Schizophrenia: Medical Enigma

March 24, 1972

Report Outline
New Views on Continuing Puzzle
Varying Approaches to Schizophrenia
Directions in Treatment of Patients

New Views on Continuing Puzzle

A new view of schizophrenia has entered the crowded chamber of theories, hypotheses, speculations, and fragments of partial evidence from scientific research on this most enigmatic of all the afflictions that beset the mind. This view holds that the schizophrenic experience, however distressing, may be a therapeutic episode in the life of the troubled individual if allowed to run its course. Proponents of this view, whose leading figure is the British psychiatrist Ronald D. Laing, would throw out much of what is now being applied as therapy to schizophrenic patients today.

Instead they would offer the schizophrenic a shelter where he could act out his psychosis without restraint in the company of sympathetic friends and fellow-sufferers. The latter would accept his erratic behavior as a natural way of handling his personal problem—as a sane reaction, it might be said, to the mad world in which he lives. Implied in this approach is a revolt against the hierarchic structure of the hospital and the near-sacred institution of the doctor-patient relationship.

Outpouring of Biomedical and Psychic Research

That so radical an approach to the difficult problem of schizophrenia should be put forth and applied, as it was in Laing-inspired Kingsley Hall in London, is not surprising. For after a century of effort by medical science to plumb the mysteries of this strange affliction, dating from its first designation as a distinct category of mental illness, the cause and cure remain secret. Much of the great growth of scientific interest in mental illness during the 20th century focused on its most prevalent and baffling form—first known as dementia praecox, now schizophrenia or, in its latest version, “the schizophrenic syndrome.”

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