal solution to the complex problem of endemic childhood abuse requires that victims of abuse endure further insult to injury and become the problem to be dealt with.

By tracing the roots of so-called “symptoms” back to their origins in traumatic childhood events and having the courage to bear witness to painful truths, a more accurate, humane and respectful picture emerges which reframes “symptoms” as essential survival techniques.

The mark of a responsible society and responsive services is the willingness to share collective responsibility for these experiences, to honour them, support them and learn from them at all levels.

Living With Voices: An Anthology of 50 Voice Hearers Stories of Recovery

Living With Voices Book CoverA new analysis of the hearing voices experience outside the illness model resulted in accepting and making sense of voices. This study of 50 stories forms the evidence for this successful new approach to working with voice hearers.

At the heart of this book are the stories of fifty people who have recovered from the distress of hearing voices. They have overcome the disabling social and psychiatric attitudes towards voice hearing and have also fought with themselves to accept and make sense of the voices. They have changed their relationship with their voices in order to reclaim their lives.

All the people in this book describe their recovery; how they now accept their voices as personal, and how they have learnt to cope with them and have changed their relationship with them. They have discovered that their voices are not a sign of madness but a reaction to problems in their lives that they couldn’t cope with, and they have found that there is a relationship between the voices and their life history, that the voices talk about problems that they haven’t dealt with – and that they therefore make sense.

Schizophrenia at the Tipping Point

It is time for change, argue Paul Hammersley and colleagues. Now is the moment to abandon conceptions of schizophrenia that are outdated and which do nothing to help people burdened with a diagnosis.

Childhood Trauma & Psychosis: The genie is out of the bottle

After one hundred years of denial and ignorance, it was finally accepted 20 years ago that sexual, physical, and emotional abuse of children, along with neglect, was a genuine and common phenomenon with potentially devastating long term consequences for the mental health of the survivors.

Until recently, there has been one exception to this rule. Sufferers of psychotic experiences were excluded. Their distress was caused predominantly by genetics or biology, or so they were told. Recent research has shown this to be a fallacy. Some of the recent studies even suggest that psychosis is the diagnostic category most likely to have experienced severe childhood trauma.

This paper summarizes the historical context and offers a preacutecis of the most important recent research findings. In keeping with the ethos of this journal we offer a case study to illustrate the effectiveness of psychotherapy for trauma survivors with psychosis. We end with an appeal to collaborate with the users movement to take this agenda forward.

Bad Science

The CASL campaign is driven by two central factors:

  • The concept of schizophrenia is unscientific and has outlived any usefulness it may once have claimed.
  • The label schizophrenia is extremely damaging to those to whom it is applied.

 The idea that schizophrenia can be viewed as a specific, genetically determined, biologically driven brain disease has been based on bad science and social control since its inception. English scientists have proven that the concept of schizophrenia is invalid. Indeed, few scientists represent themselves as happy with the illness model, and increasingly it is only seen to serve the interests of the pharmaceutical industry’s voracious appetite for control of human experience. It is also harmful because the diagnostic process makes it impossible to make sense of the problems that lie at the root of people’s distress. The scandal is that in the 21st century intelligent human beings are deemed to be ‘lacking insight’ for questioning a label proven to lack scientific validity.

CASL – The Campaign to Abolish the Schizophrenia Label

There have been many historical examples of medical diagnoses that took on different meanings in everyday life to the originally intended  scientific meaning, and as a result were abandoned by psychiatry, psychology and society. The words cretin, moron and idiot were all once formal medical diagnoses.

We believe that the diagnosis of schizophrenia has followed such a pathway and needs to be abolished as a matter of urgency. To describe someone as schizophrenic tells us nothing about them as an individual, and nothing about possible pathways to recovery. Rather, to diagnose someone as schizophrenic carries implications of split personality, hopelessness and in particular unpredictability and dangerousness. Schizophrenia is not a diagnosis it is a term of abuse.

Survival Techniques

Being proud of my experiences and being able to share them with others, challenges the stigma of having what are considered to be mental health problems, and means becoming a part of a collective voice to improve mental health services for all. This is both empowering and liberating, in itself.