The Quiet Room

Now that I’ve finished writing my own book, I’ve got time to catch up on what I haven’t been reading. The Quiet Room:A Journey Out of the Torment of Madness, by Lori Schiller and Amanda Bennett, wasn’t on my “must read” list because I had heard that, in the end, Schiller credits her recovery largely to clozapine, and that didn’t set well with my understanding of what a “good” recovery should be attributed to. I’ve become less hardline on recoveries since then. So, looking for a good read, I purchased the book on Kindle.

As an aside, just about all my reviews gets four or five stars for the simple reason that they come highly recommended by other readers. I don’t finish books that I don’t enjoy.

So, five stars for The Quiet Room. The memoir is rather unique because it tells Lori’s story not only from her perspective, but also from each of her parents’, her brothers’, her psychiatrist. They tell their sides of the story with brutal honestly, which is refreshing. What I find interesting about this 1994 book is that it was published in a decade that saw the biomedical model of mental illness take off. There was talk in the book along the lines of “getting the chemistry right,” “finding the right drug and drug combinations” and how the newer antipsychotics were changing the treatment landscape. Lori Schiller Continue reading “The Quiet Room”

A psychophysical approach to treating schizophrenia

In my memoir, The Scenic Route: A Way through Madness (coming out in the New Year), I devote part of a chapter to The Alexander Technique. In researching the technique, I came across the name of Kitty Merrick Wielopolska who was a student of the technique in the 1930s. I haven’t read her book, but it seems that it would be well worth adding to a collection of schizophrenia memoirs that have credited healing to a non-mainstream approach. In this interview, I also learned for the first time about a relatively recent psychotherapy (phenomenological psychotherapy) which my experience tells me shows great promise in breaking the habitual patterns of thought that Alexander termed a “misuse of the self.”

Never Ask Why

THE LIFE ADVENTURE OF KITTY WIELOPOLSKA (1900-1988)
Her experience with the Alexander Work, schizophrenia and the psychic state

Published by Novis Publications, January, 2002. www.novis.dk

(NOVIS is a small publishing company specializing in publishing literature on the Alexander Technique)

The following is from Joe Armstrong’s interview with Kitty that was published in 2001 several years after her death

From the moment I met Kitty (Catharine Merrick) Wielopolska in 1966 – over ten years before we began recording these stirring conversations about her struggle with schizophrenia 1  – I felt she was an extraordinary person. But after hearing for the first time in these talks about her many breakdowns and the inspiration for getting herself well that she found in the Alexander Work, 2  I realized that there were many more reasons why she was so very remarkable than I could ever have imagined.
While these conversations don’t claim that Kitty used the Alexander Work itself as a direct means to her recovery, 3  I believe they do show that her intensive experience of it had a substantial indirect influence on her ability to find her way to health. This is because the Alexander Work is based on the conception that it is impossible to separate “mental” and “physical” processes in any form of human activity, and it would therefore require us to regard a condition like schizophrenia not just as a “mental disorder.” It would also require us to take into account the “use” of the whole person when diagnosing the disorder and searching for ways to treat it. “Use,” in Alexander terminology, refers to our combined manners of responding, moving, and thinking as they are manifested in our overall behavior at any given moment, whether the behavior is governed subconsciously by our habits or is consciously guided by our chosen intention.

With that in mind, it’s very interesting to read that at least one branch of psychiatry has recently been taking a psychophysical approach to schizophrenia and is focusing on the same area of concern that F.M. Alexander found to be central in re-educating the use of ourselves as a whole. Phenomenological psychiatrists such as Shaun Gallagher are considering the possibility that the “voices” heard by people diagnosed as schizophrenic stem essentially from a breakdown in what he calls our “protentional function.” This governs our ability to “anticipate experience which is just about to happen,” in contrast to our “retentional function,” which governs how we “retain previous phases of consciousness and their intentional content.” Gallagher also says that our sense of “agency” in both motor action and cognition “depends upon  Continue reading “A psychophysical approach to treating schizophrenia”