Schizophrenia in the Golden Ass

Michael Fontaine, PhD
13
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Lucius, the narrator of Apuleius’ Golden Ass, meets the diagnostic criteria of schizophrenia. This observation suggests (1) that schizophrenia is not a recent disease, as historians of psychiatry assert, but that—whatever its origin and nature—it is at least ancient and probably eternal. It also suggests (2) that Lucius is an unreliable narrator of the novel because he believes his own delusions even more sincerely than most readers do.

This paper begins with a caveat that it represents no more than a thought experiment in progress. It draws together ideas I have developed piecemeal over many years of thinking about Apuleius’ Golden Ass in the light of J. J. Winkler’s ideas about the novel’s unreliable narrator. Winkler (1985) attributed the novel’s unreliable narrator to Apuleius’ experimentation with a kind of narrative akin to modern detective fiction. In this paper, I would like to suggest a different reason. As I shall argue, the narrator is unreliable because Apuleius presents him to us as a schizophrenic.

What is schizophrenia? According to the website of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), schizophrenia is a chronic, severe, incurable, and disabling brain disorder. It affects about 1% of Americans today—that is, about 3.2 million individuals. Its cause is unknown but most experts assume it is genetic.1 According to E. Fuller Torrey, the founder and Executive Director of the Stanley Medical Research Institute and a high-profile schizophrenia researcher, “schizophrenia is caused by changes in the brain and … these can be measured by changes in both brain structure and brain function. … Schizophrenia is thus a disease of the brain in exactly the same sense that Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, and Alzheimer’s disease are diseases of the brain.”2

Behind this confident rhetoric lies a heated controversy. NIMH states that schizophrenia has affected people throughout history, but historians of psychiatry disagree. If you aren’t familiar with psychiatric controversies, you will be surprised to learn that schizophrenia is a very late arrival to the annals of medicine. The disease is barely 200 years old. The first clinical descriptions date only to 1809 in London and Paris,3 and repeated attempts to find examples of schizophrenia in the vast literature of ancient Greece and Rome routinely come up empty. A 2003 survey determined that “in ancient Greek and Roman literature, there were no descriptions of individuals with schizophrenia.”4

The sudden appearance of schizophrenia just two centuries ago, followed by a furiously rapid proliferation of cases, has given rise to ongoing debates about whether the disease has always existed or whether it really is an epidemic of recent origin, comparable to the outbreaks of syphilis and AIDS. The debate is called the “recency vs. persistency hypotheses.” It explains why researchers worldwide are frantically looking for causes and trying different treatments—some physical, such as electroshock, lobotomy, or surgery (all of which are still in use), but the majority of them increasingly chemical, especially neuroleptic (or “antipsychotic”) drugs.

I would like to suggest that the whole apparatus on which the recency hypothesis depends is fundamentally wrong, and that we classicists can help show it. In my view, (1) Lucius, the narrator of Apuleius’ Golden Ass, easily meets the diagnostic criteria for schizophrenia, (2) Apuleius meant for readers to see him that way, and (3) that fact is why Lucius presents as an unreliable narrator.

What is schizophrenia and what does it look like? Since those who know Greek are likely to guess wrong, let me start by telling or reminding you what schizophrenia does not refer to. First, despite the etymology, schizophrenia does not mean a split personality. If you are thinking of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, you are very much mistaken. Second, the schizophrenic is not a raving psychotic who has lost all touch with reality, of the kind we often see in Hollywood movies. Typically he is a functioning individual.

How do we tell when someone is schizophrenic? Here are the diagnostic criteria of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, which is usually known as the DSM-5 (emphasis added):

Criterion A lists the five key symptoms of psychotic disorders: 1) delusions, 2) hallucinations, 3) disorganized speech (e.g., frequent derailment or incoherence), 4) disorganized or catatonic behavior, and 5) negative symptoms (i.e., affective flattening, alogia or avolition). At least two of these five symptoms are required to be present during a 1-month period and at least one symptom must be one of the first three (delusions, hallucinations, disorganized speech). Only one Criterion A symptom is required “if delusions are bizarre or hallucinations consist of a voice keeping up a running commentary on the person’s behavior or thoughts, or two or more voices conversing with each other.”

Schizophrenia is also marked by “social/occupation dysfunctions.” What does that mean? It means that:

One or more major areas of functioning such as work, interpersonal relations or self-care are markedly below the level achieved prior to the onset (or when the onset is in childhood or adolescence, failure to achieve expected level of interpersonal, academic, or occupational achievement).

In plain English, this means schizophrenics start to do poorly in school or at work and their hygiene can be appalling.

These criteria do not mention a fact that clinicians often taken for granted, namely that schizophrenia tends to manifest in late adolescence (late teens to early 20s).

At any rate, Lucius seems to meet not just two of the five, but all of the DSM-5 diagnostic criteria.

