Monday, November 25, 2013

Can reasoning alone break schizophrenic delusions?

What might happen, [psychiatrist Milton Rokeach] wondered, if a psychologist were to deliberately pair up patients who held directly conflicting identity delusions? Perhaps such psychological leverage could be used to pry at the cracks of an irrational psyche to let in the light of reason. Dr. Rokeach sought and secured a research grant to test his hypothesis, and he began canvassing sanitariums for delusional doppelgängers. Soon he found several suitable subjects: three patients, all in state care, each of whom believed himself to be Jesus Christ. ...

Rokeach initiated his research experiment at the Ypsilanti State Hospital in Michigan in 1959. ... Three days later, when the "Three Christs" arose, they were summoned to a small antechamber adjacent to Ward D-23. ...

Dr. Rokeach's hypothesis was that it might be possible to alter or eliminate schizophrenic delusions if he forced patients to confront what he described as 'the ultimate contradiction conceivable for human beings': more than one person claiming the same identity. To this end, he contrived a battery of experiments to challenge the Christs' identities over the coming months. ...

Dr. Rokeach finally brought the Three Christs experiment to an end on 15 August 1961, just over two years since the first meeting of Clyde, Joseph, and Leon. None of the patients had measurably improved, although by the time Rokeach departed Leon had indeed renounced his claim to being Jesus Christ. Instead he insisted upon being referred to as "Dr. Righteous Idealized Dung." He had also come to believe that he was one of the Yeti people. ...

Later advances in neuroscience revealed that schizophrenia is disorder of thought processes rather than of thought content, associated with subtle differences in brain structures and in brain chemistry, consequently no amount of psychotherapy can "cure" schizophrenic delusions. However, thanks to modern medicine schizophrenia and similar disorders are quite controllable with the use of antipsychotic medications.