I Never Promised You a Rose Garden

If you haven’t read this book, please do. It is the evocatively written fictionalized autobiography of author Joanne Greenberg’s three year treatment for schizophrenia at Chestnut Lodge, in Rockville, MD, from 1948 to 1951 under the care of Dr. Frieda Fromm-Reichmann. What strikes me most about this book, is not just the superb writing, but the fact that the author was successfully treated largely without medications. She and her psychiatrist talked their way to recovery. According to what I read, the only medication she received was something she took at bedtime occasionally to help her sleep at night.

Hannah Green, by all accounts, was pretty far gone as a patient. She found herself placed in the hospital’s back wards on many occasions. At the end of the book, she is due to re-enter Chestnut Lodge once more, once more having retreated from forging an identify for herself in the local town. I think this is a very realistic look at the journey of schizophrenia, of the struggle to construct a personality. Having read I Never Promised You a Rose Garden was very helpful when Chris re-entered the hospital recently. I saw it as not so much a relapse but more as a necessary stage in his development. He has emerged all the stronger for it.

Hypnosis, fetal memory and past life regression

One intervention that Chris has not tried is hypnosis. It’s not because I don’t believe in it, it’s because the situation hasn’t presented itself, yet. I recently rekindled my interest in hypnosis when I met a woman who is the widow of Dr. Denys Kelsey, a British psychiatrist who discovered early in his career that he had a knack for hypnosis. He was married for many years to Joan Grant, a writer like Taylor Caldwell, whose inspiration for her writing came from her past lives. (Grant claimed she was 25,000 years old!) Grant and Kelsey together wrote Many Lifetimes, a book about reincarnation, and I’ve personally read Now and Then: Reincarnation, Psychiatry and Daily Life by Denys Kelsey, which I highly recommend, as Kelsey writes that he was able to regress some of his patients to the point of conception. Since I literally heard the “ping” of Chris’s conception, and since Chris had confided to me once that he has fetal memory, I wouldn’t mind if he “had a go” at hypnotherapy. This would go over like a lead balloon with my husband, who doesn’t want to bring in any psychiatrist other than the one Chris is seeing. Chris is also understandably tired of seeing a psychiatrist week in and week out. Still . . .

Dr. Stern, Chris’s psychiatrist, doesn’t “do” hypnosis, to my knowledge. She does Family Constellation Therapy and psychotherapy but not hypnosis. For psychiatric patients, wanting to try different therapies beyond what is on offer with their own doctor, isn’t as clear cut as you would think. In the program that Chris attended for two years, the parents often asked about hypnosis and the opinion of the doctors was uniformly against it. The program didn’t “do” hypnotherapy. Neither did it “do” Family Constellation Therapy. What kind of one-on-one therapy it did do is a mystery to me. I suspect that everybody got the same superficial therapy, no matter what their diagnosis. Therapy lite is not for schizophrenia. You’ve really got to get in there.

I have read that people with schizophrenia can’t be hypnotized, meaning that there is something about them that makes it impossible for them to become hypnotized. I have also read that it is dangerous to hypnotize people with schizophrenia. It makes me wonder if there is no distinction made between someone with active psychosis (perhaps harder for them to concentrate) and someone who is more stable. Within the past year or so I have noticed more and more positive articles about hypnosis as a treatment for schizophrenia. The whole area is murky with misinformation and perhaps disinformation. Chris’s program doctors were firmly in the camp of it is dangerous to hypnotize, which causes me to think their opinion is formed because their favored approach is drug therapy.

Psychiatrists seem to be sensitive people. If you are seeing one doctor, you are supposed to apparently only do what that doctor recommends, which is coincidentally whatever he/she is specializes in. If I bring up the idea of trying a new therapy (even a one-off therapy) in addition to Chris’s regular psychiatric appointments, it’s like I’m being hugely disloyal. I don’t think it ought to be this way. As a parent I want to get help for my son anyway I can. I would like to say to psychiatrists “get over it”. Let’s put our egos aside and maybe shave some time off the recovery process by adding some new therapies into the mix.

