According to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, 4.7% of county residents are at risk for serious mental illness. Psychologist Paris Williams, PhD, a practicing psychologist in the San Francisco Bay Area, offers the rare perspective of someone who has experienced psychosis from both sides—as a researcher and psychologist, and as someone who has himself fully recovered after struggling with psychotic experiences. He has come to a surprising conclusion: full recovery from schizophrenia and other related psychotic disorders is surprisingly common; furthermore, the mainstream treatment of these disorders may be seriously reducing the likelihood of such recovery. He explains, “It is really quite tragic that the myth of no recovery continues essentially unimpeded, since there is a path to recovery available.”
Dr. Williams’ new book, Rethinking Madness,” delivers a highly engaging journey of discovery, exploring how the mainstream understanding of schizophrenia has become so profoundly misguided while seeking a more accurate and beneficial understanding. Beginning with a compelling summary of over a century of research on schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders, we arrive at some deeply unsettling conclusions:
- After more than 100 years and billions of dollars spent on research looking for schizophrenia and other related psychotic disorders in the brain, we still have not found any substantial evidence that these disorders are actually caused by a brain disease.
- We discover that those diagnosed in the United States and other “developed” nations are much less likely to recover than those in the poorest countries of the world; furthermore, those diagnosed with a psychotic disorder in the West today may fare even worse than those so diagnosed over 100 years ago.
- We learn that the long-term use of antipsychotics and the mainstream psychiatric paradigm of care is likely to be causing significantly more harm than benefit, greatly increasing the likelihood that a transient psychotic episode will harden into a chronic psychotic condition.
Dr. Williams grapples with the implications of these findings while introducing us to the findings of his own research on people who have fully recovered from these disorders. By weaving these new findings and the very rich stories of his participants into the existing literature, we discover the emergence of a surprisingly clear and coherent vision of the psychotic process, one that is very different than the mainstream understanding of psychosis, and one that is far more hopeful.
One particularly intriguing finding that has emerged from his research is that many people who recover from these disorders do not merely return to their pre-psychotic condition, but often undergo a profound positive transformation resulting in a significantly increased sense of wellbeing and ability to meet their needs than that which existed prior to the psychosis.
A second important finding of Dr. Williams’ research is the discovery of several factors that appear to have been of particular importance in the recovery process for all of his participants:
- Developing hope in the possibility of real recovery: In order to even begin the journey towards real recovery, every participant expressed the importance of coming to believe that such recovery is actually possible. And in order to do this, they each had to extract themselves from the intense hopelessness generated by the toxic (and untrue) belief that such recovery isn’t possible — a belief that they all reported was forced upon them (quite heavily handed in some cases) as part of the mental health treatment that they had received.
- Rejecting the belief that they have a degenerative brain disease: Every participant went through a process of developing a more hopeful understanding of their psychotic experiences, generally coming to see their psychosis as a natural though very risky and haphazard process initiated by their psyche in an attempt to cope and/or heal from a way of being in the world that was simply no longer sustainable for them.
- Cultivating a life worth living: All participants expressed how important it was for them to connect with meaningful goals and activities that made their life worth living—that provided them with some motivation to greet each new day with open arms and to channel their energy productively. And they all expressed having to overcome significant inhibition to this factor coming from the mainstream treatment they had received, which typically included strong motivation-inhibiting drugs (antipsychotics in particular) and the advice to generally lay low and avoid stress at all costs.
- Connecting with their aliveness: All participants reported how important it was for them to connect more deeply with themselves—particularly with their feelings, needs, and sense of self agency. And again, they all reported finding significant hindrance to this factor coming from the mainstream treatment they had received—both from the inner conflicts arising from the belief of having a diseased brain as well as from the serious aliveness-dampening psychiatric drugs they were on.
- Dealing with their relationships: All participants expressed the importance of healing and/or distancing themselves from unhealthy relationships and cultivating healthy ones. They all felt that unhealthy relationships played a significant role in their having developed psychosis in the first place, so this kind of work was extremely important. A number of them expressed gratitude to a therapist or friend who supported them in this process.
Rethinking Madness (Sky’s Edge Publishing) is available through Amazon.com and most other major retail outlets. More information is available at this link.