When we think that something inside of ourselves is a “symptom of an illness” then we very naturally want to get rid of it. But what happens when what we are trying to get rid of is actually a vital, if not always helpful, part of ourselves?
If you look into the very origin of the word “schizophrenia” you will see that it relates to the “splitting of the mind.” But if the problem is the existence of a split, then it follows that the solution would be a bringing back together, not a getting rid of. Yet, the mental health system has been obsessed with getting rid of voices, and with getting rid of thinking that comes across as delusional. Fortunately, more and more consumers are speaking out about how unhelpful this is.
Efforts to get rid of voices for example fail in two different ways. One way is that the person takes lots of medication to try to do in the voices, but then suppresses most of themselves in the process – and often the voices continue regardless. The other way they fail is that efforts to get rid of the voices often just antagonize them, make them nastier, and prevent the person from ever looking at the undealt with issues that stirred the voices into action in the first place.
A better approach to voices is to set appropriate limits with them, but also be friendly and open to dialogue at appropriate times. This is a kind of peacemaking and healing, very similar to what works with say family or neighbors one is trying to make peace with. It only makes sense that if the goal is to overcome splits, to integrate, that a certain amount of friendliness and even love is required. A person who is curious about what a voice may be trying to accomplish for him or her may discover that a critical voice is actually attempting to protect him or her, even if in an overzealous and ineffective way. (Many of us have had critical parents who made similar mistakes.) Voice hearers are starting to tell their stories of shifts in their relationship to their voices, where friendships are made with voices or parts of themselves that once came across as immensely nasty and destructive.
Similar shifts can occur in a person’s relationship with thinking that once came across as “delusional.” Again, the idea is to set limits with the “delusional” thoughts, to avoid taking them completely literally when there are problems with the thoughts, but to also be friendly toward them and look for what might be of value in them.
A recent blog post links to a NY Times article about this sort of approach to delusional thinking. The article quotes a colleague of mine, Paris Williams, who is a survivor and a professional who is currently writing a book called “Rethinking Madness.” Given what I have seen of his work so far, this will be a book to watch out for.
Often, so called “delusional thinking” carries some “big idea” that can really transform someone’s life if they find a way to find meaning in it without expecting it to be totally literal. Framing such thinking as “illness” just makes people turn against their own thinking, rather than helping people get into what is helpful about it. Then, when people end up demoralized and apathetic as a result of being alienated from their deepest source of inspiration, which they now view as illness, the demoralization is called a “negative symptom” and itself is imagined to be part of an “illness”……..