Hypnosis, done with a responsible therapist, can reveal startling reasons for why we behave the way we do in this life, whether it is overeating, flying into uncontrollable rages, or any number of things. Better still, it can resolve issues that may seem impossible to fix. Young children, in particular, are very close to fetal memories and possible past lives. I am willing to believe just about anything these days, thanks to schizophrenia. Three quarters of the world’s population believes in reincarnation. I am not about to argue against what the majority of people believe in. They all can’t be wrong.

I would be interested to know if anyone reading this post has undergone hypnosis to treat schizophrenia. If so, do you feel it was done well? What results did you notice? Would you recommend this therapy to treat schizophrenia? If you were seeing a psychiatrist at the time, how did you make your case that hypnosis was needed?

Medical insecurity

I long ago stopped telling Chris’s psychiatrists what Chris and I were up to outside of Chris’s appointments, the only exception being the holistic psychiatrist, who seemed to sense what we were up to, anyway. Her muscle testing freaked me out it was so accurate. I became afraid to take any unilateral action because somehow I thought she would “know”. Do I vote Republican or Democrat? It seemed like she would “know.” If I substituted an inferior quality vitamin to what she recommended, I thought she would “know.” I grew dependent on her and that’s not a wise thing to do with a psychiatrist.

The few times I let Chris’s psychiatrists in on what I was doing, I wished I hadn’t. Invariably, they would tense up, lean forward, and want to know exactly what kind of esoteric thing I was up to now. None of the extracurricular stuff Chris did involved medications, and they already knew about the vitamins, so what was the problem? In some ways, I am a quick learner. After the whole hassle we originally went through trying to bring in a second psychiatrist to recommend vitamins, I decided that nothing I did afterwards merited confiding in them.

The point of a being a physician, I would have thought, is to empower healing in patients (family is included here), by encouraging them to think for themselves, to inform themselves, and try different things that do no harm while hopefully doing some good. A good physician is also willing to learn from patients. We have been fortunate to have been able to hand pick two of Chris’s psychiatrists, who are both quite willing to learn from us.

I recently needed a medical professional to write a prescription for Chris for the Tomatis Method so that the insurance company would cover it. Our family doctor, who I long ago decided is totally unimaginative, flatly refused to issue a prescription. “I don’t believe in the Tomatis Method,” he said. Perhaps he wonders why I haven’t sent Chris to him for regular check-ups in recent years. So, next I tried Dr. Stern, who wanted to have more information about Tomatis before she issued a prescription. Fair enough, I suppose, except that she already knew that the therapy is about music, and is not a competitive threat to her. So we did this little dance, and eventually I got the prescription.


I find the whole subject of drugs very boring. Ditto for vitamins. There is only such much you can say about them when it comes to treating mental illness. For the record, Chris has been on the following medications. Respirdal, Effexor, Abilify, clozapine, Solian, Serdolect. I think he has been on enough. I thought he had been on enough after sampling only two of them. I feel I have been misled from the beginning about the medications. The hospital never indicated to us that there was another way to treat psychosis, e.g. using megadose vitamins in place of medications or through targetted psychotherapy. Ian and I were new to the game and never thought that there might be alternative theories as to what schizophrenia really is and how to treat it. We trusted the doctors to get Chris well.

We were misled about the clozapine. Chris had only been on Respirdal and Effexor, then briefly Abilify, when the doctors began urging clozapine on us. I had heard it was for the “treatment resistant” (to a layperson, it means they have tried everything else with no success and after that you are considered chronic) and so we resisted putting Chris on it. Having only tried two antipsychotics, I thought it a tad premature to label him treatment resistant. What clozapine did was to add many more pounds onto the pounds that the previous drugs had already added. Chris also had to put up with getting blood tests done every two weeks.

