May 2010


Schizophrenia is a fascinating set of phenomena, the study of which has launched a thousand ships including, arguably, my field, family therapy; many of the original family therapists left psychiatry to study schizophrenia (or, as the DSM would have me write it, Schizophrenia–capitalizing words gives them more authority, don’t you think?) as an interactive process. That is, if all behaviors make sense in their context, what context might make schizophrenic behavior necessary?

There was an almost violent backlash against this line of thinking, as it seemed to (and did, in many cases) blame mothers for their schizophrenic children–as in the unfortunate phrase “schizophrenogenic mother.” The conventional wisdom about schizophrenia these days reads like a pharmaceutical company press release, something like, “Schizophrenia is a biological disease of the brain which is at present incurable, but there are drugs which can help manage the symptoms, and if taken regularly can provide a decent quality of life.”

So schizophrenia is assumed to be a biological disease of the brain though it, like every other Mental Disorder, has no laboratory test that can detect its presence. The best we can do is a set of behavioral diagnostic criteria which, frankly, are a bit of a mess. You may notice as you read that different flavors of schizophrenia may have nothing or little in common with each other. Are they really the same “disease”? We don’t know.

We do have good evidence that you can inherit, in some fashion, a tendency for one of these constellations of behaviors. There is good evidence that environmental factors are also important, though they are not a big part of the mainstream discussion. We also have evidence that therapy helps in a lot of cases. There is some (hotly contested, I’m sure) evidence from the World Health Organization that unmedicated schizophrenics can eventually recover while those on medication do not. Here is a trailer for a moving documentary about two recovered women and the public perception of schizophrenia, called Take These Broken Wings. Also, consider checking out the documentary A Brilliant Madness, about John Nash, in which puts the lie to A Brilliant Mind, which showed Nash recovering with the help of psychopharmaceuticals.

The DSM says that schizophrenia may be overdiagnosed (or at least is diagnosed more often) in African- and Asian-American men, that it affects men differently than women (men tend towards the negative symptoms were women tend towards delusions and hallucinations), and that incidence rates are something like .5-1.5% of adults.

Here are a few terms that you’ll need to know to get through the criteria:

affective flattening: does not show emotion. Also, “affect” means “emotion” to scientists and people who like to talk like scientists.

alogia: lack of speech.

avolition: lack of motivation.

prodromal: symptoms coming early on in the course of a disease.

echolalia: repetition of others’ speech sounds.

echopraxia: repetition of others’ movements

And here are the diagnostic criteria, word-for-word, from the DSM-IV-TR, pp. 312-319:

Diagnostic criteria for Schizophrenia

A. Characteristic symptoms: Two (or more) of the following, each present for a significant portion of time during a 1-month period (or less if successfully treated):

(1) delusions

(2) hallucinations

(3) disorganized speech (e.g. frequent derailment or incoherence)

(4) grossly disorganized or catatonic behavior

(5) negative symptoms, i.e., affective flattening, alogia, or avolition

Note: Only one Criterion A symptom is required if delusions are bizarre or hallucinations consist of a voice keeping up a running commentary on the person’s behavior or thoughts, or two or more voices conversing with each other.

B. Social/occupational dysfunction: For a significatn portion of the time since th onset of the distrubance, one or more major areas of functioning such as work, interpersonal relations, or self-care are mardekly below the level achieved prior to the onset (or when the onset is in childhood or adolewscence, faliure to achieve expected level of interpersonal, academic, or occupational achievement).

C. Duration: Continuou signs of the disturbance persist for at least 6 months. This 6-month period must include at least 1 month of symptoms (or less if successfully treated) that meet Criterion A (i.e., active-phase symptoms) and may include periods of prodromal or residual symptoms. Doring these prodromal or residual periods, the signs of the ditrubance may be manifested by only negative symptoms or two or more symptoms listen in Criterion A pressent in an attenuated form (e.g., odd beliefs, unusual perceptual experiences).

D. Schizoaffective and Mood Disorder exclusion: Schizoaffective Disorder and Mood Disorder With Psychotic Features have been ruled out because either (1) no Major Depressive, Manic, or Mixed Episodes have occurred concurrently with the active-phase symptoms; or (2) if mood episodes have occurred during active-phase symptoms, their total duration has been brief relative to the duration of the active and residual periods.

E. Substance/general medical condition exclusion: The disturbance is not due to the direct physiological effects of a substance (e.g. a drug of abuse, a medication) or a general medical condition.