Consider the “social/occupation dysfunctions.” At the outset of the novel, Lucius is an unmarried young man, presumably about 20 or 25 years old. He is a curious and naïve adolescent on the cusp of manhood, with the whole world open to him. He comes from a good family, much seems to be expected of him, and he is poised for a lucrative career in the import/export business. In short, he is attempting to make the transition from dependence to independence. That fact is one reason the novel has been taken for a Bildungsroman, a coming-of-age story.

But it also makes him exactly the right age for schizophrenia to appear, and as we know, his original mission to Thessaly, which was a business trip (Thessaliam ex negotio petebam 1.2), fails spectacularly. The novel ends with him not as a successful merchant but as a member or priest of a cult engaged in bizarre religious behaviors. He shaves his head, he keeps donating money, and so on. His last words in the novel assert that he is happy performing his new duties (munia…gaudens obibam) but his bliss seems to be less real than he says. Many scholars, most recently Stefan Tilg, note that obibam appears to pun on the idea that Lucius “was dying (obibam).”5 I agree with this view, and would add that “I’m dying” is a typical schizophrenic metaphor for existential distress, much as we know that “I was abused” or “I was raped” or “I am drowning” sometimes are.

What about the other symptoms? In the rest of this paper I move through each of the five major symptoms:

  • delusions
  • hallucinations
  • disorganized speech
  • disorganized or catatonic behavior, and
  • negative symptoms

 

1. Delusions

According to the DSM, schizophrenic delusions are typically persecutory or grandiose or both, but other themes, such as jealousy, religiosity, or somatization, may also occur. They are usually organized around a coherent theme. It is said that the persecutory themes may predispose the individual to suicidal behavior, and the combination of persecutory and grandiose delusions with anger may predispose the individual to violence.6  This is the source of the popular belief, and perhaps fact, that schizophrenic individuals are “dangerous to themselves or others,” especially family members.

Lucius’ arrest and trial for murder at the Laughter festival in books 2 and 3 bears all the hallmarks of a schizophrenic delusion. As he tells the story, the whole city is conspiring to persecute him. (The episode brings to mind Kafka’s The Trial, just as the novel as a whole evokes his Metamorphoses.) Just so, the episode that precipitates the trial—that is, Lucius’ killing of wineskins that he mistakes for men— seems to be a hallucination.

In the same spirit, of course, Lucius’ very transformation into a jackass can be read as a delusion of persecution, perhaps the grandest of all. It is notable that while in ass form, Lucius repeatedly contemplates suicide. It is also remarkable, to me at least, that as the narrative wears on Lucius begins referring to himself increasingly as “my ass” rather than himself as an ass (me asinum). This line of speech reads as a dissociation or at least a lack of commitment to the delusion.

In this connection I have always wondered about a remarkably different account of the burglary of Milo’s house that we hear of at the start of book 7:

[A]nother one of the band of robbers arrived … and then made the following report to his band of brothers:

“As for what’s up with Milo’s house in Hypata, the one we ransacked not so long ago…it was not by questionable inferences but by demonstrable arguments that [according to the local mobs of people] the finger pointed toward someone named Lucius as the mastermind indubitably behind the crime—this was the common conviction of the entire crowd. In the days just prior he had, by bogus letters of introduction, contrived to present himself to Milo as an honest man; he had commended himself to him so solidly that he was invited to share Milo’s hospitality and was accounted one of the bosom members of his host’s household. But as he stayed there for a few days, insinuating himself into the soul of Milo’s serving girl with a false front of affection, he investigated the bolts and bars of the front door as circumstances allowed, and thoroughly and thoughtfully scrutinized the very rooms in which all of Milo’s treasure was usually kept.

And it was no insignificant indication of who the guilty party was that, in fact, on that very same night, at the very same moment of your outrageous offense, that same man ran away, and could not thereafter be discovered anywhere.”7

Of course, Lucius’ larger narrative implies this account is false. But could it be true? If so, and if Lucius is the unreliable narrator he is often claimed to be, his entire account of turning into a jackass and being kidnapped and tormented by sadistic robbers could be a colossal schizophrenic metaphor for his guilty conscience, much as in Greek tragedy Aeschylus and Euripides hint the Furies haunting the murderous Orestes might be.8

This line of interpretation falls in line with a passage at the start of a short story from 1940 titled Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius by the Argentine experimentalist Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986):

Bioy Casares había cenado conmigo esa noche y nos demoró una vasta polémica sobre la ejecución de una novela en primera persona, cuyo narrador omitiera o desfigurara los hechos e incurriera en diversas contradicciones, que permitieran a unos pocos lectores—muy pocos lectores—la adivinación de una realidad atroz o banal. 

Bioy Casares had had dinner with me that evening and we had lost all track of time in a vast debate over the way one might go about composing a first-person novel whose narrator would omit or distort things and engage in all sorts of contradictions, so that a few readers—a very few—might divine the horrifying or banal truth.

