Why Mainstream Psychiatry Fears a Balanced Understanding of Psychosis


Many people are now familiar with the BPS report, Understanding Psychosis and Schizophrenia, and they have appreciated how it integrates both science and a humanistic understanding to convey a fresh and progressive approach to difficult and extreme experiences. But it has come under attack by psychiatrists such as Ronald Pies, who wrote an article accusing it of “trivializing the suffering of psychosis” and of failing “our sickest patients.” Others offer similar arguments, such as Joe Pierre M.D. who suggests the BPS report “romanticizes” psychosis.

The arguments offered by Pies and his allies are often quite slick, and sound reasonable to the uninformed. But they are wrong, and the better we can articulate how and why they are wrong, the better we can advocate for a more humane and skillful response to people having the experiences that are called “psychosis.”

In his article, Pies states that

“What is lamentably missing from the BPS report is any deep understanding of the psychic suffering occasioned by severe and enduring psychotic states, including but not limited to schizophrenia. Indeed, I believe the BPS’s attempt to “normalize” psychosis winds up trivializing the immense psychic pain and agony experienced by many persons diagnosed with schizophrenia and related disorders of reality perception.”

He goes on to provide a vivid example of a man describing severe distress related to attacks he perceives as coming from others, and he suggests that psychiatrists like himself see this sort of thing all the time, while the BPS authors, he concludes, seem to be unfamiliar with deep difficulties.

But it’s not true that the BPS report fails to include mention of terrible experiences – it includes for example mention of a sense of one’s blood being poisoned, of going to hell, of “the worst feeling I’ve ever felt.” It should also be noted that the BPS report was written for a public trained to associated psychosis with horrors of various kinds. So there was really no need to spend a lot of time letting people know that psychosis could go badly. Instead, the report was aiming to increase awareness of how psychosis could possibly be met with understanding and reasonable hope.

So, we might ask, why is it so important to Pies and to others within mainstream psychiatry that the emphasis is put on what’s awful about psychosis? And why are attempts to understand psychosis as possibly not all that different from everyday human difficulties seen as so threatening?

When people intensely fear something, they look for relief from that fear in a less critical way, and they are happy to give power to whatever offers protection against the fear. Our society gives great power to psychiatry in a very uncritical way because it fears psychosis, it fears madness, and psychiatry and psychiatric drugs seem to offer quick protection. So while some psychiatrists may over-emphasize fear of psychosis simply for the same reason that we all sometimes get overly caught up in fearful reactions, it’s important to notice that psychiatry as a profession is also motivated to emphasize fear of madness because that is what causes the public to give psychiatry its power and prestige, while also inducing that same public to ignore any criticism of psychiatric practices (much like the way a public scared of terrorism will not question the military, spy agencies, or often, even the practice of torture).

Fear of others is promoted when we focus on their differences, their “otherness.”  The ways people are different should not be ignored, of course, but a better idea is to make sure we notice both commonalities and differences, in a balanced way.  Balance in general is associated with complexity and nuance, and not with certainty about a correct course of action: but psychiatric power depends on a clear belief that any “psychotic” state of mind is very very bad, and cannot be understood in an ordinary human way, and must be continuously treated by drugs to suppress it, etc.

Stories of those who recover from the depths of “psychosis” and “schizophrenia,” by coming to understand themselves and their experiences, and who obviously don’t require continued drug treatment, are very threatening to this psychiatric viewpoint or story.

Stories and research that emphasizes how psychosis is often an understandable response to adverse experiences to begin with are also threatening to the story line that mainstream psychiatry prefers. That’s one reason the NIMH, dominated by psychiatry, emphasizes possible genetic causes for “schizophrenia” and in an incredible act of “denial,” contains the following paragraph on its website:

In addition, it probably takes more than genes to cause the disorder. Scientists think interactions between genes and the environment are necessary for schizophrenia to develop. Many environmental factors may be involved, such as exposure to viruses or malnutrition before birth, problems during birth, and other not yet known psychosocial factors.

Given the quantity of research showing a connection in particular between adverse childhood experiences and the symptoms of schizophrenia, and between those experiences and the brain differences often found in those so diagnosed, it seems bizarre that the NIMH fails to mention adverse experiences like child abuse even in a speculative list of what “may” possibly lead to schizophrenia! It’s on the same level as failing to mention carbon emissions as  even a possible source of climate change. But if we understand psychiatry as being most interested in stories that promote its own power, and not so interested in what’s actually happening, then it all makes sense.

