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”