Mental Breakdown as Healing
"...85% of our clients (all diagnosed as severely schizophrenic) at the Diabasis center not only improved, with no medications, but most went on growing after leaving us."
- John Weir Perry
The Persistence of Memory, Salvador Dali, 1931
An Interview With Dr. John Weir Perry - Michael O'Callaghan
MICHAEL O'CALLAGHAN: How does one define so-called schizophrenia?
JOHN WEIR PERRY: Jung defined it most succinctly. He said...
"Schizophrenia is a condition in which the dream takes the place of reality." This means that the unconscious overwhelms the ego-consciousness, overwhelms the field of awareness with contents from the deepest unconscious, which take mythic, symbolic form. And the emotions, unless they're hidden, are quite mythic too. To a careful observer, they're quite appropriate to the situation at hand.
The way "schizophrenia" unfolds is that, in a situation of personal crisis, all the psyche's energy is sucked back out of the personal, conscious area, into what we call the archetypal area. Mythic contents thus emerge from the deepest level of the psyche, in order to re-organise the Self. In so doing, the person feels himself withdrawing from the ordinary surroundings, and becomes quite isolated in this dream state.
O'C: Did Jung really see this as a healing process?
PERRY: He did indeed! He believed that "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.
O'C: How long does the experience normally last?
PERRY: The acute hallucinatory phase, during which these contents go through the re-ordering process, usually lasts about six weeks. This, by the way, corresponds to the classical description of visionary experiences in various religious texts, such as the proverbial "forty days in the wilderness" often referred to in the Bible. Anyway, six weeks is roughly it.
O'C: So are you saying that the reason we have so-called "chronic schizophrenia" in our society, - where a person is medicated, distressed or hospitalised for decades - is really cultural? A society which refuses to understand the healing nature of the phenomenon?
PERRY: 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. I hate to think of what happens to people who go into the mental hospital...
O'C: Who experiences a "schizophrenic break"?
PERRY: Well, there's a lot of controversy about this! There is a constitutional element, which is often interpreted as a "genotype of pathology", but this depends on how you see it. I see it as a genotype of sensitivity! Among adolescent siblings in a family, for example, its usually the most sensitive one who's going to catch it.
O'C: How many people are "schizophrenic?"
PERRY: Approximately two percent - that's over one hundred and sixteen million people! It's about one in five of all the hospital beds [in the developed countries - ed.].
O'C: What does it feel like to go through a "schizophrenic break"?
PERRY: The overall experience is described as falling into a kind of abyss of isolation. This comes about because there is such a discrepancy between the subjective inner world that one has been swept into, and the mundane everyday world outside. There seems to be a total gulf between these two. Of course, this is exactly what happens in our society: the individuals around such a person are bewildered and frightened. They have absolutely no trust in what is going on! So everything is set up negatively, and this gives rise to fear - on both sides.
O'C: So it starts with a feeling of isolation...
PERRY: Yes. Now the symbolic expression of this is falling into a death - not only a death state, but also a death space - the "afterlife," the "realm of the ancestors," the "land of the dead," the "spirit world." The common experience here is for the person to look about and think that half the people around him are dead too. While in this condition, it's very hard for one to tell if one is really alive or not.
Right away at the beginning, the death experience is accompanied by the feeling that you've gone back to the beginning of time. This involves a regression, a return to the state of infancy in one's personal life history. But hand in hand with this is the feeling of slipping back into the world of the primordial parents, into a Garden of Eden. For example, it's a very common experience to feel one is the child of Adam and Eve, say, at the beginning of time. This is very symbolic, obviously. It's pretty much a representation of the psyche at the start of one's individual career after birth.
So these are the outstanding features. All kinds of imagery comes tumbling across the field of awareness. It's 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...
Source: Mental Breakdown as Healing
# The Far Side of Madness
# Psychosis and REM States of Consciousness
# Still Crazy After All These Years
# R.D. Laing & Kingsley Hall
# Loren Mosher & Soteria House
# DSM-IV: Religious & Spiritual Problems
# The Relevance of Visionary Experience to Culture
# Caterpillar to Butterfly