If psychiatry were truly interested in understanding psychosis, one would see more attention to the full range of psychotic experiences. That would mean noticing not just when and how psychosis can be “awful” and distressing, but also noticing when such experiences appear to play a role protecting people from distress, at least in the short term. For example, many grandiose yet unrealistic beliefs make people feel better for a time, voices often keep people company or offer various kinds of reassurances, etc. These kind of experiences may lead to future problems, but they can also be understood as an attempted solution to problems.

And even when psychotic experiences truly do make people feel awful, it isn’t clear that they are part of some “disease” as Pies and other conventional psychiatrists would like us to believe.

Instead, it can make sense to understand even very distressing experiences as possibly resulting from people’s attempts to protect themselves. Becoming suspicious for example can be part of a strategy to protect against the possibility of new betrayals, even though it can also lead to horrible experiences of the world as one fails to also integrate some level of trust. Those who actually try to understand psychosis regularly find patterns of people engaging in strategies meant to protect themselves which often fact backfire and make things incredibly worse: but a strategy that is backfiring is not well described as “illness.”

And it’s even more complex than that, because the wild experiences we call “psychosis” can involve not just failed attempts to solve problems, but also sometimes wild experimentation and extreme states of mind that can lead to people making discoveries about themselves and the world, discoveries that once integrated can contribute to future success for the person themselves and possibly others. People who have had psychosis and then recovered often report that something positive emerged out of their experiences.

“Normalizing” psychosis as resulting from possibly extreme versions of normal attempts at coping, and from difficulties possibly related to when those coping attempts go wrong, can help people make sense of their experience. It doesn’t mean we see psychosis as being inevitably fun and romantic, but it means we become willing to see it in a complex, nuanced, and human way, and as an experience like many others that can have a variety of outcomes depending on how people react to it and the kind of help they receive.

But Pies wants us to think that any “normalizing” of psychosis will inevitably be damaging to the people who suffer from it. He writes that

Indeed, I believe the BPS’s attempt to “normalize” psychosis winds up trivializing the immense psychic pain and agony experienced by many persons diagnosed with schizophrenia and related disorders of reality perception.

For example, the report asserts, “Many of us hear voices occasionally, or have fears or beliefs that those around us do not share.” Well, yes—but this shallow and superficial description of the psychotic experience does scant justice to the nightmarish reality of severe psychotic states. It is a bit like saying to someone with advanced cancer, “Many of us experience very rapid cell growth occasionally, or have lumps or tumors that others do not have.”

Again, Pies does a slick job of making himself sound compassionate and wise, but relies on the reader to overlook key facts. For example, a person with cancer has a physical problem, and it does little good to downplay it’s seriousness by emphasizing it as being a variation on normal cell growth. But a person with a nightmare, or a nightmarish daytime experience of psychosis, is having a mental event, and mental events are very much affected by how we interpret them.

Many experiences seem terrible, but really aren’t, once we get perspective on them. For example a terrifying nightmare may seem quite awful at the time, but later we find that it was just an experience, perhaps even one that overall becomes part of the richness of our life.

Pies wants us to think of psychotic experiences as being like cancer, as being in themselves really and objectively bad. But they often aren’t that way, at least once one “wakes up” and sees that they aren’t as bad as they seemed. When Eleanor Longden (one of the contributors to the BPS report) was at one point quite horribly distressed by voices, she was ready to literally drill holes in her head in an attempt to extract them. Later however she learned to understood them in a different way; she learned to see these same voices as meaningful experiences that were related to what had happened to her and to her attempts to make sense of things, and she no longer found them to be distressing.

When people are terrified, and are then told that the terror they feel means that something really bad is happening to them, then what we tell them reinforces the terror and becomes part of the person’s problem, creating and feeding a vicious circle. In other words, it’s not so much the experience itself that is terrible, but what is made of it; and what is made of it is often partly the responsibility of the psychiatrists and other mental health professionals who claim to objectively know that what is happening is truly awful.

It’s important of course to acknowledge people’s distress and terror, and to avoid any minimizing of it. But it’s also critically important then also to normalize their experience, to look at how it may be understandable once we know their story, and to explore how things may not be as bad as they seem. This can help people find a way to accept their experiences rather than fear them, to make sense of them, and to get on with their lives.