A schizophrenic narrator is an obvious means of achieving this aim. Is it possible, then, that with The Golden Ass, Apuleius sought to compose a first-person novel whose narrator omitted or distorted things and engaged in all sorts of contradictions, so that a few readers—a very few—might divine the horrifying or banal truth? If so, that horrifying or banal truth must be that the Golden Ass is really the tale of a young man, Lucius, who succumbs to schizophrenic delusions and, in their grip, turns to a life of crime and homelessness.

In my view, this line of interpretation is not only authorized by the prologue but may even be demanded by it. The famously enigmatic prologue offers us the best example in the novel of the second diagnostic criterion, namely (auditory) hallucinations.

2. Hallucinations

Schizophrenic hallucinations are usually auditory. In common parlance, they are what we call “hearing voices.” The voices can express various ideas but usually fall into patterns. They may mock the individual who hears them or threaten him. They may command him to harm himself or others. They may also suggest he enjoys exalted birth or that he has been chosen for a special, often divine, mission. Because psychiatrists arbitrarily exempt religious beliefs, Judaism, which meets the last two criteria, is not considered a symptom of schizophrenia. In fact, however, until recent times about half of all schizophrenic delusions (or hallucinations) were religious in nature (Krzystanek, Krysta, Klasik, and Krupka-Matuszczyk (2012)). And a clear proof that people in ancient Greece and Rome claimed to experience schizophrenic hallucinations appears in Plautus’ Menaechmi. In the climax of the play the protagonist, who is feigning “insanity” (insania), pretends to hear Apollo’s voice commanding him to kill his wife (831-881).

Apuleius took a special interest in the hallucinated “voice” (daimonion) that Socrates claimed to hear; he wrote a whole treatise, the De Deo Socratis, about it. I would like to suggest that he toys with the idea in the Golden Ass, specifically via the invisible voices Psyche hears in Cupid’s palace (5.2):

And as she inspects all this with the greatest of passion and delight, a disembodied voice (vox quaedam corporis sui nuda) presents itself to her. “Why, my lady,” it said, “does your jaw drop at the sight of such a welter of wealth? All these things belong to you. … We, whose voices you’re hearing (quarum voces accipis) are your handmaidens…

More to the point, Lucius himself seems to hear voices right from the outset of the story. The first sentence of his prologue famously begins:

At ego tibi sermone isto Milesio varias fabulas conseram.… Exordior. “Quis ille?” Paucis accipe. Hymettos Attica…mea vetus prosapia est; 

But I’ll—let me string some tales together for you, stories of all sorts…. I’m starting. “Who’s that guy?” Listen briefly. Hymettus in Attica…is my pedigree from of old.

We cannot tell who the tibi is that Lucius is talking to, or that he thinks he is talking to, when he begins his story in mid-conversation (cf. at, “But”). But it could be the same person, or voice, that interrupts him getting started (exordior) by pointing a finger at him and asking a third person, “Who’s that guy?” I do not think I am mistaken in detecting a hostile tone to the (deictic) pronoun ille.

Translators invariably soft-pedal quis ille? Like most others, for example, Relihan translates it “But who is this man? you say.” The problem, however, is that the Latin makes it clear that Lucius, the narrator, is hearing someone else’s voice and talking back to it.

In my view, this pointed question is what makes it apparent that Lucius is presented to us as a schizophrenic narrator, as one who talks to himself or his “voices.” Because there is no one else obviously around, his interlocutor can only be one of his imaginary voices. Furthermore, Lucius seems to refer to this “voice” a moment later. He states:

Iam haec equidem ipsa vocis immutatio desultoriae scientiae stilo quem accessimus respondet. 

As a matter of fact, this immutatio vocis provides a nice analogy to the manner of composition that we have brought to bear here—much skill and quick leaping from one thing to another, like circus performers on their two trick horses.

Relihan renders ipsa vocis immutatio as “change in my language” and, with others, takes it to refer to Lucius’ switch from Greek to Latin. But that makes scant sense of iam. In my view, Lucius can equally mean “As a matter of fact, already this very shifting of voices…,” referring back to the voice asking quis ille? If so, and if Apuleius’ readers took that interpretation for granted, than we would do well to consider whether all the fantastical elements in the narrative that follows—the transformations, the dream(y) and grandiose apparition of Isis, the torment of the robbers, and so on—are simply the ravings of a (paranoid) schizophrenic narrator.

3. Other symptoms

The last three symptoms can be dealt with summarily. The third, disorganized speech, refers to strange speech. It is sometimes called word salad or schizophrenese. As in James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake, it is marked by the frequent use of neologisms, and some, though not all, consider it identical to glossolalia, or speaking in tongues. As the catalogue in Lara Nicolini’s recent book (Nicolini 2011) shows, of course, this phenomenon is the very essence of the narrator’s style in the Golden Ass. The novel is packed with bizarre puns. Conseram, the first verb of the novel, which could be either future or subjunctive, and which could come from conserere “to plant” (cf. sermonem serere) or conserere “to weave together” (cf. exordior), is only one of endless examples.

