the guardian - UK edition
Daniel Freeman and Jason Freeman
Thursday 27 November 2014 06.00 GMT
The symptoms of psychosis were once dismissed as the meaningless product of diseased brains. A new report recommends clinicians take them more seriously
“Although it is a waste of time to argue with a paranoid patient about his delusions, he may still be persuaded to keep them to himself, to repress them as far as possible and to forgo the aggressive action they might suggest, in general to conduct his life as if they did not exist.”
This quote from Clinical Psychiatry, a hugely influential textbook in the 1950s and 1960s, epitomises the way in which unusual mental states were generally understood for much of the 20th century. Delusions (such as paranoid thoughts) and hallucinations (hearing voices, for example) were of interest purely as symptoms of psychosis, or what used to be called madness.
Apart from their utility in diagnosis, they were deemed to be meaningless: the incomprehensible effusions of a diseased brain. Or in the jargon: “empty speech acts, whose informational content refers to neither world nor self”. There’s a certain irony here, of course, in experts supposedly dedicated to understanding the way the mind works dismissing certain thoughts as unworthy of attention or explanation.