The Hallucination in the Room


I recently read Rachel Waddingham’s excellent post (Me & the Meds: The Story of a Dysfunctional Relationship) on how she eventually managed to get off meds and take control of her hallucinations. This particular piece struck home with me because it illustrates that the biggest problem with the direction psychiatry has taken in the past fifty years is not the meds (acknowledging that meds are a big problem) but the refusal to deal with the obvious: Hallucinations. You don’t get a label of “schizophrenia,” which Thomas Szasz referred to as “The Sacred Symbol of Psychiatry,” unless you have some form of hallucination. Schizophrenia is the hallucination.

And how is psychiatry treating its sacred symbol of the hallucination? Through a habitual pattern of avoidance behavior. It uses the drugs to evade the personal responsibility of having to deal with nasty, frightening hallucinations. Hallucinations are the real problem holding most people with the label back from enjoying life to the fullest. Rachel Waddingham is a case in point. Like many people, she could get herself off the drugs, but she still had to contend with the hallucinations, which is why many people are chronic patients. The hallucinatory anxiety pre-exists the “need” for the drugs. It is always there, watching, waiting, ready to pounce when you think you are finally free.

Hallucinations are where psychiatrists abandon ship.

My thirty year old son is also a case in point. No matter how slowly and conscientiously he has tried to get off the medications, it’s the hallucinations that get him in the end. That is why he is, to my regret, still on a medication. His psychiatrist, a dedicated person who my son has been “dating” twice a week for about a bazillion years (to use Rachel’s “my chemical romance” analogy) can’t deal with the hallucinations. She hasn’t been trained to do so, and I suspect, she, like most psychiatrists, wouldn’t want to take on this enormous and life sucking task, otherwise she’d have chosen to be a social worker. To be fair to her, a few years ago she respected our request to not put “Chris” back on the meds. Six months later, my husband and I couldn’t deal with the psychosis any longer in our homemade Soteria, and back Chris went to the hospital, and back on the meds.

We could have used some help. The meds weren’t the problem since Chris wasn’t on them; the psychosis was the problem, the thing that psychiatry does its best to avoid at all costs by administering antipsychotics. Chris’s psychiatrist has done a great job of helping him grow, become a thoughtful, expressive person, and rebuild his confidence. All this matters for naught when, very occasionally he becomes floridly psychotic and begins to think he’s the Messiah. Everything she and he have painstakingly worked on goes flying out the window, making a mockery of the years of psychotherapy. Not knowing how to deal with hallucinations means that, in the blink of an eye, hard won classes, jobs, and relationships are in grave danger of being lost.

Learning to overcome the hallucinations without resorting to chemicals is where many people would like help. You can do all the trauma based therapy in the world, having many thoughtful discussions with your psychiatrist, but it’s the hallucinations that demarcate the zone between life long patient and functioning individual. What psychiatrist wants to take on this dirty job? It is far nicer to see tranquillized patients for fifty minutes during which you can discuss art and literature, childhood trauma, and make references in passing to the horror of hallucinations. These chats can stretch on for years without ever getting around to helping the person with what really scares him, the hallucinations. You need to have patients exhibiting hallucinations in order to address them, and psychiatry would prefer not to see them.

My son attended a two year hospital run day program and I vividly remember how the professionals on staff dealt with the subject of hallucinations: To avoid having the patients talk about them. Needless to say, that program is still thriving because not many are getting well. I guess that’s the point of the program (she cynically remarked).

It is interesting that Rachel was a manager of the London Hearing Voices Project while still on meds. This should lay to rest the criticism of some that Hearing Voices exists to part people from their meds. Later, despite the fact that she presumably knew all there was to know about how to manage her voices, the big test came when she had to go it alone without the help of her psychiatrist.

What, I repeat, does psychiatry exist for, if not to deal with the central tenet of the profession, the hallucination? I guess that’s the whole point: NOT to deal with it. Better to ensure a steady stream of patients!


Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.