Lucius’ braying attempts to articulate human speech while in ass form would count as examples of the fourth synonym, disorganized or catatonic behavior, just as his repeated thoughts of suicide while in ass form easily meet the criteria of negative symptoms—affective flattening, alogia, or avolition. In fact, his entire experience in ass form, in which he mostly sees himself as the passive victim of the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, meet these criteria.

4. Conclusions

What can we conclude? Two points.

First: if schizophrenia—whatever its origin—really did meet mankind only in 1809, then it is astonishing that not only some, but that all of its chief symptoms are on display in a novel written 1900 years ago. This suggests psychiatric historians ought to read Apuleius’ Golden Ass.

Second: J. J. Winkler called Lucius an unreliable narrator. I say we can take that observation a step further and state that Lucius is a schizophrenic and therefore unreliable narrator: in other words, he is bullshitting us, but only because he believes his own bullshit even more sincerely than we do. The model is Kafka, not Conan Doyle.

If this line of interpretation seems promising, a suitable next step is to investigate the inset story of Cupid and Psyche. If it is allegorical, as it seems, it may well tell us what Apuleius thought of the union of one’s desires with one’s soul or mind in a context that we consider biological (medical, pathological), but that he may have considered an eternal part of the human condition.

* * * * *

Footnotes:

  1. NIMH (2016)
  2. Torrey (2011)
  3. Gottesman (1991) an Noll (2007) xi-xiii
  4. Evans, McGrath, and Milns (2003).
  5. Ting (2014) 141-142.
  6. The language in this paragraph deliberately adapts that of the diagnostic criteria for schizophrenia found in the DSM0IV, the predecessor of the DSM-5.
  7. All translations of Apuleius’ Golden Ass in this paper are that of Relihan (2007), occasionally modified.
  8. I expand on this theme in a forthcoming paper to be titled “The Myth of Paranoid Schizophrenia in Classical Perspective: Aeschylus’ Libation Bearers and the Legacy of Thomas Szasz.”

Bibliography:

Borges, Jorge Luis. 1998. “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius (1940)”; in Andrew Hurley (tr.), Jorge Luis Borges: Collected Fictions. New York: Penguin, 68-81.

Evans, K., J. McGrath, and R. Milns. 2003. “Searching for Schizophrenia in Ancient Greek and Roman Literature: A systematic review.” Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica 107(5): 323-330. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12752027. Accessed on February 28, 2016.

Gottesmann, Irving I. 1991. Schizophrenia Genesis: The origins of madness. New York: W. H. Freeman and Company.

Krzystanek M., Krysta K., Klasik A., Krupka-Matuszczyk, I. 2012. “Religious content of hallucinations in paranoid schizophrenia”; Psychiatria Danubina 24 Suppl 1:65-69. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22945191. Accessed on February 28, 2016.

Nicolini, Lara. 2011. Ad (L)usum Lectoris: Etimologia e giochi di parole in Apuleio. Bologna: Pàtron.

NIMH (National Institute of Mental Health) website. “Schizophrenia.” (http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/schizophrenia/index.shtml). Accessed on February 28, 2016.

Noll, Richard. 2007. “Madness, Psychosis, Schizophrenia: A Brief History”; in R. Noll (ed.), The Encyclopedia of Schizophrenia and Other Psychotic Disorders, 3rd edition, New York: Facts on File, ix-xx.

Relihan, Joel (tr.). 2007. Apuleius: The Golden Ass. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett, 2007.

Tilg, Stefan. 2014. Apuleius’ Metamorphoses: A study in Roman fiction. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Torrey, E. Fuller. 2011. “Schizophrenia as a brain disease: Studies of individuals who have never been treated – Backgrounder.” (http://www.treatmentadvocacycenter.org/resources/briefing-papers-and-fact-sheets/159/466). Accessed on February 28, 2016.

Winkler, J. J. 1985. Auctor and Actor. A Narratological Reading of Apuleius’ The Golden Ass. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press.

13 COMMENTS

    • Michael,

      I recommend you to stop using the word “a schizophrenic” to define a person in your writing. It is stigmatizing and inaccurate. If you would not use the word “a cancer” to label a person who is believed to have a cancer, or “a Parkinson’s” then you should not call a person a schizophrenic…. it is insulting. Of course, “schizophrenia” is not even comparable to those conditions in ontological reality in the first place, maybe this usage even less appropriate, something you should know…

    • Here is the beginning section of a long essay I’m writing refuting the NIHH and NAMI’s position on “schizophrenia”. I have written it using some medical language, in order that those deluded by the medical model will be able to find it in the first place. I hope readers here find it interesting… still working on finishing this piece:
      ——————————

      How to Cure Schizophrenia: Eight Stories Proving that NIMH, NAMI, and APA Are Lying to the Public about Schizophrenia’s “Incurability”

      Contents:

      Pro and Con: A) Seven Experienced Therapists Saying Schizophrenia Can be Cured
      B) Three Psychiatric Organizations Saying Schizophrenia is Incurable

      In this essay I’m going to show that “schizophrenia” can be cured via intensive psychotherapy.