A key error of mainstream psychiatry is to assume that if a person is having very major distress or terror, and especially if it lasts a long time, then it must be a very serious problem, a very serious illness or disease. A wiser perspective is that of the Hearing Voices Network HVN), which shares the understanding that people who are seriously distressed do need and deserve help, but which doesn’t share the assumption that the problem, once understood, is really something “wrong” with the person. Instead, it may just be that the person has not learned a good way of relating to what they are experiencing. Once they learn how to relate better to their experiences, they may even find them to be on the whole helpful, as when voices that speak in disturbing ways become seen as providing vital clues about underlying stresses or traumatic memories that need to be dealt with.  See for example to stories of Ron Coleman and Debra Lampshire, who spent 10 and 18 years respectively as apparent victims of  severe “schizophrenia,” and yet who recovered when they learned a different way of relating to their voices and other experiences.

Of course, Pies would argue that the messages of the Hearing Voices Network are over-emphasized in the BPS report which he believes has a “fixation on “voices.”” He wants more emphasis on the “cognitive dysfunction” which he argues is a stronger “determinant of functional outcome” of “schizophrenia.” But while Pies wants us to imagine that any such “dysfunction” is certainly connected to an “illness,” we get a different perspective when we actually talk to people who have experienced periods of mental impairment and then recovered.

One thing that can indeed impair orderly thinking is opening one’s mind to vast numbers of associations beyond those usually made, and/or narrowing one’s focus way more than is usually done. Young people who wander off the beaten track of mental development may for a period of time lose their ability to follow everyday thinking, and some may not find their way back, but others do, and we can learn a lot by listening to them and learning from how they eventually made sense of, and often found value in, their difficult experiences.

Using myself as an example, I can say that as a young person, I went through a period of questioning the meaning of everything, and experimenting with new ways of seeing things. Looking back I can see this as an effort to liberate myself from oppressive ways of processing reality that I learned during a traumatic childhood. But from a psychiatric point of view, this whole process could be seen as “loosening of associations” or cognitive “dysfunction” (and note that the whole idea of “dysfunction” relies on ideas about how minds should function, and questioning meaning involves questioning that functioning.)

There were times for example I watched movies and I was sure there was no plot, I became sure that the filmmakers were experimenting with new ways of seeing things that didn’t involve plot. Years later, I watched some of the same movies, and was surprised to find that there was, indeed, an obvious plot, which I had completely missed! (The expression “losing the plot” is of course one simple way of describing the process of “going mad.”)

Notice however that anyone looking at me in the psychiatric way, identifying me as a person experiencing “dysfunction” due to “illness,” would have themselves been missing or “losing the plot” of what was going on with me, they would have failed to see an understandable story to what had happened and was happening, and they would fail to notice that it wasn’t a biological illness.

Of course, I’m not trying to say that medical or biological factors can never contribute to anyone’s state of “psychosis.” It is apparent that they can, in some cases. But the problem with Pies and Pierre and the rest of mainstream psychiatry is that they ask us to “jump to the conclusion” that the more distressing or disruptive psychosis may be, then the more certain it is that biology is at the root of it. This conjecture has no basis in evidence (and we might note that, like “losing the plot,” jumping to conclusions” is well known to be part of psychosis.)

So, psychiatry routinely makes the same kind of errors as do people it purports to be helping. And these errors commonly lead to harm, though commonly harm to the patient rather than the psychiatrist. But psychiatry routinely misses this possibility that its own mistaken ideas about the problem can become part of the problem of its patients. That is, it is so sure that people’s problems are internal to them, part of their brains, that it forgets that we are talking about “mental” problems after all, and minds exist in relation to other minds, and we all participate in each other’s minds.

Unfortunately, mainstream psychiatric is very resistant to getting “insight” into this process. Just as it can’t imagine that drugs that seem to help in the short term might make things worse in the long term, it doesn’t see how its own mistakes in conceptualizing extreme states can possibly then become part of what keeps people trapped in those states. It likes to think its ideas are “objective,” it imagines that mental states themselves are like objects that can be classified by experts according to their characteristics, and it forgets that it is actually participating in those mental states through the effects of its own ideas, and should at least consider that it might be contributing to the problem when troublesome states persist.