The doctors at Chris’s program thought clozapine was marvelous for their patients – they said so often. They didn’t have to deal with Chris’s raging hunger, the fridge door always open and our food bill practically doubling. Chris was now a prisoner in his own body. Unsurprisingly, clozapine didn’t improve Chris. Faced with a patient who didn’t respond to clozapine, the doctors preferred to leave him on it anyway, over Ian’s and my objections. It was their drug of last resort.

Clozapine is a bitch to get off of, but it can be done. You can go into the hospital and reduce it rather quickly while substituting another drug, or you can do it very, very slowly over time. At first Chris’s holistic psychiatrist was reluctant to even try taking him off it because she had heard no one had ever come off it successfully. She felt that people who had been on it more than a year would not be able to withdraw. When she told me that, I was crushed. Chris had been on it two years at that point. Lucky for us she was willing to try. It took Chris one year to go from from 25 mg of Clozapine to 0.

A broken mind is not the same as a broken neck

Today at work I passed a man whose son lost the use of his limbs after a snowboarding accident a couple of years ago. These fleeting encounters always give me pause to feel saddened but relieved that Chris had merely lost the use of his mind for a period of time.

After the snowboarding accident, a co-worker organized a charity run and raised a substantial amount of money to help with the young man’s rehabilitation. His initiative in doing this is commendable. The young man has huge rehabilitation expenses.

The young snowboarder’s physical needs are obvious. Unless a miracle happens, the young man will still be in a wheelchair ten years from now. He will have on-going practical considerations about how to manage his life.

The hardest part for me in helping my son to overcome his problems has been the negativity of the medical profession, who act as if Chris’s prognosis in the same league as if he broke his neck. Now, if they don’t really feel this way, and most would probably not agree with me at all that their attitude needs readjusting, then why aren’t they saying in greater numbers that schizophrenia is a condition that most people can eventually walk away from? Taking a different attitude towards it would help a lot of people stay the course and not become discouraged. The worst part about mental illness at the beginning is the uncertainty because no one seems to be able to tell you what your life can or will be like in ten years, and they seem very sad about it, too. The feeling of being alone with your problem is overwhelming.


I was late getting my post out today because I went to an art exhibition. There were a number of paintings by Vincent Van Gogh, which gave me a unique opportunity to look at his work again with the eyes of someone who has lingered in the territory of madness. One of my friends remarked afterwards that it was easy to tell from viewing the paintings consecutively when it was that Van Gogh really started to “lose it.” I thought, “Exactly, his art actually got better once he started to lose it as you refer to it. This period of productivity is what the world knows and loves most about his work. This is also when he is at his most interesting as an artist.”

His paintings weren’t signed, except for one where “Vincent” was painted in large red lettering in the lower left. “That’s odd,” I thought. “Most artists sign their work.” Then I thought about it, and concluded it was odd but understandable if you haven’t got a firm grip on “self”. You barely feel entitled to be in this world at all. I have seen this in Chris. I used to say that Chris apologized for breathing the air.

The exhibition described Van Gogh’s period before he shot himself as intensely “productive.” This I construe as a code word for being in a manic state. Seventy-six paintings were painted in seventy-five days and then he shot himself. Another code word described Van Gogh as intensely “religious.” Check.

I began to wonder about Dr. Gachet’s intentions. Vincent Van Gogh lands in his asylum, which must have looked like manna from heaven to the art-savvy psychiatrist. I speculated that Dr. Gachet handed him some art supplies and told him to get cracking. “Just one more painting, Vincent. You’ve only done seventy-five so far,” he might have urged him. “And, while you are here, how about coming over to my house this week-end and painting my lovely young daughter at the piano? By the way, I’d love a painting of my house, and you might want to think about signing your paintings.”

I believe I’ve just been vindicated in my opinion of Dr. Gachet. I googled him, and sure enough, according to Google (so it must be right, eh?) Van Gogh, too, became suspicious of Dr. Gachet. “Sicker than I am, I think, or shall we say just as much,” was Vincent’s assessment.