  1. I believe the standard response to patients who want to talk about their voices is to ask if they want to play dominoes, offer an extra pill (PRN) – then change the subject.

    I believe many workers are taught that talking about voices and other oddness is dangerous as it could encourage them (they have no evidence of this but then they have almost no evidence of any treatment they offer).

    I like to ask what they are like, when they started, what makes them worse, what makes them better, what they sound like, who do they sound like, would you like to draw them, speak to them, have them speak to me, can I act them out?


  2. People are afraid of the productions of their own minds. Fear is the problem. Fear is a good thing when it prevents us from getting too close to the edge of a high roof or causes us to drive slower on a slippery road. But it is a bad thing when it causes us to be afraid of ourselves.
    The more fear and stress the more hallucinations of a negative sort get produced. A person can be taken over almost completely by this process. It has to be undone by not only living a careful life (diet, exercise, helping others, reading good literature, breathing consciously) but also by the practice of observation. There is at any given moment so much energy available to the mind. The amount of energy given to observation is taken from the images, thoughts and feelings. For example, by merely breathing consciously observing the in breath and the out breath and making sure the diaphragm is involved, the hallucinations are diminished.
    I am sure your son has become quite expert at creating the very things that scare him. He has become his own Alfred Hitchcock. All the time planning & making these inner horror films.
    He might find it useful to put this energy into Yoga or Buddhism. I am sure the books and practices of Thich Nhat Hanh for example would be very beneficial. And there are many good Yoga teachers around.
    Most psychiatrists live in a very circumscribed world with a very uninspiring metaphysics–scientific materialism. Most are responsible for damaging the mind and bodies of many, many persons–often small children. This makes them undesirable people to associate with. Mental hospitals are not nice places.
    All that wild energy your son puts into having psychotic episodes is like a river devastating the land. It could be rechanneled and dammed and produce a very constructive life. The energy was never intended to be used to terrify him. At some point it got into the wrong areas (via psych meds?) and is still flowing wildly through them.
    Psychotics have the potential to become very gifted members of society. But the first step is to recognize that this is the work of bad advice. The persons needs to get off the path of darkness and onto one of light. It can be done. Perhaps as his mother you could lead the way by taking up Yoga or Buddhism and taking him along. You are the main power in his life at this point. There are some good books now on dealing with withdrawal. But the drugs are a dead end.
    Again the problem is allowing oneself to fear fear, to hate fear, to get angry at fear. Reactions to reactions to reactions. With so little energy left for the higher functions of the mind, one goes deeper and deeper into bewilderment. There needs to be space for beauty, love, inspiration . . .

  3. You might want to read my paper on schizophrenia which is posted on digital archives at Georgia State University. Google my name and either digital archives or scholarworks. Fish oil (omega-3s), sarcosine, and N-acetylcysteine (two innocuous drugs) have been used to treat hallucinations. Bonnie Kaplan (blogger here) has successfully treated hallucinations with vitamins and minerals. Antipsychotics create psychosis by sensitizing dopamine receptors-so the wash out from the drugs is pretty hard. Sorry for your plight.

    • For some people avoiding some foods makes a much bigger difference than supplements.

      If you use fish oil, you should limit the omega-6 intake first (it’s inflammatory).

      Don’t eat gluten, especially wheat gluten. Reduce cow milk products. They both have inflammatory and psychoactive properties (gluten exorphins, gliadorphin, casomorphines are opioid-like peptides).

      And then you can also try a super-cheap prebiotic supplement: raw potato starch.

  4. This is one of the best things I’ve read here on MIA.

    The psychiatrists can’t help your son, or anyone else, because almost none of them have done their own “work” to understand who and what they are. They are afraid to look at and deal with all that scary stuff that lives within each and every one of us. So, to keep all of their own “stuff” tamped down so it doesn’t cause them any problems they drug everyone that they can get their hands on. If they don’t have to look at and deal with it in others then they never have to look at their own “stuff.” When they walk into a room you can tell that they’ve never done their own work; you can smell it on them. It is so ironic that the one thing they’re supposed to help people deal with is the very thing that they’re never going to touch with a ten foot pole! Sad.