      First, I’ll quote seven experienced therapists who helped formerly schizophrenic people become genuinely well. To those who believe that schizophrenia is a lifelong brain disease, such hopeful statements may sound impossible. But consider that these quotes come from people who have worked intensively with hundreds of schizophrenic clients in long-term psychotherapy. The quotes that follow come from bureaucrats or psychiatrists who, for the most part, have never made a serious attempt to understand people labeled schizophrenic psychologically:

      Seven Masters Therapists On Curing Schizophrenia

      Italian-American psychoanalyst Silvano Arieti, commenting on his decades of experience doing intensive psychotherapy with schizophrenic clients,

      “If by cure we mean the reestablishment of relatedness with other human beings, closeness with a few persons, love for the spouse and children, a reorganization of the personality that includes a definite self-identity, a feeling of fulfillment, or of purpose and hope – and this is the cure we want – the answer to this question (“Can Schizophrenics Be Cured?”) is still yes. In my experience we can obtain these results in a considerable number of cases.

      I have already mentioned that, as a result of psychotherapy, many formerly schizophrenic patients achieve a degree of psychological maturity far superior to the one that existed prior to the psychosis… In reviewing the cases of schizophrenic patients that have been treated with intensive psychotherapy, I have come to the conclusions that my optimistic predictions proved to be accurate in by far the majority of cases.”

      (From “Interpretation of Schizophrenia”)

      Italian psychotherapist Gaetano Benedetti, commenting on his study of 50 schizophrenic patients given psychotherapy for an average of 5 years each:

      “These formerly schizophrenic patients made remarkable clinical, interpersonal, and social improvement, often leading to complete healing… These cases show that there is a correlation between the deep affection of the therapeutic relationship, clinical improvement, and maintenance of post-therapeutic contact… All the patients, through letters, phone calls, or occasional sessions were eager to show the therapists their social and emotional improvement.”

      (from Psychotherapy of Schizophrenia, chapter 17, “Individual Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy of Schizophrenia”).

      American psychoanalyst Bryce Boyer, commenting on his study of 17 schizophrenic patients in long-term psychotherapy:

      “The psychotic core was fundamentally altered, as a rule, within two years… Fourteen [of 17 total] schizophrenic patients appear thus far to have outcomes which can be classified as satisfactory, or in some cases, most encouraging… It is suggested that the psychotic process is reversible in some patients and that we, as analysts, might aim not at encapsulation of at least some psychoses, but at their cure.”

      (Psychoanalytic Treatment of Schizophrenic and Characterological Disorders, Chapter 3, “Office Treatment of Schizophrenic Patients”).

      Turkish psychoanalyst Vamik Volkan, commenting on his six phases of long-term psychotherapy for schizophrenics:

      “If there is no interference from the environment, and the therapist commits no major technical errors, the schizophrenic patient will visit his terror and emerge from it with progressive development… After this experience the patient no longer feels like a “bad seed” with a core full of “bad” affects. When the infantile psychotic self is dissolved, the patient will never again be schizophrenic… Only in the termination phase is the formerly schizophrenic individual expected to mourn genuinely as an adult on leaving the analyst. With most former schizophrenics, mourning continues silently for many years after treatment has been concluded.”

      (The Infantile Psychotic Self,

      American psychoanalyst Lawrence Hedges, commenting on the transformability of schizophrenic mental states, which he calls “organizing” experience,

      “By now the limitations in empathic instruments about which Kohut speaks have been considerably altered so that sustained and reliable empathic immersion in psychotic and borderline states under many conditions is deemed possible. It turns out that the dread of reexperiencing the primordial fear and chaos… can be satisfactorily accomplished.

      All organizing states (i.e. schizophrenic conditions) are transformable… I know of no reason that, given the proper containing conditions, organizing experience cannot be brought into a therapeutic relationship for analysis so that channels once closed off can be analyzed, thereby opening them to human contact and further development.”

      (page 197 and page

      New Zealand-based therapist Paris Williams, commenting on the recovery research about so-called schizophrenia,

      “Myth #3: People Cannot Fully Recover from Schizophrenia… While there continues to be the widespread belief in our society that people diagnosed with schizophrenia generally do not recover, the actual research tells a very different story… The finding that recovery rates are quite high is surprisingly robust. The authors of the largest such series of studies – the World Health Organization – have concluded that “the overarching message is that schizophrenia is largely an episodic disorder with a rather favorable outcome for a significant proportion of those afflicted.”

      “As we have seen, the recovery research strongly suggests that, when supported in a compassionate and empathic environment, psychosis often (and perhaps even ordinarily) resolves automatically. In addition to this, there is significant evidence that a psychotic episode sometimes provides a breakthrough into profound healing and even psychological and emotional growth.”