F. Relationship to a Pervasive Developmental Disorder: If there is a history of Autistic Disorder or another Pervasive Developmental Disorder, the additional diagnosis of Schizophrenia is made only if prominent delusions or hallucinations are also present for at least a month (or less if successfully treated).

Classification of longitudinal course (can be applied only after at least 1 year has elapsed since the initial onset of active-phase symptoms):

Episodic With Interepisode Residual Symptoms (episodes are difined by the reemergence of prominent psychotic symptoms); also specify if: With Prominent Negative Symptoms

Episodic With No Interepisode Residual Symptoms

Continuous (prominent psychotic symptoms are present throughout the period of observation); also specify if: With Prominent Negative Symptoms

Single Episode In Partial Remission; also specify if: With Prominent Negative Symptoms

Single Episode In Full Remission

Other or Unspecified Pattern

Diagnostic criteria for 295.30 Paranoid Type

A type of Schizophrenia in which the following criteria are met:

A. Preoccupation with one or more delusions or frequent auditory hallucinations.

B. None of the following is prominent: disorganized speech, disorganized or catatonic behavior, or flat or inappropriate affect.

Diagnostic criteria for 295.10 Disorganized Type

A type of Schizophrenia in which the following criteria are met:

A. All of the following are prominent:

(1) disorganized speech

(2) disorganized behavior

(3) flat or inappropriate affect

B. The criteria are not met for Catatonic Type.

Diagnostic criteria for 295.20 Catatonic Type

A type of Schizophrenia in which the clinical picture is dominated by at least two of the following:

(1) motoric immobility as evidenced by catalepsy (including waxy flexibility) or stupor

(2) excessive motor activity (that is apparently purposeless and not influenced by external stimuli

(3) extreme negativism (an apparently motiveless resistance to all instructions or maintenance of a rigid posture against attempts to be moved) or mutism

(4) peculiarities of voluntary movement as evidenced by posturing (voluntary assumptions of inappropriate or bizarre postures), stereotyped movements, prominent mannerisms, or prominent grimacing

(5) echolalia or echopraxia

Diagnostic criteria for 295.90 Undifferentiated Type

A type of Schizophrenia in which symptoms that meet Criterion A are present, but the criteria are not met for the Paranoid, Disorganized, or Catatonic Type.

Diagnostic criteria for 295.60 Residual Type

A type of Schizophrenia in which the following criteria are met:

A. Absence of prominent delusions, hallucinations, disorganized speech, and grossly disorganized or catatonic behavior.

B. There is continuing evidence of the disturbance, as indicated by the presence of negative symptoms or two or more symptoms listed in Criterion A for Schizophrenia, present in an attenuated form (e.g., odd beliefs, unusual perceptual experiences).

I was surprised that these criteria did not specifically mention pain. I had thought that sadism and masochism were about wanting to hurt and be hurt. Reading these makes me think that it’s more about issues around control and humiliation than enjoying the sensation of pain.

This is word-for-word from the DSM-IV-TR, pages 573 and 574:

Diagnostic criteria for 302.84 Sexual Sadism

A. Over a period of at least 6 months, recurrent, intense, sexually arousing fantasies, sexual urges, or behaviors involving acts (real, not simulated) in which the psychological or physical suffering (including humiliation) of the victim is sexually exciting to the person.

B. The person has acted on these sexual urges with a nonconsenting person, or the sexual urges or fantasies cause marked distress or interpersonal difficulty.

Diagnostic criteria for 302.83 Sexual Masochism

A. Over a period of at least 6 months, recurrent, intense sexually arousing fantasies, sexual urges, or behaviors involving the act (real, not simulated) of being humiliated, beaten, bound, or otherwise made to suffer.

B. The fantasies, sexual urges, or behaviors cause clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or important areas of functioning.

What is therapeutic about therapy? It seems to have a lot to do with the kind of relationship that the therapist and client create. This is Carl Rogers’ version of what happens in an ideal therapeutic relationship, quoted from Yalom’s Group Psychotherapy (p. 62). If you want to see footage of Rogers trying to create this relationship, I posted clips here.

1) The client is increasingly free in expressing his feelings.

2) He begins to test reality and to become more discriminatory in his feelings and perceptions of his environment, his self, other persons, and his experiences.

3) He increasingly becomes aware of the incongruity between his experiences and his concept of self.

4) He also becomes aware of feelings that have been previously denied or distorted in awareness.

5) His concept of self, which now includes previously distorted or denied aspects, becomes more congruent with his experience.

