A potentially groundbreaking report challenges conventional wisdom about the nature of mental illness and the manner in which psychosis and schizophrenia are treated.

The U.K. report dispels the notion that schizophrenia is a frightening brain disease that makes people unpredictable and potentially violent, and can only be controlled by medication.

The report is the product of 20 years of research into the psychology of psychosis. The paper is authored by a group of eminent clinical psychologists drawn from eight U.K. universities and the National Health Service, together with people who have themselves experienced psychosis.

According to the researchers:

  • The problems we think of as “psychosis” —  hearing voices, believing things that others find strange, or appearing out of touch with reality — can be understood in the same way as other psychological problems such as anxiety or shyness;
  • They are often a reaction to trauma or adversity of some kind which impacts on the way we experience and interpret the world;
  • They rarely lead to violence;
  • No one can tell for sure what has caused a particular person’s problems — the only way is to sit down with them and try and work it out;
  • Services should not insist that people see themselves as ill. Some prefer to think of their problems as, for example, an aspect of their personality which sometimes gets them into trouble but which they would not want to be without;
  • We need to invest much more in prevention by attending to inequality and child maltreatment.

According to the researchers, concentrating resources only on treating existing problems is like mopping the floor while the tap is still running.

The report’s editor, clinical psychologist Dr. Anne Cooke from the Salomons Centre for Applied Psychology, said, “The finding that psychosis can be understood and treated in the same way as other psychological problems such as anxiety is one of the most important of recent years, and services need to change accordingly.

“In the past we have often seen drugs as the most important form of treatment. Whilst they have a place, we now need to concentrate on helping each person to make sense of their experiences and find the support that works for them.

“My dream is that our report will contribute to a sea change in attitudes so that rather than facing prejudice, fear and discrimination, people who experience psychosis will find those around them accepting, open-minded, and willing to help.”

Source: British Psychological Service/EurekAlert