  5. “My son attended a two year hospital run day program and I vividly remember how the professionals on staff dealt with the subject of hallucinations: To avoid having the patients talk about them. Needless to say, that program is still thriving because not many are getting well. I guess that’s the point of the program (she cynically remarked).”

    Been there, done that albeit for no longer then 90 days and never having suffered hallucinations. It is best to think of these programs sans evidence to the contrary as valuing compliant, complacent, chronic mental patients for they yield the greatest revenue with the least problems.

    Paradoxically at one day program putatively predicated on Recovery & Wellness we were all required to attend a presentation on Recovery which included this slide, “Medication is the Foundation of Recovery.” It is hard to imagine a program like this dealing in any other way with with fears, hallucinations or any of life’s challenges or seek to foster personal goals and aspirations. To do so would impart skills which accrue to the individual rather then benefit the program.

  6. The several metabolites of epinephrine, which Abram Hoffer, MD collectively called “adrenochrome” are some of the most potent hallucinogens known to biochemists. Adrenochrome is produced by human body when the adrenal glands are under extreme stress. Hoffer found adrenochrome in the blood of most hospitalized patients diagnosed with chronic schizophrenia in the 1960s. He also noted that these patients had an extremely low rate of cancer, even though most smoked and were in generally poor health. Hoffer suspected that adrenochrome was somehow protective against cancer. Hoffer’s associate, John Smythies, MD later found that such patients were likely to lack a functioning gene for Glutathione S Transferese which normally detoxifies adrenochrome.

    Hoffer enabled thousands of people to recover from the diagnosis of schizophrenia by improving the health of their adrenal systems with a diet and supplementation regimen known as Orthomolecular Therapy.

    • from wikipedia:

      “Despite the apparent face validity of Hoffer’s “transmethylation hypothesis” (in which it was thought that the production of catecholamines could sometimes go awry and produce a hallucinogenic neurotoxin), it was ultimately rejected for two reasons: the alleged neurotoxins were never identified and the cause of schizophrenia became attributed to dysfunctions in neurotransmitters.”

      • Don’t bring a knife to a gunfight or criticisms of Abram Hoffer’s work by Stephen Barret of Quackwatch, long ago exposed as a pimp for Big Pharma. Wikipedia articles are frequently inaccurate and can be exploited by those with hidden agendas like Barret. Look at the actual studies if you want to know about Hoffer’s adrenochrome theory of schizophrenia. Here are some leads.

        The following excerpts are select mentions of adrenochrome in the published literature.

        From Alexander & Ann Shulgin’s PiHKAL (1991), #157 – EXTENSIONS AND COMMENTARY of TMA:

        …there had been interest in reports that adrenalin that had become old and discolored seemed to elicit central effects in man. The oxidation products were identified as the deeply colored indolic compound adrenochrome and the colorless analogue adrenolutin. The controversy that these reports created just sort of died away, and the adrenochrome family has never been accepted as being psychedelic. No one in the scientific community today is looking in and about the area, and at present this is considered as an interesting historical footnote.

        In Diet & Neurotoxins, by Gabriel Cousens, MD (2000):

        Connection To Schizophrenia
        For example, two of these metabolic neurotoxins–adrenolutin and adrenochrome–breakdown products from the body’s own epinephrine. Both are associated with biochemically based schizophrenia. Adrenochrome is a hallucinogen which also inhibits nerve cell transmission. If the body is making an excess of adrenochrome, from either stress or a poor biochemical ability to break it down into harmless by-products, we have the potential for brain dysfunction. A slowly emerging awareness from the scientific literature suggests there are a number of brain disturbances that are related to the accumulation of various neurotoxins in the brain.

        The Role of Catecholamine O-quinones in Health and Disease: What We Know and What We Don’t Know (Abstract)
        John Smythies (Department of Psychology, University of California, San Diego, USA)

        More is known about adrenochrome which inhibits a number of enzymes (COMT, hexokinase, succinic dehydrogenase) and stimulates prostaglandin synthesis and guanylcyclase activity. Adrenochrome has also been shown to be a psychotomimetic agent and to produce EEG abnormalities.

