Cure is Possible

Schizophrenia is not a disease, not a mental illness, not an incurable condition!  Whether it is psychiatrists or other mental health professionals or Schizophrenia Ireland or the American Psychiatric Association who claim that schizophrenia is a mental illness and is either hereditary or biological or biochemical in nature, there is no evidence to back up such an assertion.  Nevertheless, this medical perspective continues to hold sway even though the major psychotropic drugs used cause more problems to the individuals labelled schizophrenic than the problems they presented with in the first place.  Psychiatrists and general practitioners minimise the side-effects of these drugs; but the experience of those who take them are that the dire effects are way beyond being ‘side issues.’  The most common effects are considerable weight gain, loss of energy and concentration, tumours, muscle spasms and loss of libido.  Central to quality of life is physical energy, job opportunities, social possibilities, intimacy, high self-esteem, involvement in athletics and sports activities.  People labelled schizophrenic and suffering the disabling side-effects of the prescribed drugs are not even remotely in the ballpark of being able to pursue any of the above listed activities.  In spite of this sad reality, the treatment of schizophrenia typically excludes psychotherapeutic intervention, family therapy, peer support, education and career development.

The possibility of a change in the helping of individuals who are paranoid or delusional or hallucinating is The Talking About Choice study published last week.  The study highlighted many of the issues raised above and pointed out that the medical treatment of schizophrenia only exacerbates the often presenting situation of these labelled people feeling that they have lost control of their lives.  In other words, rather than helping people to understand their symptoms and to gradually regain control of their lives, medicating them takes even more control away from them.  Whilst the report highlights the urgent need for people in such distress to be given a choice of treatment approaches and to be informed fully of the direct (not side) effects of drugs, I was alarmed that the Director of Schizophrenia Ireland believes ‘a cure is not possible.’  This fatalism has no bases.  In my own therapeutic work of twenty-five years, I have been privileged to help many individuals who had been labelled schizophrenic (not by me, need I say) to a recovery of self and a quality of living.  John Saunders, the director, said that ‘like diabetes. a cure isn’t possible.’  The reality is that you cannot compare schizophrenia to a physical illness, because it is not an illness.  The symptoms of schizophrenia are an individual’s meaningful and powerful responses to problems in living; it is vital that these symptoms are not flown in vain.  However, it would appear from the results of the study that this is precisely what happens.  Furthermore, medication is not a treatment; it is purely an attempt to reduce symptoms, the very symptoms that are crying out for a dynamic understanding and recovery programme!

What truly puzzles me is that mental health care professionals, who adhere to the medical model, will admit that there is no single cause of schizophrenia.  If that is so, how can they have the arrogance to suggest there is no cure?  In fact, there are over thirty possible causes quoted in the literature.  My own experience is that each person’s distress has a unique source, a unique meaning and needs a unique response.  Put another way, each person who comes for help needs a different therapy.  I believe that it is only when we work with the unique biographical story of the person’s life can we truly understand the meaning of the chronic symptoms presenting and the uniquely tailored therapeutic response required.  John Saunders rightly claims that ‘medication won’t lead to recovery’ and insists that a programme of care should involve psychological interventions, counselling, peer support, education and help from voluntary organisations.  Whilst I welcome these recommendations, I have to wonder what effect does John Saunders think that these will have if he believes ‘no cure is possible?’

It is now reckoned that there are up to 42,000 individuals who exhibit schizophrenic type symptoms.  This huge group of persons deserve to be provided with a dynamic response that not only gives hope but a uniquely designed recovery track.  The knowledge and skills are there, but is the willingness there?

Dr. Tony Humphreys is a clinical psychologist and author of The Power of ‘Negative’ Thinking.