Empathic Therapy: Hopefulness for “Schizophrenics”

So at the Empathic Therapy Conference I ask Dick, the therapist from Grand Rapids, if I can sit with him for his protection, and off we go to How Psychiatric Drugs Work and How They Get FDA Approval:  Peter R. Breggin MD and discussant Mark Foster, DO—1.5 CE hours.  This gig has been approved for continuing education credits for medical personnel, which is a good thing because some of them have got a lot to learn—and quite a few of them are here, ears open.

Within minutes of wheeling into the conference room, I am approached by a woman who wants to exchange emails addresses with me.  Dick has already started to link me into the network.  The next contact is with a woman whose son-in-law was put on drugs.  He killed himself in November.  She says he was murdered by Eli Lilly, and she already has a lawyer, and a doctor to testify.  I ask her to please let me testify to the damage psych drugs can do.  I attempted suicide a dozen times while taking antidepressants, and spent a month on life support with no expectation of survival.  I am here.  God has a plan.  I will testify.

The workshop session starts with Dr. Breggin presenting the first Empathic Therapy award to Bertram Karon, Ph.D.  Dr. Karon, disabled by a car accident, presents a taped appearance.  He talks about schizophrenia.

There is nobody who knows more about depression—its causes, treatment and consequences—than I do, but I’m still in major learning-mode about so-called schizophrenia.  To my limited understanding, the diagnosis of schizophrenia results from major traumatic events in childhood.  These events go without acknowledgement (frequently sexual abuse, and what family will admit that one of its own has been the abuser?) and consequently results in the mind fracturing.

The child becomes an adult and exists in a constant state of terror, running from something—usually, someone—and unable to recognize that it’s no longer chasing them.  Using the standard medical model, the patient is put on overwhelming doses of antipsychotics, given a lousy prognosis, and continues to hear voices.  Dr. Karon presents an alternative treatment.  He tells of a man who was diagnosed with schizophrenia, drugged, and placed on a back ward in an institution.  The patient was labeled “hopeless.” 

I think, yeah, and when I was on life support, they said there was no hope for my survival.  Doctors don’t know from shit and should stay out of the prognostication business.  When they label a patient “hopeless” what they really mean is “I’ve given up.”  The doctor may give up, but the patient doesn’t.  Here am I a decade later, unwell but alive, and learning about the drugs that did me in.

So Dr. Karon relates what he did:  he got the man out of institutionalization, weaned him from drugs, and worked with him in empathic therapy.  And then Dr. Karon says something that really hits me:  schizophrenic hallucinations are conscious dreaming.  Wow!  Their world is no crazier than ours.  We—all of us—have night dreams.  We wake up, look at our dreams and recognize them as both really weird and full of symbols unique to our own life experience.  Imagine how crazy people would say you are if you insisted that your dreams were real.  Now suppose that all that’s happening with people diagnosed with schizophrenia is that they are using dream symbols to try and tell you about something that happened that was so terrible that they can’t separate from it.  How about that for a theory to work with?

Dr. Karon goes on to report that in less than a year, the “hopeless schizophrenic” had return to full functioning, not to mention full employment.  Under the medical model, a diagnosis of schizophrenia means you are a hopeless case and consigned to drugs and institutionalization.  Under the empathic therapy model, a diagnosis of schizophrenia means you will be listened to and helped to confront the monsters in your closet until you’re ready to go back to work.

Several decades ago, psychiatrist Franklin Reed told me that people came to him because they believed there were monsters in the closet.  His job was to take a flashlight, accompany the patient into the closet, and show him that the monsters were old coats, hockey sticks and last year’s boots.  Frank was totally ready to accept empathic therapy as a way of working with troubled people.  I wonder how many people in the workshop are equally ready.

About annecwoodlen

I am a tenth generation American, descended from a family that has been working a farm that was deeded to us by William Penn. The country has changed around us but we have held true. I stand in my grandmother’s kitchen, look down the valley to her brother’s farm and see my great-great-great-great-great-grandmother Hannah standing on the porch. She is holding the baby, surrounded by four other children, and saying goodbye to her husband and oldest son who are going off to fight in the Revolutionary War. The war is twenty miles away and her husband will die fighting. We are not the Daughters of the American Revolution; we were its mothers. My father, Milton C. Woodlen, got his doctorate from Temple University in the 1940’s when—in his words—“a doctorate still meant something.” He became an education professor at West Chester State Teachers College, where my mother, Elizabeth Hope Copeland, had graduated. My mother raised four girls and one boy, of which I am the middle child. My parents are deceased and my siblings are estranged. My fiancé, Robert H. Dobrow, was a fighter pilot in the Marine Corps. In 1974, his plane crashed, his parachute did not open, and we buried him in a cemetery on Long Island. I could say a great deal about him, or nothing; there is no middle ground. I have loved other men; Bob was my soul mate. The single greatest determinate of who I am and what my life has been is that I inherited my father’s gene for bipolar disorder, type II. Associated with all bipolar disorders is executive dysfunction, a learning disability that interferes with the ability to sort and organize. Despite an I.Q. of 139, I failed twelve subjects and got expelled from high school and prep school. I attended Syracuse University and Onondaga Community College and got an associate’s degree after twenty-five years. I am nothing if not tenacious. Gifted with intelligence, constrained by disability, and compromised by depression, my employment was limited to entry level jobs. Being female in the 1960’s meant that I did office work—billing at the university library, calling out telegrams at Western Union, and filing papers at a law firm. During one decade, I worked at about a hundred different places as a temporary secretary. I worked for hospitals, banks, manufacturers and others, including the county government. I quit the District Attorney’s Office to manage a gas station; it was more honest work. After Bob’s death, I started taking antidepressants. Following doctor’s orders, I took them every day for twenty-six years. During that time, I attempted%2
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2 Responses to Empathic Therapy: Hopefulness for “Schizophrenics”

  1. Thomas Meli says:

    Beautiful entry, I’d love to receive more information about this particular case study. I am nonviolent communication practitioner and use Empathy as the major modality of my healing work with my clients. Would you be willing to introduce me to Dr Karen to get more information about this exciting work?

    • annecwoodlen says:

      Perhaps you missed the place where I wrote “Dr. Karon, disabled by a car accident, presents a taped appearance.” He lives seven hundred miles away from me. You certainly can look him up on the Internet and do your own introduction.

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