by William Van Ornum, Ph.D. on
For the past several months, the New York Times has been running a series of articles on people who experience severe psychiatric illness; and who, by dint of their own motivation, creativity, and resilience, are able to lead productive lives despite the ongoing burden. On November 27, 2011, the front-cover story features Mr. Milt Greek, an Ohio computer programmer. Finding Purpose after Living With Delusion chronicles Greek’s successful transformation of his inner delusions into an altruistic life devoted to others.
Although many doctors and therapist avoid interpreting or analyzing the delusions and hallucinations of someone who experiences schizophrenia, Greek has taken a different route in managing his illness and has learned to find practical meanings in his delusions, an approach others with schizophrenia have found to be helpful as well. “Yet people who have had such experiences often disagree, arguing that delusions have their origin not solely in the illness, but also in fears, longings and psychological wounds that, once understood, can help people sustain recovery after they receive treatment.”
“Now, these psychiatric veterans are coming together in increasing numbers, at meetings and conferences, and they are writing up their own case histories, developing their own theories of psychosis, with the benefit of far more data than they have ever had before: one another’s stories.
“’It’s a thrilling time, because people with lived experience are beginning to collaborate in large numbers,’ said Gail A. Hornstein, a psychologist at Mount Holyoke College and author of Agnes’s Jacket: A Psychologist’s Search for the Meanings of Madness. ‘They are developing their own theories, their own language about what their experiences means from the inside.’
“Mr. Greek is one of the most exceptional, having built a successful life and career despite having schizophrenia — and, he says, because of it. He manages the disorder with medication, personal routines, and by minding the messages in his own strange delusions.”
Perhaps the experiences shared in this article will also be relevant to group therapists. I suspect a small group of persons like Mr. Greek, talking together and working together in a group, might have a great deal to offer each other and the rest of the world.