6) His becomes increasingly able to experience, without threat, the therapist’s unconditional positive regard and to feel an unconditional positive self-regard.

7) He increasingly experiences himself as the focus of evaluation of the nature and worth of an object or experience.

8) He reacts to experience less in terms of his perception of others’ evaluation of him and more in terms of its effectiveness in enhancing his own development.

I know people who happily smoke pot, drink beer, and use other recreational drugs with no apparent concern, but who would not take an Ibuprofen because it’s bad for your liver. This confuses me. Yes, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs are bad for your liver. So are many, many other mainstream drugs, like antidepressants and birth-control pills. (Here’s a list.)

But what is the reasoning that lets hippy-friendly drugs off the hepatotoxicity hook? It seems to be that these drugs are “natural” and so they are trustworthy, as if God wouldn’t make such righteous substances poisonous. This is not rational.

It’s true that there isn’t as much research on the hippy-friendly drugs as there is on medical drugs. The FDA makes pharmaceutical companies do a bunch of expensive research on the drugs trying to go the legitimate route, but they don’t get involved in the illegal stuff. There is some research, though, and we do know that even hippy drugs are made out of chemical compounds that the liver has to metabolize before we can pee them out. It is safe to assume that pot, acid, mushrooms, ecstasy, cocaine, and the rest of your recreational drug list are bad for your liver. (And alcohol, duh.)

I will happily support you in not taking over-the-counter pain meds, but if an Ibuprofin is a drop in the hepatotoxic-lifestyle bucket, your priorities confuse me. If you are willing to ingest any number of chemicals in order to feel good, why not ingest one or two more to feel a little less pain?

My favorite answer to the question, “What is the meaning of life?” came from my friend, Taber Shadburne seven or eight years ago. He said that it’s a misleading question because we think of meaning as existing in language, so we imagine that the meaning of life will have a narrative, a set of values, a statement about the nature of reality. We expect mental games to do something that they just can’t do. The meaning of life, he said, is more like the meaning of skiing. If you ask yourself, “What is the meaning of skiing?” you see that you can’t answer that question with language. Instead, the meaning of skiing is something like this: He jumped up on a nearby bench, crouched into a skier stance with a delighted, slightly terrified look on his face, and shouted “Woohoo!”

The meaning of life is kind of like that.

Here’s Taber playing one of his songs:

I’m learning a lot about child abuse this term. It is no fun. It’s got me feeling sad–depressed, even–pissed off, and creeped out. Did you know that 1 in 20 American men sexually assaults a child? That’s 15,000,000 men! I’m having trouble with that.

I saw a documentary last night called Playground, about child sex traffic in the US. I’m still feeling heavy about it. One of the points it made: If someone broke into a woman’s room and raped her, a video of the crime would not be called “pornography.” It would be called “footage of a crime” or “evidence of sexual assault” or something like that. Footage of a child being raped shouldn’t be called “pornography,” either. That gives it too much legitimacy, like it’s just one of the more repulsive niches of that booming industry, pornography. How about we call it “footage of a child being raped”?

All right. I’ve been pitching the Long Now Foundation and their Seminars on Long Term Thinking for a while now, and no one is taking the bait. That is, some-number-less-than-three of you have clicked through the links I’ve put up. (WordPress only shows me links that hit three clicks in my stats.) You guys are missing out! These lectures are so good. Imagine, super-smart people giving entertaining, informative talks on their area of expertise and how it relates to long-term thinking. What’s better than that?

I just found out that LNF has video of the seminars up on FORA.tv, in full, for free. I prefer the audio versions, so I can simultaneously clean my kitchen, but if you’ve been holding off because you don’t like podcasts, check them out, in color, along with their slides and footage. Here is a list of all of the videos they have up.

And here are a couple of my current favorites:

Saul Griffith’s “Climate Change Recalculated,” in part about how he very rigorously figured out how much power (in Watts) his lifestyle uses, and then scaled back to his share of global energy production. Really, really good.

Steven Johnson’s “The Long Zoom,” about levels of complexity, cholera, television and video games, the evolution of the detective novel, and why bad ideas stick around, among many other things.

Michael Pollan’s “Deep Agriculture,” about the future of food production.

A defense attorney extols the virtues of the 5th amendment and explains at blistering speed why you should never talk to police. He’s entertaining and pretty compelling. There’s another video that has the reply by a police officer who claims to have conducted thousands of “interviews” in his career and who agrees with every word of the lawyer. I didn’t post it because it’s not as interesting, but if you want to check it out, do so here. (Thanks, Aria, for pointing me to this.)