      (Rethinking Madness, pages 39-41, and page 65)

      American psychiatrist Edward Podvoll, commenting on the recovery journeys of several formerly psychotic men,

      “There is a moment in the midst of madness when things suddenly begin to make sense again. One feels that one has come back into oneself. One has become the “operator”, as Henri Michaux called it. It is an island of clarity where one is suddenly freed from the fixed mind of delusion… Frequently this moment carries with it an uncanny confidence that the worst is over and that one will become well again.” (From “Recovering Sanity”, page 209).

      American Psychiatry’s View of Schizophrenia as an Incurable Lifelong Brain Disease

      Now, compare these viewpoints on the potential for cure and healing in “schizophrenia” with the viewpoint of our National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), an institution which happens to be funded by pharmaceutical companies:

      “Schizophrenia is a chronic, severe, and disabling brain disorder… Many people with schizophrenia are disabled by their symptoms. The disorder makes it hard for them to keep a job or take care of themselves… Most people who have the disorder cope with symptoms throughout their lives. There is no cure for schizophrenia.”

      http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/schizophrenia/index.shtml

      Here is what our main consumer-led – and coincidentally drug company-funded – patient-rights organization in the United States, the National Alliance for the Mentally (NAMI), has to say about schizophrenia:

      “Schizophrenia is a complex, long-term medical illness that interferes with a person’s ability to think clearly, manage emotions, make decisions and relate to others… There is no cure for schizophrenia.”

      https://www.nami.org/Learn-More/Mental-Health-Conditions/Schizophrenia

      And the American Psychiatric Association; the main organization representing psychiatrists, and also heavily funded by drug companies, defines schizophrenia in this way:

      “Schizophrenia is a chronic brain disorder that affects about one percent of the population… there is no cure for schizophrenia.”

      http://psychiatry.org/patients-families/schizophrenia/what-is-schizophrenia

      You would almost think the same person is writing these snippets! While these sources give lip service to helping people with schizophrenia “live well with their illness” and “effectively manage their symptoms”, the underbelly of these viewpoints is that someone with schizophrenia will always be less well than “normal” people, always have “the illness”, and never fully recover.

      To the idea that schizophrenia is incurable, my response is “enough is enough”: this essay will expose the myth of schizophrenia’s incurability.

      Goals of This Essay

      In this piece, I will review the history of psychodynamic psychotherapy for schizophrenia. I will show that major improvement and/or cure of psychotic experience is not only common but expectable in good treatment. Furthermore, many people fortunate enough to access long-term psychotherapy for psychosis (as well as many who get well without therapy) have become enduringly non-psychotic. This is very different from “managing an illness” – these former schizophrenics are able to live, love, work and do all the things that any normal person enjoys doing, free of psychotic symptoms.

      Let me retrace now some of the major books on psychodynamic psychotherapy for schizophrenia, along with Amazon links. Because psychosis is a fascinating subject and a developmental precursor to borderline states, and because I have a family member who has had psychotic experiences, I have spent the last 10 years studying these works.

      What I hope the reader will see is how much literature is actually out there showing that “schizophrenia” can be meaningfully understood in social and psychological terms. Not only that, but these books contain scores of stories of people labeled schizophrenic who become psychosis-free and live a fulfilling life.

      (still working on finishing this; about 40 psychodynamic books to cite and many case studies to summarize…)

  1. Van Os’ opinion is hardly new or novel, the idea of a schizophrenia syndrome being around for at least 50 years. The syndrome, itself isn’t new, either- a sufferer is a central figure in a Biblical story in the Book of Mark of the man named Legion (so named from the legion of demons inhabiting him and telling him what to do) and Jesus exorcising his demons into the Gadarene swine, thereby stampeding them into the Sea of Galilee.

  2. Schizophrenia, the word, didn’t exist until Paul Eugen Bleuler coined it at the beginning of the 20th century. I have a great deal of trepidation about imposing the present on the past. I don’t have any illusion that the ancients were any less correct, when it comes to madness aka psychiatric labels, than are the would-be experts on the subject today.

    Michel Foucault pointed to usurpation of the containment of the mad by the medical profession as beginning sometime at the end of the eighteenth century. This is the point at which madness becomes “mental illness”. I personally think there is a lot to be said for Foucault’s analysis. What Foucault doesn’t try to do is to interject a 20th century diagnosis into a 1 st century piece of fiction the way you just did.

    As for quoting Hamlet, wouldn’t Nick Bottom have been more appropriate?

    I’m not one for taking events out of context, that is, for neglecting the absolute historicity of the situation you’re dealing with. To paraphrase, F. Scott FitzGerald, “You know, the ancients were different from you or me.” Hemingway: “Yes, they had no schizophrenia.”

    • It’s always curious what you get out of a Google news search. If it’s for “schizophrenia”, you’re going to get one thing. (Usually clinical research.) Ditto this disorder or that. If it’s for “mental health”, you’re going to get something else. (Generally mental health movement propaganda.) If it’s madness, it’s going to be March Madness, and football. My but oh my, how things change.

      Flashback a few thousand years ago. “Schizophrenia!” What’s that? The buzz over those telegraph wires that haven’t been invented yet. Ditto psychiatrist, the successor to mad doctor and alienist. Only her alchemist knows for sure.