Coming to his senses: Chris’s self-assessment of the Tomatis Method

I began the Tomatis therapy in May of this year and I am just now finishing my third session, in all, thirty one days for a total of sixty-two hours. Two hours a day can really drag on, even if you enjoy painting or whatever tactile activity is offered at the Tomatis Center. Sometimes I just lie down, but this really is to be avoided as in addition to the warning of “you must keep your hands busy”, it can drain you of your energy for the rest of the day.

If you’ve ever seen “A Clockwork Orange” based on the novel by Anthony Burgess, you can perhaps better appreciate the idea behind the Tomatis Method. In the film, violent Alex loves Beethoven, but after undergoing rehabilitation, including hearing his beloved Beethoven played over a Nazi propaganda film, he is “cured” both of his love of violence and also of Beethoven. By filtering and repeating, ad nauseum, Mozart and Gregorian chants, you really question all your senses and how you derive pleasure from them. The Tomatis Method is really maddening and you get the urge to run somewhere away from the music, and you start to blame yourself a bit for the pain of the constant repetition. It gets lonely as well, with no one to compare your art with and no one to think about while you’re listening to the music.

I have always been, if not a clumsy, then a primitive visual artist, yet I’ve found an appreciation for everything that goes into painting something with meaning. In my Tomatis sessions, I mostly draw stick-figures and simple landscapes, little outdoor scenes with some children or a stormy afternoon. For an eleven-year-old, it’s not bad, especially the ones where I use crayons. I want to paint or draw, well, better, but now I notice how every little effect of color, the texture of the crayon or paintbrush, becomes so important to me, that I know I can’t draw what’s in my mind because my senses are controlling me.

It’s difficult to describe the effects of this one therapy because of other therapies and techniques which I have undergone. I don’t hear Mozart ringing in my ears as I do my food shopping, but I do become a little tired after the session is over and just want to watch TV and relax, anything to “center” me so I can feel alert to confront the rest of the day. There are overlaps with the Alexander Technique, craniosacral therapy, gem therapy and, indeed, dear old singing lessons. With singing, one of the most important things to get right is being in tune, and I have known people who cannot sing when the rest of the choir is out of tune with respect to the piano. I’ve noticed that I’ve become more exacting from my voice, that it is more difficult to sing out of tune. So everyone else is singing, and all of a sudden I stop completely. How much of this can be attributed to overconfidence I’m not sure.

I have noticed that after the therapy I feel much more communicative, and exposed. Previously, when I became angry with my brother over a television show or something similarly stupid, I was able to control my emotions and articulate my frustration. Now, with this heightened emotional sense I find that when I listen to people, they aren’t “just people” anymore, but I hear the subtext of their concerns, their emotional presence takes the place of being “a body in space.” The Gregorian chant from the sessions really makes you pay attention to the “spiritual presence”, and this is both confusing (people are less predictable) and also exciting. I get the sense that people can float in and out of rooms, and I start to lose my sense of self. Also, I become more critical of myself, noticing every change in breathing or of not being comfortable and this is very annoying. The music really clears your head, so you can’t fixate on any one idea or topic, you have to put aside any concern you presently have, because you’re in another place altogether.

Documentation of Tomatis results

A Swedish center, Tomatis Nordiska AB, has extensively documented the results of its work with clients since 1998, using a self-rating questionnaire which was developed by other Tomatis centers. These results are published at http://tomatisassociation.org/Content/Documents/Document.ashx?DocId=60422

Of the children with one or more medical diagnoses, the majority had either very serious conditions, such as autism or Aspergers syndrome, or disorders such as ADHD. In spite of these diagnoses, the results indicated that the children demonstrated substantial progress as a result of the training.

One conclusion that the Swedish center drew, is that the training appears to have beneficial effects on concentration and attention difficulties, as well as on social adaptation and behavior, in both adults and children, even in severe cases.

