Monday, September 1, 2014

Going Crazy: Part I

Truth or Delusion
Vision or Graffiti

CC Jean Stimmell: 8/10/14
According to a vast majority of psychiatrists today, schizophrenia is a medical disease like diabetes. The delusions the patient exhibits are considered to be strictly biological: undesirable random noise generated by a "malfunctioning (and mindless) brain."⁠1

It wasn’t always so.

As recently as the second half of the twentieth century, a majority of psychiatrists in the USA, largely due to the influence of Sigmund Freud, believed that schizophrenia resulted from the unconscious conflicts originating in childhood.⁠2

Growing up in the 1950s I cut my teeth on Freud. Then with the blossoming of the counterculture in the 1960s, our generation found a soulmate in Carl Jung who ideas fell well outside of medical pathology. “Through careful analysis of his own dream life, the dreams of his clients, and the hallucinations, fantasies, and delusions of psychotics, Jung discovered that the human psyche has access to images and motifs that are truly universal. They can be found in the mythology, folklore, and art of cultures widely distributed…throughout the history of humanity.”⁠3

Thus, Jung did not consider people who had visions that made no sense in terms of the biographical events in their lives to be “crazy:” He understood that the deities and demons his patients saw were not “spurious noise in their brain” but meaningful messages emerging from the collective unconscious.

Another of my 1960s idols, Stanislav Grof, delved further into the spiritual dimensions of this phenomenon:  “many episodes of unusual states of mind, even those that are dramatic and reach psychotic proportions, are not necessarily symptoms of disease in the medical sense. We view them as crises of the evolution of consciousness, or “spiritual emergencies,” comparable to the states described by the various mystical traditions of the world.⁠4

Grof goes beyond psychology to put the “problem” of spiritual emergency into the context of the crisis modern humanity is facing. “We firmly believe that spiritual emergence – transformation of the consciousness of humanity on a large scale – is one of the few truly promising tends in today’s world.”⁠5

Ah, the promise of the 1960s, the electric excitement in the air, the abiding hope that we could transcend the rigid orthodoxies of the past, escape from those confining cages suffocating us and fly free, liberating not only ourselves but all sentient beings everywhere. The whole spirit of those times is encapsulated in the opening line of the rock musical Hair: This is the dawning of the age of Aquarius.

It’s hard to believe that it all disappeared in a poof of air, collapsing like the World Trade Centers in 2001. 

How could we have regressed so far from the mind expanding possibilities of the 1960s– liberating schizophrenia from the straight jacket of medical pathology and rigid biological determinism – to the stark reality of today as personified in this 2012 pronouncement in Psychology Today:

Since then, the advent of antipsychotic medication, advanced brain imaging, and molecular genetic studies has confirmed beyond any reasonable doubt that schizophrenia is a biological disease of the brain.6
It is an unbelievable swing. If nothing else, it proves my thesis that mainstream psychology is absolutely not an independent science investigating “reality” but merely a weak reflection of the surrounding culture.
I’m actually optimistic, however, because I think this trend toward biological determination has already hit rock bottom.  In Part II, I will present evidence that the pendulum has already started to swing in the other direction.
1 The Delusions We Serve by Gary Greenbergaug. NYT 8/28/14
2 A Brief History of Schizophrenia
Schizophrenia through the ages.
Published on September 8, 2012 by Neel Burton, M.D.
3 Spiritual Emergency: When Personal Transformation Becomes a Crisis. Edited by Stanislav Grof, M.D., and Christina Grof. p. 5
4 Ibid., pp. 2-3
5 Ibid., p. xvii
A Brief History of Schizophrenia
Schizophrenia through the ages.
Published on September 8, 2012 by Neel Burton, M.D.
Post a Comment