Thoughts from John Perry on psychosis as vision, schizophrenia as process, and healing as the natural result
I’m sure most of you are already familiar with the work of Dr. Loren Mosher at Soteria House (if not, this is my favorite article about it).
His is the most famous of these un-medicated, peer support-based treatment approaches for first break (or not) schizophrenia. It also happens to be the best documented, scientifically; and what excellent documentation it is! 85-90% of “acute sufferers” were able to return to the community and did not suffer relapse.
But, as I have been delighted to learn recently, his is by no means the only iteration of this treatment model. Another pioneer in this field – a friend and contemporary of Mosher’s, in fact – was the Jungian John Weir Perry. His treatment center, called Diabasis, operated in San Francisco in the 70s. Heavily influenced by Jungian approaches to psychosis (Perry did study with him in Switzerland) and Chinese philosophy, Diabasis was a place for schizophrenics to process their internal Apocalypse with the loving support of the laypeople staffed by the project. Medication was, for the most part, avoided, as were restraints and coercion of any kind.
Today I stumbled upon an extensive and fascinating interview with John Weir Perry about the nature of psychosis and “schizophrenia” and the approach of Diabasis to these phenomena. I’ve pasted a few of my favorite excerpts below, but you can also download the entire thing here.
On Diabasis and the healing nature of a supportive, home-like environment:
One has to let the visionary process unfold itself spontaneously.
Under these conditions, to our surprise, we found that our clients got into a clear space very quickly! We had started out with the notion that we would surely be in for a lot of bedlam with all this “madness” going on, but actually the opposite was true! People would come in just a crazy as could be on the first day or two, but they’d settle down very soon into a state of coherency and clarity… The calming effect of a supportive environment is truly amazing!
Now throughout all this there was nothing scheduled, nothing mandatory. It was all informal… You see, we wanted them to be in this house of their own free will. They had to realise their own desire to belong in the house, and they did.
So this whole approach is essentially one of releasing, rather than suppression. We allowed everything and encouraged its expression — not towards chaos, but toward communication! Communication tends to order.
Schizophrenia as a self-healing process:
“Schizophrenia” is a self-healing process – one in which, specifically, the pathological complexes dissolve themselves. The whole schizophrenic turmoil is really a self-organising, healing experience. It’s like a molten state. Everything seems to be made of free energy, an inner free play of imagery through which the alienated psyche spontaneously re-organises itself – in such a way that the conscious ego is brought back into communication with the unconscious again…
It [psychosis] is like the mythological image in a perfect stained-glass window being smashed, and all the bits and pieces being scattered. The effect is very colourful, but it’s very hard to discern how the pieces belong to each other. Any attempt to make sense of it is an exercise in abstraction from the actual experience. The important thing is to find the process running through it all.
“Chronic schizophrenia” – a cultural construct:
[Interviewer:] So are you saying that the reason we have so-called “chronic schizophrenia” in our society, – where a person is medicated, distressed or hospitalized for decades – is really cultural? A society which refuses to understand the healing nature of the phenomenon?
Yes, it seems so. Of course, there are some unusual cases where the individual simply can’t handle the impact of all this unconscious content, or doesn’t know what to do with it, and freaks out. But from my experience at Diabasis, I’ve seen so many people go the other way that I really do feel “chronic schizophrenia” is created by society’s negative response to what is actually a perfectly natural and healthy process.
Goal of Perry’s treatment approach:
The tendency [amongst first break schizophrenics]… is to concretise all the symbolic stuff and believe there are enemies out there, and that the walls are wired, that there are people with guns at the window, and subversive political parties trying to do things, or that one is being watched because one is the head of some organisation and everybody knows it. All of that is a mistaken, “concretistic” tendency to take too literally things whose correct meaning is actually symbolic.
So yes, the therapeutic goal is to achieve that attitude which perceives the symbolic nature of the ideation which belongs to the inner reality. Now, the inner reality is real! It’s very important to grant it that reality, but not to get the two realities mixed up. That’s the trick! Actually, for most people it’s surprisingly easy…
The average person tends to go along with the inner journey and to realise – well, they do need to be reminded – but once they’re reminded, they tend to quickly perceive that it is a spiritual test, or a symbolic test, and not the actual end of the actual world.
Again, the full interview with Perry is available here.
If you’re intrigued by Diabasis and would like to know more, Perry wrote a book called The Far Side of Madness about the program. Additionally, Michael Cornwall over at Mad In America is blogging about his experience with the program. I suggest you check out what he has to say about it as well!