In my son Chris’s case, I am extremely encouraged by the subtle, but profound changes I see happening. Chris is a different person today than he was when he began the therapy in May. As an outsider looking in, it is hard to put a finger on it. Chris’s voice has changed. He just sounds more “normal” somehow. He speaks in a normal voice about normal things with his brothers. Not that he had what I ever considered an abnormal voice, but something has changed. It’s lower, for one thing. His body movements are more fluid. He seems sincere in a manner that I cannot explain. He is calm but more determined. He says his dreams are more vivid and continuous. All of the above must be when people say that someone is becoming more “grounded.” He complains of being more tired than usual, which may be an indication that his medication needs lowering.

As long as we stay the course, I feel that Chris’s difficulties over the past six years will soon be behind him. Tomorrow’s blog will give Chris’s impressions of what Tomatis has done for him. I’ve had a sneak preview. What Chris is articulating about the changes he has noticed, I can reduce to “living less in his mind and more in his senses.”

Dr. Tomatis asks the right questions

Something I have not been able to comprehend throughout this whole journey, is what little interest Chris’s doctors have shown in the circumstances surrounding his birth and his time in utero. Chris’s doctors have treated his condition as if it mysteriously appeared in his late teens. I realize now that the gestation period is highly important and provides the first clues to the condition called schizophrenia.

I finally found in Dr. Tomatis a doctor who understands the link, which is really quite amusing because he’s been dead since 2001.

When I filled out the client information form at the Tomatis Center I was given a platform to tell all in response to questions such as:

How long was your pregnancy?
Was there anything unusual about it?
Did you have any worries at the time?
Did you and your partner get along at this time?
How long had you been together at the time?
How many pregnancies have you had?
How long was your labor?
Was there anything unusual about your child’s development?

The Tomatis questionnaire is directed at detecting trauma to the fetus. Trauma can be a subtle as everyday maternal worry and anxiety or it can be something as seemingly innocuous as listening to Black Sabbath or other heavy metal music, listening all day to the constant whirring of propellers or jackhammers or sleeping with the television on. Loud noises are traumatizing to the fetus.

The questionnaire is no place to be coy. I wrote entire pages and then some. I finally got to tell someone about my forty-four week pregnancy, the fact that Chris barely moved in utero, the twenty-four hour labor, my husband’s and my arguments during our first year and a half of marriage, the financial insecurity, Chris seeing space aliens in the park at the age of ten, and so on. Filling out the questionnaire only confirmed the sinking feeling in my heart that the fetal ear hears all and knows all, and some ears are more sensitive than others.

Sound therapy – the Tomatis Method

“Mozart,” I thought, and with the word conjured up the most beloved and the most exalted picture that my inner life contained.

In May this year, immediately after his three month stay in hospital, Chris began the Tomatis Method, an auditory training method developed by a Frenchman, Dr. Alfred Tomatis (1920-2001), who theorized that voice and behavior problems are hearing problems. According to him, the voice only reproduces what the ear can hear.

The human ear, which resembles in shape a fetus, begins to develop a few days after conception and is fully formed by the fourth month of pregnancy. The ear doesn’t sleep. It is the only one of our sensory organs that is alert twenty-four hours a day. Tomatis theorized that the problems of autism, schizophrenia and other disorders stem from the fetus not fully hearing the mother’s voice. If a child is not integrated properly into the early environment, he or she will begin to listen more to certain frequencies than to others, will lose the desire to communicate and will turn inward by listening to her/himself. If you change the way the ear hears, he reasoned, language and behavior change, too.

Each of us has a unique auditory curve, which responds to certain sound frequencies and not to others. To achieve optimal hearing (and therefore understanding) Tomatis invented the electronic ear, a device that filters out certain sound frequencies using the music of Mozart and Gregorian chants. Why Mozart? According to Tomatis, among other things, the music of Mozart encompasses childhood auditory frequencies of 120 beats per minute. The electronic ear filters the music of Mozart to represent the sound environment before birth.
Hesse, Hermann, Steppenwolf, Bantam Books, 1974, pg. 233