To take a wider view for a minute, we can consider the possibility that it isn’t just the flawed ideas and practices of mental health professionals that can contribute an individual’s problems with extreme states or psychosis, but flawed ideas and practices within the wider culture can have an impact.

It’s interested that at one point, Pies critiques the BPS authors for suggesting that psychiatry often assumes a straightforward line between “mental health” and “mental illness,” and then to refute this, he quotes the DSM 5 as stating in its introduction that:

“The boundaries between normality and pathology vary across cultures for specific types of behaviors. Thresholds of tolerance for specific symptoms or behaviors differ across cultures, social settings and families. Hence the level at which an experience becomes problematic or pathological will differ…”

I would argue that this is a nice quote, but one which psychiatry in general, and the DSM in particular, tends to completely ignore in practice. Because if the DSM and psychiatry took this point seriously, they would recognize mental and emotional problems as inevitably involving relationships between individuals and those around them, rather than being problems that can be localized as an illness within a person. After all, clearly I can’t be said to have a true illness – such as the flu – if I’m said to have it when I’m embedded in one culture or family and not to have it if I’m having the same physical state while embedded in a different culture or family! So if mental and emotional problems do have such different boundaries in different cultures, then they must be something very different from an individual illness or disease. Unfortunately, the DSM goes on to be all about labeling individuals, with no insight into the true role of human relations and the nuances involved.

When we do see problems as relational, we are able to see that we ourselves, whether family members, friends, or mental health workers or psychiatrists, may be part of the person’s problem. This means we understand that the things we offer as help may possibly backfire and make things worse, just as we understand that person’s problems in the first place may have resulted from their practicing strategies they hoped would help but which backfired. This doesn’t mean that it’s hopeless, only that we are acknowledging that we are all in the mess together, we are all trying to understand. Life is messy, and non-linear.

I was pleased to see Jaakko Seikkula, in his talk Challenges in Developing Open Dialogue Practice, state that it is important to see psychosis as part of life and related to the meanings people find or struggle to find in their life. That perspective is essential if we are going to be truly helpful to people engaged in such struggles.

People wanting to learn more about how to talk to people about psychotic experiences as being understandable, in ways that reduce fear of the experience, may want to view the videos on normalizing which are available as a free preview within my CBT for psychosis online course.

In conclusion, I would like to state that I believe that understanding psychosis, and normalizing it in the ways I and groups like BPS advocate for, does not mean eliminating all fear of it. I have certainly seen people who seemed to have too little fear of psychosis, and who got themselves into deep trouble by failing to take even relatively simple precautions.

What I advocate for instead is a balanced view, which sees psychosis as more like being involved in wandering into a wilderness area, and becoming lost or distressed while doing so, but still with hope of finding one’s way, and even with the hope of growing through the experience. This allows us to think of psychosis in a much more nuanced way.

When we are too sure that people’s experience and stories and ideas are mistaken and worthless and sick, we are simply incapable of respecting the people themselves. Better approaches to madness are less certain. This means being willing to talk about not just problems and errors but also issues such as the ways that wandering into psychosis may have something to do with an attempt, conscious or not, at creativity and a creative approach to life problems, or a shamanic journey, or spiritual development. And it means being willing to see a vulnerability to psychosis as possibly a “dangerous gift” that may lead to something good once the person learns to manage it well, even if it has led to little but trouble so far.

Mainstream psychiatry of course would see any such discussion as a naïve and harmful attempt to “romanticize psychosis.” It would suggest we shouldn’t see any possible good in the person’s experience or line of thinking, because then we will somehow be unable to appreciate how bad things are. But the consequence of just looking at what is bad is not just the misunderstanding of the experience itself, but an increase in negative views of the person at the center of the experience; a person who is now seen as caught up in something entirely negative, and having nothing of possible worth to offer.

Wandering off into the wilderness is indeed dangerous, especially when one isn’t prepared, and/or doesn’t have support. And distressing experiences can occur, even when one is prepared and supported. Sometimes things go in truly tragic directions, and losses can be immense. But there are also mental problems associated with always avoiding anything outside the usual “safe” personal and cultural ruts, with never taking risks, and sometimes much good can come out of confused journeys that seemed nothing but distressing at the time. We need a mental health system that can appreciate the dual nature of such issues, and which is not afraid to talk about them in an open minded way; not a psychiatric system that dogmatically focuses on fear in an effort to support its own power and its often unbalanced, though quite profitable, interventions.