      • Back to Google news searches, if it’s anti-psychiatry, generally the detractors outnumber the admirers. There’s a reason this is so. You’ve got a corrupt government in bed with the corporations that put those officials in office, and none of them represent the man in the street. Not unless that man in the street is filthy rich. Some of those corporations are drug companies. Watch television sometime if it doesn’t put you to sleep. Direct to consumer advertising has made it a matter of back to back drug ads.

        This craze to label and drug people is bound to be godsend for your business of labeling and drugging people from the past. There can be no end to it. What it ignores is the rising “mental illness” rate. This rising “mental illness” rate was once a rising “lunacy” rate. The 19th century asylum boom sent those rates through the ceiling. Robert Whitaker has dealt with the rise of those rates since the advent of psychiatric drugs in the mid 1950s. Nothing is sending those rates down, and particularly not to the levels existing before institutional psychiatry arose in the 17th century. In the middle ages though, and in Rome, I kinda don’t think anybody was counting. Today it’s a whopping 20 %, more or less, and none of them are as much a “danger to self or others” as any elected official.

        • As for the current status of anti-psychiatry in the public eye, I notice a good percentage of reasonably intelligent people react to my bringing up the topic by associating it with Tom Cruise or Scientology, generally in an insulting way. So we need to discuss how we can best get them past this.

          • There is no anti-anti-psychiatry search category. A category that would be much more appropriate to most of the articles about “anti-psychiatry” in quotation marks. Anti-psychiatry searches are stuck with anti-psychiatry bashing psychiatrists, very similarly to the MIA stories that might come up if you put “psychiatry” into the search box, and irritate the bio-psychiatrists.

            There is one story that comes up if you search Google news for anti-anti-psychiatry. It was written by a former patient of Laing follower Leon Redler. He blasts Redler and Laing for their capitalism. This is interesting in one sense because recently I came across the term anti-psychoanalysis in reference to Felix Guattari and Gilles Deleuse. The claim was that their anti-psychoanalysis put them in opposition to anti-psychiatry. I say…to-may-toes, to-mah-toes…

            Now that all these cats have outlived their nine lives, we can dangerously (I don’t like safe) oppose all forms of social control practiced by the state. There is no developed philosophy of anti-psychiatry because anti-psychiatry isn’t organized in the slightest. Maybe that is something we can work to change in the future. Just imagine, card carrying anti-psychiatrists with anti-psychiatry cells in every neighborhood.

            If my daydream went too far, so be it. Some would still say it doesn’t go far enough, and I would agree so long as psychiatry is used to disqualify, invalidate, and injure people (i.e. has not “gotten out of Dodge”).

          • As things stand now we are the anti-psychiatrists who are perhaps more than we realize helping guide the discussion at this point in history, as there are more people paying attention to MIA than it might seem, most of whom don’t post comments. But at least some of them are taking notes. So we don’t need to look in Wikipedia etc. to find a good definition for anti-psych, we are in a position to define it ourselves and, if it differs from Wikipedia’s version, to request that they correct themselves.

  3. I read this whole article, and….

    1) Since when is “schizophrenia” a legitimate disease? And none of the statements about it support this when as logic it is comparable to stating that when a person has a physical wound which shows signs of trauma (black and blue marks, a scab, pain etc.) that this proves that there is something wrong with the body, and that there’s a disease going on. Emotional trauma is emotional. The behavior expressing this is also emotional. When the healing modalities such as Healing Homes of Finland, Soteria project and other such disciplines heal these conditions this shows it’s emotional. When the supposed healing modalities calling it a fictional physical disease cause a spike in said occurrence, this shows they aren’t healing it, and that to hold onto the idea that it is physical in the way they define it doesn’t. Unless you want to talk about healing fictional diseases (in comes old story), and when you can cause more of this fictional disease by suppressing emotions and cognitive insight (problem has to be fictional to exist for example) you can add numbers to how much healing is going on of what is fictional (so when there’s more of the fictional disease, you can have more fictional healing, and in a fictional sense it’s all working, like so and so with his magic wand). That when it’s seen for what it is when there’s healing is suppressed can be overlooked (in comes fictional character with disease).

    2) This redundant repetition of “signs” of schizophrenia when they are behavior oriented, all conveniently placed to cover up trauma as having a physical fictional source rather than emotional, and make that out to be a disease when there are signs of healing, of a loosening of the parameters of control that are in collusion with trauma based control tactics. Trauma based control tactics responsible for the riff in society which caused the trauma: what this is purported to have to do with fiction, except we’re back to that instead of actually understanding the story, is quite disturbing. All the supposed symptoms are seen as symptoms of an alleged disease, rather than tools to gain perspective on emotional trauma being exposed and thus let go of. Why have this list of symptoms when being seen in such a fashion are in collusion with causing disease rather than healing?

