Throughout this entire book I've explained in great detail exactly what causes schizophrenia. Here I think it is appropriate that I explain how this process can be reversed. What follows is a description of my attempt to reverse the course of this disorder in one of my friends (Paul)—a psychotherapeutic intervention noteworthy both in the results achieved and in the methods employed.
I met Paul in 1969 when we were both philosophy students. In 1973 I noticed that Paul was beginning to have mental problems which suddenly escalated into a full-scale emotional breakdown in the summer of 1975 after his girlfriend left him—a woman who had psychologically abused him. From that time on he seemed to have given up all hope of his ever achieving anything worthwhile in life, and he began to immerse himself in occult literature and mysticism. In May 1978, while living at his father’s home, Paul began to hallucinate: he heard voices and believed he had been contacted by the spirits of the White Brotherhood who told him he was destined to become a messiah. By early 1980 I remember him being in pretty sad shape. When I attempted to argue him out of his delusions, his response was: “What would it take to make you believe? Suppose I were to turn everything in this room into gold—would you believe then?” He thereupon waved his hand as if he were a sorcerer and a crazed, triumphant look appeared on his face as he surveyed his room. “Do you believe now?” he asked.
My aforementioned therapeutic encounter with Paul occurred in November 1982. Just prior to that time Paul had been traveling around the country on boxcars while accompanied by an imaginary companion—an ethereal, Athena-like personage who constantly gave him advice and instruction in esoteric wisdom. Once, when he was at a railway station in Portland, Oregon, his companion told him that if he would only put his arms around her and kiss her all his problems would be solved. He told me during our therapy session how he had hugged and kissed his imaginary companion in front of gaping onlookers at the railway station, and how his problems only continued to get worse. In retrospect, it appears that I had caught him at exactly the right time because at that point I’m sure he must have realized at some basic level that something was seriously wrong and that he needed to change.
That afternoon when Paul came to my apartment we reminisced about old times and I told him about my current projects. Though I would have the next two days off, I didn’t have much time to spend with him that afternoon because I had to work a night shift. I fixed a meal, made him feel comfortable, and left. Before leaving, however, I had shown him several jars in my bedroom in which I had been growing psilocybin mushrooms. When he asked whether we could ingest some of those hallucinogenic mushrooms I told him I didn’t think it would be a very good idea.
When Paul arrived at my apartment I was in the midst of doing research for my book on schizophrenia. By that time my attitude toward him had changed markedly. In reviewing my own schizophrenic past, I felt a lot more empathy for him. Yet, at the same time, I was a lot more detached. I no longer looked upon him as “that madman” but rather as a fellow sufferer, as a fellow human being. When Paul told me that he was a reincarnation of the prophet Ezekiel I congratulated him and told him it must have felt wonderful to have been such an important person. I told him that I knew how he felt because I had been no less of a person than John the Baptist! I then began to reminisce about how wonderful it felt to have been John the Baptist. By that time I knew it was absolutely useless to try to convince him that his delusions were false or to try to psychoanalyze him. It only made him angry and defensive. So instead of psychoanalyzing him, I proceeded to psychoanalyze myself. I explained to him in great detail just how and why many years ago I had become schizophrenic. He listed intently to what I had to say. Like myself, he had always been interested in psychology. Since I was discussing my mental problems he wasn’t at all defensive. Yet in understanding my mental problems, I felt he was also gaining insight into his own problems as well.
I also explained to Paul the three-step process by which auditory hallucinations are caused: how the person will project his own feelings of self-disparagement onto the external world, a state of mind in which he imagines others talking about him; then how he will put himself into the listening attitude; and finally, how he will hallucinate—how he will hear voices because he expects to hear them. When I explained this process to Paul he admitted that he had always put himself into the listening attitude before he heard his voices—an admission that clearly showed he was gaining insight into his mental problems.
That night he told me about the invisible companion whom he had hugged and kissed at the Portland railway station. He also told me about a street philosopher whom he had met while he was in Portland who had introduced him to the occult theories of Rudolf Steiner. From there the conversation led to the topic of reincarnation. Sensing an opportunity to indirectly attack his delusion that he was a reincarnation of the prophet Ezekiel, I had him list every argument he could think of in favor of the theory of reincarnation. Then, one by one, I demolished every one of his arguments until he admitted that the theory of reincarnation rested entirely on faith and that people only believed in that theory because they were afraid of the permanence of death.
The next day I had Paul read an essay titled “Toward a Theory of Schizophrenia” in which Gregory Bateson presents his double-bind theory of schizophrenia. Paul liked that essay for the peculiar reason that Bateson seemed to have utilized some of the concepts of Bertrand Russell who had been one of his favorite philosophers. After he had finished reading the essay, I asked Paul if he would help me play a practical joke on Randy, an individual whom we both knew.
I had met Randy in early 1974 when he was a member of a bizarre political cult headed by Lyndon LaRouche. About six or seven months later Randy quit the cult to marry a woman whom he had only recently met—a marriage that didn’t last long. Toward the end of 1983 (about a year after we had played our prank on him) Randy began to think of himself as a sort of avatar of Adolf Hitler.
In May and June of 1982, I lived at a rooming house where Randy also stayed. Also living at this rooming house was a schizophrenic man in his late fifties named Leon. Leon believed he was being harassed by a sinister person named Bernard who had thousands—perhaps even millions—of helpers whom Leon referred to as “the Controllers.” Bernard and the Controllers made Leon’s life miserable. They would follow him everywhere he went and accuse him of being a “baby raper.”