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.


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  1. Nice post, Ron.
    One thing that is interesting is that his analogy to cancer does not hold up. There is much attention right now on the continuum of cancer. Most of us do have abnormal cell growth and the transition to a lethal state probably has something to do with a failure of our internal surveillance systems. Most things occur on a continuum and there is value in many areas to attending to that continuum.
    I think there is a legitimate question about who speaks for those who do not join in this conversation. There are many people who experience psychosis who remain silent. However, I do not think psychiatrists are more privileged to represent this voice than any other group. Many psychiatrists see people in a narrow way and this distorts our views.

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    • Yes, regarding who speaks and who is silent – some people have legitimately criticized the BPS report for failing to include perspectives from racial and cultural minorities. I think the report still represents progress as is, but to make more progress we need further efforts to insure that “all voices are heard.”

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  2. I like it Ron. The use of the fear narrative to enhance power and enrich a select few will not be conceded easily. So I think a balanced view of ‘psychosis’ is hardly likely to emerge in the current political environment. I’m with the Marquis de Sade.

    “Social order at the expense of liberty is hardly a bargain”


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  3. ….any deep understanding of the psychic suffering occasioned by severe and enduring psychotic states

    What about the severe physical and psychological suffering caused by neuroleptic poisoning? The remedy for this kind of malady is a simple one but because it provides no profit it is seldom used.

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    • I think a key problem is that when we fear something too much, then we don’t look very critically at what is supposed to be saving us from it. So when psychosis is feared too much, it’s hard to look critically at the drugs that are supposed to be saving someone from it, then no one notices when the drug itself may be having very bad effects. A balanced look is harder to accomplish, but creates an opportunity to make wiser decisions about when to use any particular substance or not.

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    • s1w2f3:

      I respectfully disagree that the solution to this malady is an easy one. There are no AA type programs, no support groups, and no professionals willing to work with people like my daughter who experience altered or extreme states, when her stated, consistent desire is to safely wean herself off neuroleptics and use alternative pathways to healing. When she has done so in the past, she did so cold turkey without the support of the mental health workers where she was living. Those people are not trained to help an individual wean off safely. No one is. We parents are trying to learn everything we can on the subject, but often the few trainings are expensive and out of state. Regardless, we as parents we are shut out of the treatment team meetings, especially when she is experiencing an extreme state and our county has claimed in writing, that we ‘impeded’ her ‘treatment’ in the past, simply for honoring our daughter’s stated preferences On the contrary the people who are paid to keep her ‘safe’–code for keeping her on her meds to avoid liability for their funding and to keep the neighbors safe from witnessing bizarre scenes—because the only times when she engaged in unsafe behaviors were when she ran away out of desperation and became disoriented on the streets—were grossly unprepared to deal with her behavior off the meds and her behavior was prematurely deemed as a relapse whereupon they would routinely wash their hands of her by sending her to the ER where they would either patch her up with higher levels of drugs which became permanent more toxic cocktails, or send her to the state hospital for a higher level of care which, for some families, is akin to putting more stones on the ‘witch’ with the only difference is you have to swap out the word ‘guilty of witchcraft’ with ‘persistently, severely ill’ and agree with the sentiments and language used in discharge plan such as staying on the meds indefinitely with no language included about the possibility of going off them ever and no planning for such circumstances.

      Situations like this are more common than our society is willing to admit and this is not a simple problem to remedy. We, as a nation, have no long term public policies for weaning people off years of psychiatric drugging. We will nibble around the edges of this widespread problem in the presidential debates as the epidemic of prescription drug related deaths has finally become too big for industry to hide, and clinical practices may gradually change to avoid public embarrassment of those in the medical helping professions who don’t want their legacies and livelihood to be tarnished but those who experience extreme states that is often indistinguishable from PTSD from forced/coerced treatment which is potentially aggravated and/or compounded by neuroleptic drugging will not be included in any remedial discussions and their voices will not be heard because of the fear that Ron Unger describes in this post. ‘Nothing about us without us’ is a dream and not practiced. People addicted to benzos and painkillers may get their voices heard and have their ‘day in court’ but not my daughter, at least not in this climate of fear. So, this is not easy and why i posted.