        COMMENTARY, John Smythies, Section of Neurochemistry Brain and Perception Laboratory Center for Human Information Processing, UCSD
        Association for the Scientific Study of Consciousness, Electronic Seminars, 1999

        We showed many years ago (Hoffer et al. 1954) that one catecholamine o-quinone (adrenochrome) is a psychotomimetic agent. This finding was confirmed by three other groups. Adrenochrome also produces behavioral and EEG disturbances in animals. The other catecholamine o-quinones derived respectively from dopamine and noradrenaline have never so been tested.

        Entry in Adam Gottlieb’s Legal Highs (1973):

        ADRENOCHROME SEMICARBAZONE — 3-hydroxy-1-methyl-5,6-indolinedione semicarbazone.
        Material: Oxidized epinephrine (adrenaline) with semicarbazide.
        Usage: 100 mg is thoroughly dissolved in just enough alcohol, melted fat (butter), or vegetable oil and ingested. Because of its poor solubility in water these must be used to aid absorption.
        Effects: Physical stimulating, feeling of well-being, slight reduction of thought processes.
        Contraindications: None noted.
        Acts as a systemic hemostatic preventing capillary bleeding during injury. Adrenochrome causes chemically induced schizophrenia. Its semicarbazone does not.
        Supplier: CS.

  7. Rosa thank you for this article. As a professional I was never taught how to work with actively psychotic patients. As a Social Worker I would usually see them as they were ready for discharge or in the community mental health setting. Those folks with drug induced psychosis seemed to have the hardest t imd with continual psychotic thinking. There were however some things they are not commonly discussed now. In the DSM II there is a term for ambulatory schizophrenic. It was used for those folks with active but not overwhelming psychotic thinking. They could function in the community but had bizarre thought patterns. We also had a patent who came out of his psychotic state after 30 or so hospitalizations with a mixture of basically the “kitchen sink” approach of throwing all and any treatments at him.
    Now as a person with avid memories of my lived altered mental state I can address what folks are dealing with while they are psychotic. Fear and anxiety were part of my issues but it stemmed from and a I am borrowing from Milt Geek here an internal personal belief system that was outside of the circle of normal reality. IT SEEMED AS IF messages were being sent to me, IT SEEMED AS IF synchronicity was everywhere placed there for me to find it. IT SEEMED AS IF food was being changed to taste badly. IT SEEMED AS IF I was on a mission to save the world. Anger and Depression followed when I was unable to pursue my mission. I felt safe enough to share these thought processes with anyone in a clear way. I would purposely talk around and above my thinking pattern to try so very hard to ascertain what I was supposed to do. My husband was one of those e I can’t talk now go take a pill types. I think if he would have spent time with me and made me feel safe I could have explore my thought processes with him and maybe shorten the twelve years of hell I lived through this ordeal.

    Professionals and aides on units and day treatment programs are not trained in any way shape or form into the specifics of the psychotic thought process. The only item I know that did this is Milt ‘s book and the old warhorse ” I Never Promised You a Rose Garden.”

    I eventually stopped my medication cocktail when Parksonism hit. If I am under stress and or experience PSTD triggers my thoughts can at times veer off into my personal need to tie up everything in my life into this wonderful creative pattern which is not how real life works. I can catch myself and go back on meds on an as needed basis. Family members still cannot conceive the need for me to live a non stressed life. They think I am fine now and can easily roll with the punches. Not!

