This essay is my small installment in a wide-ranging and extensive criticism of the mental-health-pharmaceutical complex in the United States of America known as the “anti-psychiatry” movement. It is based on Chapter 5 of a book called Punishing the Patient by an Australian doctor named Richard Golden, which can be found online at:
https://sites.google.com/site/punishingthepatient/. All quotations are from this text.
40 Days // Schizophrenic Psychosis is a Mystic Emergency
According to the New Testament and Christian oral tradition, Jesus of Nazareth, like many Jews before him, wandered in the desert for 40 days and nights, fasting and collecting himself. After this arduous time, he was finally the empowered messiah. According to the Old Testament, the Jews wandered in the desert for 40 years after their escape from slavery in Egypt. 40 days for the individual, and 40 years for the tribe – this is the time required to reorient and reacquaint to agency, power, imagination, and intention.
The story of Jesus maintains its power and relevance in our modern and postmodern mythological horizon because of its value to any woman or man experiencing an involuntary reduction in power, or a new found peak of responsibility. Examples of the former include aging, demotion, loss of job, loss of wife or partner, and examples of the latter are a new job, inherited wealth, installment in place of privilege or leadership in art, industry, family, or village.
Painful death and rebirth is the correct expectation for anyone going through their own transformational psychosis, and the gospel is a vivid description of how to successfully navigate through to the other side in a healthy way. In contrast, institutionalization, demonization, medication, isolation, enforced conformity, and confinement are the impotent yet profitable methods introduced in modern times.
“[Noted anti-psychiatrist J. W.] Perry theorised that schizophrenia manifests as a combination of the unconscious activating and the ego collapsing. This assessment fits closely with mystical practice, in which the mystical aspirant deliberately activates the unconscious through techniques such as word repetition and visualisations, while denying expression to the conscious self-identity… through ascetic practices such as seclusion, celibacy, and fasting…
“In comparing modern schizophrenics with mythological heroes, Joseph Campbell, the great mythologist, summed up his opinion this way: ‘our schizophrenic patient is actually experiencing inadvertently that same beatific ocean deep which the yogi and saint are ever striving to enjoy… except that, whereas they are swimming in it, he is drowning.’”
Prayer and renunciation, sacred music and dance, are like dipping your toes down into the ocean of death and rebirth, biting off a manageable portion of insight into the state of one’s life and time. The schizophrenic, for lack of regular practice in obtaining manageable doses, has dove headfirst into this same ocean. The obvious solution is to teach mystical practice more widely and seriously.
But what did Dr. Perry find?
“The Far Side of Madness documents Perry’s findings after analysing in depth the psychic experiences of twelve patients over a twelve-year period. The book identifies consistent patterns of myth, ritual, messianism, and mysticism in the schizophrenic experiences of his patients.”
And he discovered that what his patients needed more than anything was for someone to actually take their non-rational concerns seriously, just as Christians often proclaim belief in Jesus as an omnipresent and healing witness to turmoil and suffering.
According to Perry, schizophrenia is itself best described as a spontaneous healing process, but it must be allowed to run its course, which he found to be usually around 6 weeks – approximately 40 days. The prepsychotic personality is the sickness, once the psychosis has begun, it is already an improvement and the individual is in the healing process. “The whole schizophrenic turmoil is really a self-organising, healing experience. It’s like a molten state.”
Also, “The therapeutic approach practised by Perry…was to give emotional support while encouraging the person to plumb the depths of the experience. This is basically the opposite of the conventional psychiatric approach which seeks to abort the experience, usually by the application of drug treatment, as soon as possible. Perry says that in the fully supportive environment…it was not uncommon for a person to emerge from the schizophrenic crisis prematurely. When this happened, he says, it was necessary to actually encourage the person to re-enter psychosis so as to complete the process.”
And furthermore, “Most modern societies are constantly changing and are therefore in constant crisis, at least in mythological terms…people in modern societies who manifest schizophrenic symptoms are struggling to fulfill the same function as the seers in traditional societies: ‘I am not suggesting that all persons in the “psychotic” form of visionary state should be considered prophets, but rather that the program of the visionary experience and its imagery is the same in well-known “prophets” as in our little-known “patients”’” (Perry quoted in Golden).
To conclude, I find it obvious, that, in community, we are often dealing with people who are outcast and disillusioned by the mainstream society and may have critiques of that society that could earn them the label of mentally ill or schizophrenic. And, in the journey into community, they are undergoing a death and rebirth into an entirely new culture, home, and workplace. We need to expect and tolerate, welcome and play with, psychosis, and focus a great deal on mystical practice as well.