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      • I agree with your statement but the ease I mentioned is the same one that most people use to prevent alcoholic seizures: lack of chronic use. To draw a parallel to psychiatric methods, seizures are prevented through the use of more alcohol with all its incidental problems and effects. Total abstinence from neuroleptics is the best solution to prevent the horrific torment that is neuroleptic therapy.

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  4. The clearest dramatization of the fear narrative may be in state institutions where forensic patients whom the courts have judged not guilty by reason of insanity or unfit to stand trial for violent crimes are involuntarily confined. Of course society has a right to protect itself from people who have a record of hurting others.

    Ironically, in these quarters there is a complementary social narrative of help, equally false, vital and self serving for the status quo. We convince ourselves that we are “treating” rather than punishing those whom we cannot blame because they had too little control over their own harmful actions due to mental illness.

    Do we fear our own desire for retribution as much as schizophrenia? Are we granting psychiatry power because we think it makes us more humane? Madness is madness, in its full variety of shapes and colors.

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  5. Mainstream Psychiatry Fears a Balanced Understanding of Psychosis because it undermines their NAZI inspired work of mass lobotomizing undesirables with drugs.

    A holocaust has lots of death and that upsets people but a lobotomizing pharmacaust uses drugs and can be sold as “medical care”.

    “This will help with your anxiety” Ya right, that is a shut you up watch TV all day get fat make you a zombie and throw you away pill.

    They know what they are doing.

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    • I would argue for attempting a balanced understanding of psychiatry as well as of madness. I think there is lots of evidence of psychiatrists really trying to help, and in some cases of psychiatric practices and drugs probably really being helpful to some people for at least a short period of time, while also there is of course lots of evidence of misinformation, bad practice, and harm. And much of the harm seems to come from people who apparently have good intentions but who have believed misinformation (produced either by error or by entities happy to lie for profit.)

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      • “Good intentions” LOL

        Psychiatry, the worlds leading road to hell paving company !

        Lets just all keep writing and posting till its impossible to search anything mental health without a link to the truth (stuff leading to informed consent) appearing first page google results. This is an “infowar”.

        The amount of stuff online now would have actually prevented me from ever falling into the psychiatry trap and prevented my whole psych drug nightmare from ever taking place back then, but I dig for info and many people don’t.

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        • I agree with your point re. information and I’m sure you’re not alone in knowing that the resources now available to people have saved thousands from ever going the psychiatric diagnosis route. Me being one of them. But my luck was determined by seeing a psychologist who sent me in search of research re. Jung, Assagiolli, the Groff’s etc. and I branched out from there. So I also agree with Ron in that there are indeed good psych’s out there who are educating themselves – and/or being educated by people such as myself and many, many others – so that people such as yourself aren’t misdiagnosed and end up on years of psych drugs.

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          • Hi dreampainter,

            It’s good to hear you got some good guidance. I was lucky enough to stumble onto helpful books etc. when I was going through my own experiences, that kind of stuff can be really helpful to those of us who love to read!

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  6. This is an excellent article Ron… I hope you will forward it to as many of your colleagues as possible, especially those who are not familiar with or not experienced with helping psychotic people.

    I hope you will come out with a book sometime Ron about your own work with psychotic people. You could write a forward development of Ira Steinman’s book Treating the Untreatable.

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    • Thanks for the vote of confidence! A book sounds like a fine idea, but I’m a slow writer, so maybe blog posts will have to do for now. My bigger efforts currently are going into doing more online courses, as I’m hoping these can reach a lot of people and can bring some more humanistic understandings and practices into wider use.

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  7. Something about your original question “Why does mainstream psychiatry fear a balanced view of psychosis?” In Australia we have a thing we call “boogie man stories”. And telling boogie man stories achieves a couple of outcomes, it maintains control over those who believe them, and more importantly it makes them anxious.

    I say let the public go on believing the boogie man stories, and at some point they will need drugging for the anxiety.

    Poetic justice? lol

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    • Hi boans, I guess if the general public had no way to get aggressive toward mad people, and if all they were going to do was get anxious, there might be hope for your “poetic justice” to work out. Unfortunately, that fear of madness gets channeled into things like support for the Murphy bill in the US that promises to increase forced treatment while taking funding away from real alternatives. So the paradox is that when society starts having a more unbalanced or “mad” response to madness, it is the “mad” themselves who tend to suffer (and of course such suffering will just be interpreted as more evidence that madness is a very terrible thing, by those who don’t want to see any negative consequences to their own attempts to “help.”