    3) AGAIN, statements about the change in the shape of the brain. If one goes to such websites supporting these supposed proofs, you see that they say the people who are and aren’t medicated show reported signs of these reported changes in shapes of the organ called the brain. It does NOT say how much the correlation is with those who aren’t medicated, how marginal this might be. It ALSO does not say (conveniently leaves out) that the change in those medicated has long been proven to correspond with medication, something which at first was reported as a symptom of the disease but had to be corrected. Once AGAIN: It was known the whole time the “medications” cause the change in brain structure, this was suppressed, and even attributed to a yet to be proven disease caused by a yet to be proven chemical imbalance – all while the medications have been proven to cause, a chemical imbalance which resulted in the change in brain structure. And yet again, when there is supposed proof that a disease is caused by changes in brain structure (which has been proven to be caused by the medications) to include those who aren’t medicated, and have NO proof that the medications correct this change in brain structure (rather than cause it which there is proof of) with any logic would point out that the “medications” are a cause not a remedy. It would be AMAZING if the drug companies said that people with a proven identifiable heart condition (which has to be determined by analyses of behavior rather than any physical sign) when on their medications or not have said identifiable heart abnormality, and completely skip that the medications are supposed to fix this abnormality, not correlate with causing it. If you are or aren’t on these medications that fix this problem you have said problem does not correlate with fixing said problem! And how many of the psychiatric medications actually end up causing heart problems?

    4) Back to supposedly identifying behavior symptoms of a fictional disease whose diagnosis is in collusion with creating a major spike in occurrence of said fictional disease (and whose treatment has been proven to cause an “epidemic” of biological disease caused by “medications”), all to validate said disease as being reported in a fictional story ages ago, because historically the fictional disease was said to exist after the fictional story was written.

    5) So we are asked to entertain that (this, those, them) fictional disease(s) existed (exist) in fiction before fictional disease was named a disease (alleged but guilty until proven innocent), the evidence being that a fictional character might have been making up fiction (which is seen as a symptom of said fictional disease, but not by those making out the fiction to be a disease fictionally identified after fiction) because said character made up possible fiction about being hijacked by a group of fictional robbers.

    And where’s the “brilliant” article that “Shakespeare” coined the most number of neologisms, and being mostly (that we know of) taken into the English language, this shows that the whole population of the English speaking world has possible symptoms of (see list) in article…

    Or what list of inconvenient truths are then marginalized as “fictional?”

    • I’m sorry if I’m over working this, and I hope that the last phrase of a statement in this article: “that we consider biological (medical, pathological), but that he may have considered an eternal part of the human condition.” points out where healing takes place.

      I do have to mention that it’s fine and well to theoreticize about a story, but this is not,
      sigh,
      I don’t know what to say about this. It’s not a case history, something which in regarding psychiatry might be a great plus; because then you CAN theoretize rather than one is coerced into thinking one needs to follow a mode of treatment, although this correlates in the majority of cases with perpetuating the problem not healing it. But people who truly are suffering trauma need a bit more cogent and intimate help than such fictional speculation, which might go along with the same lines of creating a theory just to make it sound plausible as already goes on with the methods in collusion with the whole spike in “mental illness.”

      If one were going to make a statement about “schizophrenia” I think you have to include the stories of people who have been through it, and have recovered, and don’t see it as a biological disease.

      That ISN’T something the people maintaining the DSM or the NIHM might even allow, let alone are truly interested in.

      To list criteria of what one could term propaganda from organizations dismissing the stories of people who have actually themselves been through “schizophrenia” and recovered, in order to maintain that a fictionalized story shows there was “schizophrenia” two millenii ago…

      And yeah, I think there was trauma two millenii ago, but using the term “Schizophrenia” seems to be about denying how trauma effects people and calling it a disease rather than trauma.

      If one is to speak of narrators who are unreliable, you might want to start with those writing the DSM or maintaining the NIHM. Advertised treatment correlating with an epidemic of a disease rather than healing, isn’t a very reliable source of information.

      Being institutionalized against your will and forced on treatments that don’t correlate with healing, damage your body while you lose your civil liberties, all for a disease that hasn’t been proven to truly exist as defined but is a great source of wealth for the drug companies when fraudulently made out to be, this isn’t so far off from being kidnapped and tormented by sadistic robbers (robbers who recently have had to pay billion of dollars of fines for false advertising)…

  4. Lovely Article Michael,

    I believe theres no such thing as schizophrenia, it’s an invention.

    A few years ago I did some building improvement on a police station in Central London. When I started work on the outside a policeman asked me if I would be cleaning up the leaves as well (he said his boss wanted to know).

    I told him I wouldn’t, but I said maybe another contractor might do this for him. He went inside the station and opened the window so that I could hear him, shouting at his boss – telling him I wasn’t a cleaner.

    He came out again and apologised to me, and he asked me if I was going to beat up his boss. I told him that I couldn’t be bothered.

    Then the policeman apologised again and went back into the police station disappointed.

    The policeman was having a laugh, but in psychiatry the problem is that staff are often ‘out of touch’ people who can concoct strange ideas about other people and are then in a position to act them out.