    I never ever want to experience a hospitalization or seclusion on a tightly locked ward ever again. I found my hospital and day treatment experience to me prison like totally lacking in any therapeutic milieu and the professionals and staff at all three medical institutions lacking in any strong clinical skills and lacking any ability to spend important time with me to assess and comprehend my very complex needs. Many times I believe they did not believe I was a professional like themselves and many times they differed to my husband – also a Mental Health professional- when he never really had my best interest in mind. So many times I wanted out of the hospital or the day program because it was so bad and so very unhelpful . Sometimes I just wanted them to snow me so that I could pass the unending boring suffocating daytime hours without severe emotional pain.
    I tried to do Tai Chi and was reprimanded on the floor by an uneducated aid. Without my yoga, meditation, Reiki, massage, and tai chi experience I could not have survived these last twelve years.
    It was only through them and this website that I learned I was not alone.
    I would stingily urge you to see if your son could tell your his story. All it might take is time.

      • Thanks for the use of the word eloquent! It is the first time I ever put these words down on paper though they have been sitting beside me for many years. I am glad thanks to Rosa for having the opportunity to share them. Yes I am sorry as well for the lost twelve years! For my children and for all the others.
        When I was put in seclusion later supposedly reported as Lithium toxicity per my medical record they never mentioned it to me or my husband it was because I thought my daughter was being kidnapped by evil people and was in danger of losing her life. Of course I was “violent and out of control” if they only would have listened to my story I could have shared it with them and even if I was not able to comprehend the story wasn’t real at least they would have seen my actions for what they really were a mother fighting for her daughter’s life.
        When I was in day treatment it was in the summer and my children were rootless. I would call several times a day to check but it didn’t make me feel good at all. I n fact,
        I would come home and the house was a mess and I would be afraid that someone had come in and messed the house up putting them in danger. Being the good social worker that I was I was ready to report it to the police.
        The supposed cure the day treatment far far away over an hour created more anxiety , fear and thus disordered thinking based on the reality of a household chaos.
        Never again for anyone some day I hope!

  8. Rossa,

    Thank you for sharing this very interesting post. I agree with you…the mental health field has not focused on alternative ways to support, appreciate, cope with, understand, get through etc. altered experiences…aka psychosis. Perhaps we can continue to lead the way on the site…thanks everyone, thanks Kermit, Rob W and Mad In America!


  9. Dr. Wilson van Dusen was both a psychologist and a Swedenborgian who was very successful in dealing with patients who had hallucinations. His method was very easy to learn, and he became immensely popular in a state psychiatric hospital in California as a result of his unique approach! I believe he outlines this in his book THE NATURAL DEPTH IN MAN.
    Thus, anyone genuinely interested in dealing with “schizophrenics” need not wring his or her hands in frustration as his method is self evidently valid. And it hardly needs a lengthy practice. It has something in common with validation therapy. But it requires that one be open to ideas that are not now considered scientific. Like the belief in spirits. But it works. Always a price to pay.
    Hence, I am inclined to say that the problem with mental health is really more in the reluctance of practitioners than in their patients. After years of wrong thinking and bad training one is not well disposed to what works but to theories like chemical imbalance. Too bad for the ailing. Strange and sad.
    Will anyone be audacious enough to give van Dusen’s simple approach a try? I am a bit skeptical.

  10. Rossa,

    If Chris were my adult child and I had been through all the trials and trouble with him that you have, I think I would try talking to him about his Messiah obsession myself. (Or have you tried this already?) I know how reluctant therapists are to do this, but for heaven sake, some members of the human race have been getting in touch with the Divine in themselves for many thousands of years, and some are still doing it. Sometimes these efforts don’t have very good results, and we call it schizophrenia. But as R.D. Laing and old Joseph Campbell said, the madman drowns in the same waters the mystic swims in. The problem is to learn to swim. In your son’s case, to learn we’re all a little piece of God, and (as a Hindu mystic said) why break the pots because of that?

    If ideas like this are truly unfamiliar to you, then get Ken Wilber’s book The Atman Project, and Adyashanti’s The End of Your World: Uncensored Straight Talk on the Nature of Enlightenment. (Adya is a young American turned Buddhist mystic, and he still knows how to communicate in English.) If you can catch your son at a time when he’s reasonably sane, he may even be interested in reading the books himself. If not, you could still impress the hell out of him by speaking his language. There are other books just as good as these, they are the first two that came to my mind.