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      • It’s certainly a win/win for drug companies.

        Ron, I’m wondering what you mean above by a “balanced view of psychiatry”? Dr Hickey wrote an article recently about Dr Pies call to stop viewing psychiatry “through a glass, darkly” and that we need to look to the “solid core”.

        It seems that those who have been subjected to forced psychiatry have difficulty doing this. I just can’t help but wonder what we see if we apply the same reasoning to National Socialist Germany.

        What would a “balanced view” of psychiatry look like? (next article lol)


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        • Well, I certainly wouldn’t rely on Dr. Pies to provide a “balanced view” of psychiatry! And I don’t mean to suggest we should avoid looking at any of the darkness. Basically though, my suggestion is just to balance being critical with being willing to see when/if particular psychiatrists have good intentions (whatever effect those intentions have) and also being willing to notice when/if things psychiatrists do are actually helpful in specific situations.

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  8. I agree a “balanced view” of “psychosis” should be adopted. And, at least in my case, my so called “psychosis” had everything to do with what was going on in my real life, and it relates to my religious beliefs. Plus, the psychiatric industry should be made aware of the fact that there are different types of so called “psychosis.”

    My first actual “psychosis” occurred just two weeks after I’d been put on Risperdal inappropriately (to “cure” the common symptoms of antidepressant discontinuation syndrome). It was a frightening “psychosis,” but also a religious experience. This was shortly after 9.11.2001. And it felt as if the wrath of God was upon me, and He was very angry about 9.11.2001, rightly so. Although He also reminded me of all the times that He had protected me, or sent a kind stranger to protect me. He wanted to know if I’d follow Him, even to hell and back. I always believed in God, so agreed.

    Since I suffered this “Foul up” with the Risperdal, I switched doctors, but that neurologist then created anticholinergic intoxication syndrome with three different drug cocktails, which is a medically known way to create “psychosis.” That “psychosis” took the form of the “voices” of the people who abused my children (sexually and spiritually) being pumped into my head, incessantly bragging about their child abuse. I had been in denial of the abuse initially, but was later handed over the medical evidence. And have subsequently learned my ex-religion is headed up by pedophile deniers.


    And after I was finally weaned off the horrendous drug cocktails, I experienced a drug withdrawal induced super sensitivity manic “psychosis.” This “psychosis” was actually a healing awakening, and mid life remembrance of all the wonderful people I’d known in my life, seemingly trying to save me. It was also an awakening to the story of my dreams, which is about the existence of a “collective unconscious,” or a gathering of all the souls. It culminated with my understanding that I am now “of the bride of God / Jesus,” which is technically the goal of being a Christian. So this healing “psychosis” was actually a good so called “psychosis.”

    In a nutshell, the drug induced “psychoses” were terrifying and annoying. And the drug withdrawal induced super sensitivity manic “psychosis” was part of a healing spiritual journey. I do so hope the US medical community gets out of the business of torturing Christians in the future, since this is technically still illegal in the US. I also hope the psychiatric industry gets out of the business of covering up child abuse, which is also illegal, for the wealthy and the religions, by way of defaming people with scientifically invalid “disorders” and creating “psychosis” with drugs.

    Especially since psychiatric misdiagnoses, of child abuse and ACEs issues, does seem to be the number one etiology of so called “schizophrenia” in our world today.


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  9. Someone wrote me privately and pointed out I had written a little about fear of madness previously, in my post Personal Steps toward a Revolution in Mental Health Care http://recoveryfromschizophrenia.org/about-ron-unger/personal-steps-toward-a-revolution-in-mental-health-care/

    Here’s the key paragraph on fear of madness from that post:

    “The sense that the journey could be positive kept me from developing an excess fear of madness. Research suggests that such fear typically contributes to madness itself (Hirsch and Jolley (1989)). One reason for that may be that the fear contributes to increased emotional arousal which in turn creates more “symptoms,” and this increase leads to more fear, etc., in an a vicious circle. Another function of the fear of madness is to shut down curiosity and the willingness to explore divergent perspectives: but while such curiosity may have a dangerous side when it leads a person into exploring “mad” ideas, it also is vital for preventing getting stuck in “madness,” as that same curiosity is required in order for a person to look critically at his or her “mad” thinking and eventually to transcend it.”

