Review of "Surviving Schizophrenia"

By E. Fuller Torrey
Quill, 2001
Review by Lisa Perkins on Apr 29th 2002
Surviving Schizophrenia

Schizophrenia is viewed as a four-letter word, something that shouldn’t be discussed in polite society or around the dinner table. It is a word feared by those who are told they are inflicted with it. It is regarded with disdain by almost everybody who hears it. It is a disease. My mother has it.

Surviving Schizophrenia, written by Dr. E. Fuller Torrey, is a well-written survival guide for those who are, or know someone who is, afflicted with schizophrenia. Torrey is the Executive Director of the Stanley Medical Research Institute, as well as the author or editor of eighteen books. He is also a clinical and research psychiatrist who specializes in bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

While well written and informative, “Surviving Schizophrenia” can be overwhelming and frightening. Torrey does a good job of giving statistical information in the first chapter, informing the reader about things such as: how many individuals are thought to have schizophrenia, where they are, and how the medical community is treating these people. Although the statistics are interesting, they are very alarming to the layperson having to deal with the thought of schizophrenia for the first time.

The second chapter of Surviving Schizophrenia is a wonderful insight into the mind of a person with schizophrenia. Torrey uses quotes from patients describing their sensory perceptions, which helps us understand the workings of the mind of the schizophrenic. He describes schizophrenia as “…not like a flood, where one can imagine all one’s possessions being washed away. Nor like a cancer, where one can imagine a slowly growing tumor, relentlessly spreading from organ to organ and squeezing life from your body.” “Those of us who have not had this disease should ask ourselves, for example, how we would feel if our brain began playing tricks on us, if unseen voices shouted at us, if we lost the capacity to feel emotions, and if we lost the ability to reason logically.”(31)

Subsequent chapters deal with other aspects of schizophrenia. For example, chapter four deals with other conditions that are mistaken for schizophrenia, such as the “multiple personality.”  Torrey also explains early symptoms of schizophrenia, and in chapter six, he explains findings of research done on the disease.  

Chapter seven covers theories about the cause of schizophrenia and treatment options (medication or no medications). This chapter tells how some people with schizophrenia have been rehabilitated successfully. The remaining chapters of Surviving Schizophrenia deal with many things, such as rehabilitation of the schizophrenic, how consumers and how families can deal with schizophrenia. In is concluding chapters, Torrey gives the answers to some commonly asked questions, how people imitate schizophrenia in the media, and the issues that advocates deal with.

Torrey uses easy to understand language and delves into the mind of the person with schizophrenia, effectively explaining the disease to the layperson. In his last chapter, Torrey gives a comprehensive list of books and associations where help is available. Surviving Schizophrenia, while frightening at times, is nevertheless a great source of information for the family having to deal with this disease.


© 2002 Lisa Perkins


Lisa Perkins



Note: for a different perspective, see Matt Lee’s review of the third edition.


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