Review of "Living With Schizophrenia"

By Stuart Emmons, Craig Geiser, Kalman J. Kaplan and Martin Harrow
Taylor & Francis, 1997
Review by Lisa Bortolotti on Nov 12th 2002
Living With Schizophrenia

The peculiarity of the book is that it is written by two people affected by schizophrenic delusions, Stuart Emmons and Craig Geiser, and it also contains a commentary by two psychotherapists, Kaplan and Harrow. It is an enlightening read for anybody who knows or works with people affected by schizophrenia, because it offers an insight into the difficulties that schizophrenic patients might encounter throughout their lives.

Students of psychology and psychiatry, researchers, therapists and philosophers with an interest in mental illness might also benefit from reading this book, which contains first-hand detailed information about the phenomenon of schizophrenic delusions. One can hope to get a better picture of what the content of delusions might be, why delusional episodes occur, and how they relate to the rest of the patient's cognitive life, though the contributions of the psychotherapists are not always helpful in this respect. 

Stuart and Craig tell the story of how they came to suffer from schizophrenia and how they reacted to the different stages of their illness. We hear about their adjustment to life in a mental institution and about the loss of contact with the outside world. But we also learn about their attempt to move back with their families, regain their jobs, and take some control of their delusional experiences. These first person accounts are accompanied by Craig's drawings and Stuart's poems, a good example of how art can serve as a powerful means for expressing one's feelings during episodes of mental illness and for reaching out to others when more standards means of communication seem to fail.

The account of Steve's and Craig's experiences is always interesting and informative, and often moving. Their description of the stage in their lives when they started hospitalization is striking. Their social interaction with doctors, other patients and members of their families and their reaction to medication contribute to their partially acknowledging that they are mentally ill. To give you an idea of how their stories are told, I selected two significant passages from their accounts of what happened after entering the hospital:

My first two days I felt I was on a spaceship because it seemed as though the floor was vibrating and moving. I felt as though this E.T. being had entered my body. This doctor had come into the ward to talk to me. My mind figured out the reason this doctor was so heavy was because he was wearing a space suit. And he made me enter this room which seemed as if it was air pressurized. […] I was confined to this lock-up area with one other patient. Sam was this elderly man who was confined to a wheel chair. This man was able to channel evil people from my earlier hospitalization in 1978 to the room that we occupied. (Craig's story, page 131-2)

I finally realized that I was in a mental hospital. I told the nurses and a man who was with them that I was being persecuted because of the game and that I was suffering because of everyone else's ethnocentrism. They took notes. Soon I was brought back to the day room again. Then I was taken to a psychiatrist's office. I was utterly drained. I could hardly talk. […] I saw a tree through a window, about 60 feet behind him. Trees still seemed special to me. I said there was a tree behind him. He said that there was no tree behind him. I knew he thought that I meant that there was a tree behind him in that very room. But I was too tired to explain what I had seen. It seemed that I was misunderstood no matter what I did. (Stuart's story, page 19)

As you can see from the passages above, at that stage of their illness, Craig and Stuart tended to view others as hostile towards them and to interpret most events in the light of their delusions.

These fascinating stories and artworks are analysed by the two psychotherapists, who aim to show how the individual experiences of Craig and Stuart fit with the symptomatic patterns to be found in other schizophrenic subjects. In their comments, Kaplan and Harrow attempt to identify the possible psychodynamic causes of delusions and the specific events or thoughts that might trigger them.

The intermissions of the psychotherapists are at times useful to put the stories in a more general context, but do not seem to add significantly to the narration. The interpretation of the two patients' thoughts and actions are often forced and repetitive. For instance, the therapists attempt to draw connections between the patients' behaviour and the relationship with their parents, connections that seem highly speculative given the limited information available to the reader.


© 2002 Lisa Bortolotti

Lisa Bortolotti studied philosophy in Bologna (Italy), London and Oxford (UK) before starting her PhD at the Australian National University in Canberra. Her main interests are in philosophy of mind, philosophy of psychology, rationality, mental illness and animal cognition.


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