Normalization is one of the primary techniques of a family therapist. Most family therapists do not put much stock in traditional ideas of “mental illness,” preferring instead to believe that the behaviors that their clients complain about are understandable reactions to tough circumstances. Normalizing is just pointing that out. People come in thinking they (or their kids) are crazy, broken, or bad, and once the therapist understands the situation, they can say something like, “Wow, you two are under a lot of stress! It’s no wonder you’ve been fighting lately. That’s a lot to carry around,” or “Actually, the latest research shows that adolescents need at least nine hours of sleep at night. I don’t think Johnny’s behavior is out of the ordinary…”

Normalization isn’t always verbal, either. It can be expressed by the therapist’s demeanor while hearing about the problem–no shock, no worry, just calm understanding–and in their easy willingness to talk openly and frankly about it. This part isn’t always easy, of course. It takes a lot of self-examination and your own therapeutic work to find your own triggers and ameliorate them.

The idea in normalization is both to educate clients about the situations they find themselves in and to take the pressure to change off of them. Often the stress that they create by ruminating on, arguing about, and trying to fix something that isn’t really the problem has become their main problem. Whether or not it has become their main problem, it isn’t helping.

I am going to start seeing clients in a few weeks in the clinic at the University of Oregon. Part of that process is beginning to “date a model.” That means I have to choose one of the many styles of family therapy and try it out to see if it’s really my thing. I’m a born generalist and integrator, so this is a difficult choice to make. Below, I typed up the “In a Nutshell: The Least You Need to Know” sections for each family therapy model in Diane Gehart’s excellent book, Mastering Competencies in Family Therapy. (Actually, I’ve left out one–collaborative therapy–because I know almost nothing about it, so it’s not one of my active choices.)

Those of you who know me (and I believe that’s pretty much all of you, readers) and have the stamina to read these eleven paragraphs, I would love to know which of these models you think sounds the most like me.

Systemic and Strategic Therapies: Using what most therapists consider the classic family therapy method, systemic family therapists conceptualize the symptoms of individuals within the larger network of their family and social systems while maintaining a nonblaming, nonpathologizing stance toward all members of the family. Systemic therapies are based on general systems and cybernetics systems theories,¬† which propose that families are living systems characterized by certain principles, including homeostasis, the tendency to maintain a particular range of behaviors and norms, and self-correction, the ability to identify when the system has gone too far from its homeostatic norm and then to self-correct to maintain balance. Systemic therapists rarely attempt linear, logical solutions to “educate” a family on better ways to communicate–this is almost never successful–but instead tap into the systemic dynamics to effect change. They introduce small, innocuous, yet highly meaningful alterations to the family’s interactions, allowing the family to naturally reorganize in response to the new information. Because this method effects change quickly, systemic therapies were the original brief therapies.

Structural Therapy: As the name implies, structural therapists map family structure–boundaries, hierarchies, and subsystems–to help clients resolve individual mental health symptoms and relational problems. After assessing family functioning, therapists aim to restructure the family, realigning boundaries and hierarchies to promote growth and resolve problems. They are active in sessions, staging enactments, realigning chairs, and questioning family assumptions. Structural family therapy focuses on strengths, never seeing families as dysfunctional but rather as people who need assistance in expanding their repertoire of interaction patterns to adjust to their ever-changing developmental and contextual demands.

The Satir Growth Model: One of the first prominent women in the field, Virginia Satir began her career in family therapy at the Mental Research Institute working alongside Jay Haley, Paul Watzlawick, Richard Fisch, and the other leading family therpists in Palo Alto. [These were the folks who came up with the “systemic and strategic therapies,” above.] She eventually left the MRI to develop her own ideas, which can broadly be described as infusing humanistic values into a system approach. She brought a warmth and enthusiasm for human potential that is unparalleled in the field of family therapy. Her therapy focused on fostering individual growth as well as improving family interactions. She used experiential exercises (e.g., family sculpting), metaphors, coaching, and the self of the therapist to facilitate change. Her work is practiced extensively internationally, with Satir practitioners connecting through the Satir Global Network.

Symbolic-Experiential Therapy: Symbolic-experiential therapy is an experiential therapy model developed by Carl Whitaker. Whitaker referred to his work as “therapy of the absurd,” highlighting the unconventional and playful wisdom he used to help transorm family. Relying almost entirely on emotinal logic rahter than cognitive logic, his work is often misunderstood as nonsense, but it is more accurate to say that he worked with “heart sense.” Rather than intervene on behavrioral sequences like strtegic-systemic therapists, Whitaker focused on teh emotional process and family structure. He intervened directly at the emotional level of the system, relying heavily on “symbolism” and real life experiences as well as humor, play, and affective controntation.