Randy held Leon in utter contempt. He laughed when he told me about the time when Leon went to a dentist and demanded to have all of his tooth fillings removed because he believed they contained electronic bugs or eavesdropping devices.
However, I found Leon to be a rather decent and caring person. He tried to be a sort of surrogate father to me, and it upset him that I appeared to be such an unhappy person.
I countered Randy’s derogatory remarks about Leon with extravagant praise. I told Randy that I thought Leon was a genius and that he was the only person who was stopping Bernard from totally dominating the world. As time went by whenever I saw Randy I would ask him when he was going to stop being such a gutless coward and join me and Leon in our struggle against Bernard.
I clued Paul in about my long-standing joke. I told him that I wanted him to help me validate Leon’s delusions for Randy’s benefit. At first Paul was reluctant to comply with my wishes. However, I assured him that all he need do was state that he had seen various individuals harassing Leon while I would do all the crazy talking. After I had received his consent to my plan, I called Randy at work and told him that an emergency had come up and that I needed to see him after work. Then I got in my car with Paul and drove 90 miles from my apartment in Bellingham to Randy’s rooming house in Seattle.
However, the joke was on Paul. Although his delusions constantly changed, one of his delusions remained fairly stable. This was his belief that he was constantly being harassed by a group of Satanists who were so internally dead and so totally devoid of any creative spark that they were full of envy and malice toward him because he was creative and internally alive. This was a delusion somewhat similar to Leon’s. My plan in talking to Randy was to describe Paul’s delusional system while using Leon’s terminology in an attempt to get Paul to view his delusions objectively or as something external to himself. (Paul, of course, knew Leon’s delusions were totally absurd.)
At the time we played this prank Leon was no longer living at the rooming house. Upon our arrival Paul immediately began telling Randy how he had watched Leon being harassed by several persons while he was at a mission in San Francisco. Randy, of course, was not impressed. He told Paul that Leon was the sort of person who provokes such behavior from others.
Then it was my turn to work on Randy. I told Randy that I was in telepathic contact with Leon, that Leon was a genius, but he needed our help in defeating Bernard. Then I launched into a description of what a terrible scourge Bernard was—how he and his Controllers virtually dominated the world. Then I began to explain how Bernard had affected my own life. With real anguish in my voice, I began to mentally undress myself—revealing all of my personal inadequacies, my failure with women, all of the humiliations I had suffered throughout my life, how my coworkers were tormenting me, my utter despair. Then I told of what a liberating influence that Leon had had on my life. Because of him I became aware of the fact that there was nothing wrong with me at all: it was all the fault of Bernard and the Controllers! They had caused me to fail with women; they had turned my coworkers against me! They wanted to destroy me because they were so internally dead and so totally devoid of any creative spark that they were full of envy and malice toward me because I was creative and internally alive. Yes, I could see everything clearly now! Empowered by Leon’s influence I now had a purpose in life: to find and destroy Bernard! Then I told them that while under the influence of the psilocybin mushrooms I had eaten, I had had a vision of Bernard as an evil monster who was so internally dead that he had to be put on a life-support system but who was still able to dominate everyone around him by means of telepathy and telekinesis. I told them with the help of Leon who was guiding me via telepathy we would find Bernard and would pull the plug on his life-support system!
After that last outburst Randy finally had had enough. He exclaimed that I had eaten too many psilocybin mushrooms and that I was completely out of my mind. No longer able to control myself, I collapsed on Randy’s bed and used his pillow to muffle my laughter—an unnecessary precaution since my crazy act had been so convincing that Randy interpreted my stifled laugher as just another instance of my psychotic behavior. Then, as I laid on the bed, something remarkable happened. Paul leapt to my defense and began arguing that Bernard and the Controllers were real! He kept after Randy like a pit bull. I could feel the tension in the room begin to mount. Paul seemed absolutely desperate—as if his entire worth as a human being rested upon his ability to convince Randy that Bernard and the Controllers were real entities. Finally, this spectacle became just too painful to watch anymore. So I beckoned Paul to come outside so we could talk. As Paul followed me outside he seemed very agitated. Once outside, I told him we had to terminate our joke immediately because Randy was losing his patience. But he didn’t want to quit. He said he felt certain that Randy was about to crack and that if he only kept after him he would eventually accept the reality of Bernard and the Controllers. However, I finally prevailed and we went back inside and announced that we had only been joking. With a knowing smile on his face, Randy feigned disbelief at the notion that we had only been joking and indicated that he thought both of us were really crazy.
When Paul came to my apartment I had no conscious plan or intention of doing psychotherapy with him or anyone else. It all happened spontaneously. I did it because I derived pleasure out of utilizing my knowledge, skill, and creativity. Likewise, my main motive in playing that prank on Randy and Paul was simply to have fun. That isn’t to suggest that I wasn’t making an effort to dispel my friend’s psychosis. Indeed, every aspect of my personality was involved in doing just that. However, I had no serious expectation that my effort would have any effect on him at all. So it came as a considerable surprise to me to find out that in that short period of time I spent with him that I had been able to dispel virtually all of my friend’s delusions!
I didn’t find this out until sometime in the late spring of 1984 when I was showing my friend an early draft of my manuscript. He looked over my manuscript and commented that I should have been a psychiatrist. Then warning me not to get a “swelled head,” he mentioned the time when we were standing outside the rooming house and I had finally convinced him to terminate the joke we were playing on Randy. He said it felt as if someone had hit him over the head with a hammer and suddenly the absurdity of his delusions became painfully evident—and they vanished instantly!
©2003/2009 John Modrow