    Hirsch, S. R., & Jolley, A. G. (1989). The dysphoric syndrome in schizophrenia and its implications for relapse. Br J Psychiatry Suppl(5), 46-50.

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  10. I am so grateful to you for writing this article. I have been upset by how negative the response to the BPS report has been at least so far, even on sites (e.g. oneboringoldman) where I would have expected a more favourable response. I am worried that these responses will serve to ‘bury’ the report. I agree so much with this statement:

    ” It should also be noted that the BPS report was written for a public trained to associated psychosis with horrors of various kinds. So there was really no need to spend a lot of time letting people know that psychosis could go badly. Instead, the report was aiming to increase awareness of how psychosis could possibly be met with understanding and reasonable hope.”

    My feeling is that the BPS report is an invaluable resource for clients and families both to provide realistic hope, and to use as a document to support decisions made that are different then what is considered to be the standard ‘best practice’ for ‘treating psychosis’ within the medical model.

    On a more personal level I found this comment very helpful:

    “But from a psychiatric point of view, this whole process could be seen as “loosening of associations” or cognitive “dysfunction” ……..There were times for example I watched movies and I was sure there was no plot, I became sure that the filmmakers were experimenting with new ways of seeing things that didn’t involve plot. Years later, I watched some of the same movies, and was surprised to find that there was, indeed, an obvious plot, which I had completely missed!,…….
    I find there is so little information out there that helps explain the cognitive difficulties some people with psychosis experience that can interfere with even basic daily living skills, let alone work or school.

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    • I think it’s a good point that we could use more attention to that whole process of how opening up too much to altered states can impair one’s ability to “cognitively function” within normal parameters, as well as attention to how people recover from these kinds of problems.

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  11. Dear Ron, you write “But it’s not true that the BPS report fails to include mention of terrible experiences – it includes for example mention of a sense of one’s blood being poisoned, of going to hell, of “the worst feeling I’ve ever felt.” Which I understand from lived experience, even though my very first experience of what academic psychiatrist’s call an affective-psychosis or mania, felt wonderful and I experienced no fear of my own sensations, until the powerful tranquillization AFFECT, of a chemical straitjacket began to manifest as the subjective experience of an internalized sense of threat.

    Which, in hindsight, was a manifest sense of the existential issue that had plagued my lived experience, since the trauma of my forceps delivered birth. While, since my experience-dependant resolution of 3 episodes of mania or affective-psychosis, during 3 years spent, immersed in a Buddhist culture, I have asked psychiatrist’s why they take this “psychosis is always a bad experience” concept for granted?

    “Is an observation bias, driven by sub-conscious self-interest,” I ask them. “Does it rationalize your own behaviour and the needs of prescriptive medicine,” I ask. And have you seen video footage of doctor’s lamenting their dilemma of posturing a sense of knowing, that patients demand?

    “I’m expected to know what the problem is and know how to fix it,” one young doctor explains, on youtube, before adding “its part of my training.”

    While a cultural tradition in the East, asks us to contemplate, with a “mind-less” sense of being, described by Tolle as The Power of Now. The delusion involved in the sense that we know ourselves, simply because we can speak, read and write, words. A perspective on lived-experience, which can bring a balanced understanding of psychosis, between one’s body & one’s mind.

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    • Hi David,

      There’s an interview with a psychiatrist in Mackler’s Open Dialogue film, where she talks about what a relief it was to have to give up that act of pretending to know what was going on, and what the person’s problem was! Instead, the new way was to show up and elicit various views or voices about what might be happening, and reflect on those views. I do think a lot of what is wrong about our current system is just the difficulty we have in “not knowing” which then shuts off exploration.

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  12. Ron I have not read the BPS report but thanks to your excellent article, I will. I do think though, that much of the negativity that frames our perception of psychosis and assuredly affects the experience of it, is cultural. The fear, the judgement, the stigma, the abhorrence and disgust that is the routine Western reaction to psychosis is of course noticed and absorbed by those affected.

    I love the comment about seeing “problems” as relational because I do think that it is all about that. MOST of the time psychosis-sensitive people are the “canaries in the mine” in which they find themselves. The toxic environment that caused their problems is not of their making; but they are the intelligent, aware, sensitive beings most impacted by it.

    All theories which construe psychosis as some sort of personal flaw are missing the whole picture and by definition, miss the crucial aspect that we are all products of the systems in which we live.

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