For the astute observer, Whitaker’s work embodied a deep and profound understanding of families’ emotional lives; to the casual observer, he often seemed rude or inappropriate. When he was “inappropriate,” it was always for the purpose of confronting or otherwise intervening on emotional dynamics that he wanted to expose, challenge, and transform. He was adamant about balancing strong emotional confrontation with warmth and support from the therapist. In many ways, he encouraged therapists to move beyond the rules of polite society and invite them selves and clients to be genuine and real enough to speak the whole truth.

Bowen Intergenerational Therapy: Bowen intergenerational theory is more about the nature of being human than it is about families or family therapy. The Bowen approach requires therapists to work from a broad perspective that considers the evolution of the human species and the characteristics of all living systems. Therapists use this broad perspective to conceptualize client problems and then rely primarily on the therapist’s use of self to effect change. As a part of this broad perspective, therapists routinely consider the three-generational emotional process to better understand the current presenting symptoms. The process of therapy involves increasing clients’ awareness of how their current behavior is connected to multigenerational processes and the resulting family dynamics. The therapist’s primary tool for promoting client change is the therapist’s personal level of differentiation, the ability to distinguish self from other and manage interpersonal anxiety.

Psychoanalytic Family Therapies: These therapies use traditional psychoanalytic and psychodynamic principles that describe inner conflicts and extend these¬† principles to external relationships. In contrast to individual psychoanalysts, psychoanalytic family therapists focus on the family as a nexus of relationships that either support or impede the development and functioning of it’s members. As in traditional psychoanalytic approaches, the process of therapy involves analyzing intrapsychic and interpersonal dynamics, promoting client insight, and working through these insights to develop new ways of relating to self and others. Some of the more influential approaches are contextual therapy, family -of-origin therapy, and object relations family therapy.

Behavioral and Cognitive-Behavioral Family Therapies: In the general mental health field, cognitive-behavioral therapies (CBTs) are some of the most commonly used therapeutic approaches. They have their roots in behaviorism–Pavlov’s research on stimulus-response pairings with dogs and Skinner’s research on rewards and punishments with cats–the premises of which are still widely used with phobias, anxiety, and parenting. Until the 1980s, most of the cognitive-behavioral family therapies were primarily behavioral: behavioral family therapy and behavioral couples therapy. In recent years, approaches that more directly incorporate cognitive components have developed: cognitive-behavioral family therapy and Gottman method couples therapy approach.

Cognitive-behavioral family therapies integrate systemic concepts into standard cognitive-behavioral techniques by examining how family members–or any two people in a relationship–reinforce one another’s behaviors to maintain symptoms and relational pattern. Therapists generally assume a directive, “teaching,” or “coaching” relationship with clients, which is quite different from other approaches of “joining” or “empathizing” with clients to form a relationship. Because this approach is rooted in experimental psychology, research is central to its practice and evolution, resulting in a substantial evidence base.

Solution-Based Therapies: Solution-based therapies are brief therapy approaches that grew out of the work of the Mental Research Institute in Palo Alto (MRI) and Milton Erickson’s brief therapy and trance work. The first and leading “strength-based” therapies, solution-based therapies are increasingly popular with clients, insurance companies, and county mental health agencies because they are efficient and respectful of clients. AS the name suggests, solution-based therapists work with the client to envision potential solutions based on the client’s experience and values. Once the client has selected a desirable outcome, the therapist assists the client in identifying small, incremental steps toward realizing this goal. The therapist does not solve problems or offer solutions but instead collaborates with clients to develop aspirations and plans that they then translate into real-world action.

Narrative Therapy: Developed by Michael White and David Epston in Australia and New Zealand, narrative therapy is based on the premise that we “story” and create the meaning of life events using available dominant discourses–broad societal stories, sociocultural practices, assumptions, and expectations about how we should live. People experience “problems” when their personal life does not fit with these dominant societal discourses and expectations. The process of narrative therapy involves separating the person from the problem, critically examining the assumptions that inform how the person evaluates himself/herself and his/her life. Through this process, clients identify alternative ways to view, act, and interact in daily life. Narrative therapists assume that all people are resourceful and have strengths, and they do not see “people” as having problems but rather see problems as being imposed upon people by unhelpful or harmful societal cultural practices.

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