    If this doesn’t work, you could still try hooking him up with some people who do speak his language and accept him and yet manage to function in the world and make a living for themselves. They could be a good influence on him just for that reason. The danger here is him getting hooked by some kind of cult that’s not much improvement on unvarnished schizophrenia, but a lot of these groups are pretty harmless.

    Sending good vibes your way,
    Mary Newton

    • As a peer worker stationed in the Admissions Dept. of a state hospital, one of the most interesting and rewarding interchanges with a “patient” revolved around this very issue that we are all God.

      The young man confidently informed me that he was God. I smiled and said that I already knew and accepted this. I genuinely meant what I told him, I wasn’t patronizing him. He sat and looked at me in surprise for about thirty seconds and then smiled. He reached out and touched my arm and said, “You’re one of us, I can see your wings!” He stood and opened his arms, I stood, and we descreetly hugged one another. He sat down with this beautiful smile on his face. Acknowleging the truth has powerful effects.

      Of course, when he was taken to the unit everyone in the department was in an uproar about our interchange. Some accused him of being sexually inappropriate with me and others were just confounded and didn’t know what to think. Finally someone asked me what had happened between us and I told them that we’d had shared a spiritual moment together! Of course, they had no idea what I was talking about.

  11. Rosa thanks for t he reply to my post however my experience wasn’t just painful it was horrific in a number of ways. I told my story so that you could see how a person with a delusion thinks. Delusions are fixed ideas sun as yours sons or mine . They may or may not have hallucinations of various kinds — visual, auditory, orfactorary — attached to them. I never heard voices. I was never diagnosed as schizophrenic and I prefer to see my times as a result of severe PSTD for lack of any better category.
    However with any course the diagnoses really doesn’t matter. The person with lived altered states needs to take control of their treatment be it with or without medication.
    You and your son will be needing to take a hard look at his future. You won’t live forever and eventually ready or not he will have to take control unless he is impaired enough to require guardianship services.
    For various reason the Developmentally Disabled Community have taken better
    care of independence issues with their DD family members. Best Boy is a rather old but wonderful documentary on a young man leaving his family home before his parents become impaired with age related issues.
    I would like to hear from your son or both of you on this journey.

    The best thing I did was to leave my husband. He was too comfortable with my role as compliant patient. I took charge of my treatment course and left him out of the equation since he was not able to research or really interested in the latest talking points of Mental Health Care. I now have my children involved with future plans if they ever need to become active in my care. Ton of difference!

  12. Rosa thanks for the comment. I as a person with lived altered mental experience choose not to forget what has happened to me. Horrific will always be horrific. It never should have happened. I admire your search and journey. I think the recent articles on grass roots communities and recovery are on target. And I admit it could have been much worse. I could have let myself slip into the patient role for ever. I didn’t. I am back to my pre mental health issue self and am connecting with recovery systems.
    Lots of work to be done.

  13. Rosa has your son looked into Traditional Naturopathy , and having his 50% mercury dental amalgams replaced with non metal substitutes also checked for cavitations and root canal removal by Hal Huggins protocol, trained dentists ?

    Excerpt from interview of Chistopher Shade MD by Mercola MD at
    On Mercury from dental amalgams: “It’s got a very strong ability to dysregulate your system. This is part of why it’s hard to pin down often by the symptoms that it’s mercury toxicity, because it dysregulates you in so many different ways. In fact,it can take you one way or another. Neurologically, it can take you into depression or it can take you into anxiety. Similarly it can make you hyperactive or it can give you chronic fatigue.”

    I have lived experience diagnosed ,schitzophrenia, manic depression, bipolar depression and have suffered the tortures by psychiatry applied to those diagnosis including chemical lobotomy drugs and applied electricity , all forced. To some it up, it was mercury poisoning all along via dental amalgam 50% mercury filings. They lie ,they are not mostly silver , they are made predominately from mercury. There has been a huge cover up. Will answer any questions I can. Hope this helps someone.