Another proponent of the bad parenting school of thought was social worker Jacqui Schiff, who took a number of schizophrenic young people into her household in the early 1970s to “reparent” them, using Transactional Analysis techniques that she had learned from Dr Eric Berne. All My Children, published in 1970, provides a graphic account of the struggles she and her husband went through in the process of reparenting. She is scathing about the failure of parents to send the right messages to their children, which, she claims, results in their subsequent development of schizophrenia. Despite the fact she is acquainted with the parents of her charges in only the most superficial ways, she feels qualified to pass judgment on them, while making the same questionable judgments in her reparenting that parents make in parenting. She is particularly harsh on the mothers.
This harsh view of the parents, and in particular the mother, was shared by many psychiatrists at the time, notably Dr. Loren Mosher, Dr. Leo Kanner and Dr. R.D. Laing. Unfortunately, blaming the parents played right into the hands of drug companies. Why do I say this? I say this because drug companies don’t blame the parents. Drug companies claim that schizophrenia is a matter of biochemistry, by implication not by bad parenting.
By labeling schizophrenia a brain disease, not a result of bad parenting, psychiatrists and drug companies have made it easier for parents to say, “Look, it’s not my fault my child has schizophrenia; my child actually has a brain disease.” They have also ensured fat profits for pharmaceutical companies for years to come by this particular logic. What parents, feeling bad enough about the situation, would want to believe that it was their fault, especially if they had raised other well-adjusted children?
At the same time, and this is important, why would parents prefer to believe that their son or daughter has a damaged brain? Why would anyone want to believe that they were somehow “damaged”? That idea is horrible. It is a hopeless view. It is locking the young person into a lifetime of misery and dependency on drugs. There are many websites devoted to showing computer images of the damaged schizophrenic brain. One such website shows pictures of early and late gray matter deficits in schizophrenia. “But”, proclaims the website, “while there is a significant loss of brain gray matter, this is not a reason to lose all hope.” (see link below) Yes, according to the website, these deficits may be reversible and scientists are hard at work on inventing a miracle drug that could potentially reverse these cognitive declines.
I began to appreciate these out-of-favor psychiatrists (and one social worker) after I decided that there was no way I was going to believe that Chris had a damaged brain. The more I read, the more I agreed with them. They were downright interesting. They weren’t trying to toe the politically correct line. They criticized the pharmaceutical industry and psychiatrists for entering into unholy alliances. For all of the emphasis on the pharmaceutical approach, patients weren’t getting much better and of course, there were the side effects. All of this struck a chord with me.
They seemed to be in favor of schizophrenia as giving added value to the world. R. D. Laing believed that schizophrenia was a creative process leading to spiritual and emotional healing and noted that other cultures view schizophrenia as a state of trance, which could even be valued as mystical or shamanic. Isn’t finding “value” in schizophrenia more likely to lead to healing?
I looked into Dr. Leo Kanner’s work again and realized that, as with much of our sound-bite-obsessed culture, even in 1960 his remark about refrigerator mothers was probably blown out of proportion. Dr. Kanner had gone on to say something that shows an understanding that the origins (he was referring to autism) might go further back than the parents have control over. “The children’s aloneness from the beginning of life makes it difficult to attribute the whole picture exclusively to the type of early parental relations with our patients…We must, then assume that these children have come into the world with innate inability to form the usual biologically provided affective contact with people.” He then challenges the mothers to turn against the psychobabble of the contemporary psychiatrists in favor of their (the mothers’) innate common sense: “[R]egain that common sense which is yours, which has been yours before you allowed yourselves to be intimidated by would-be omniscient totalitarians.” Well said, Dr. Kanner!