This year, Friday 10th of October is also known as World Mental Health day. This year the focus is on living with schizophrenia.
The wording is ironic due to the lack of focus living with schizophrenia can create. To break it down the World health Organisation defines schizophrenia as: ‘a severe mental disorder, characterized by profound disruptions in thinking, affecting language, perception, and the sense of self. It often includes psychotic experiences, such as hearing voices or delusions.’
Despite being a treatable disorder, more than 50% of people with schizophrenia cannot access adequate treatment, but what is meant by ‘adequate treatment’.
From a Dance Movement Psychotherapy perspective there is a therapeutic goal, when working with schizophrenia, to help ground a person within their sense of self directly through the body; focusing on the here and now.
Schizophrenia is an overwhelming diagnosis as one may feel never fully present within themselves. Their lives may become directed by the ‘other’ person or people they believe and experience to be a part of them. Typically these hallucinations are attempted to be managed by muting and subduing the patient into a medicated state of calm.
However, in my experience, working with the whole of the person with schizophrenia, inclusive of the voices, is some of the most creatively rewarding work I have ever witnessed unfold.
Each persona present in each person had a unique gift to share. I remember once, after a session with a person diagnosed with schizophrenia, I wrote in my notes that it often felt I was listening to a radio being tuned. When a ‘clear signal’ came through I was moved into a new state of understanding, until the channel changed again.
The stigma associated with people with schizophrenia often results in their isolation and marginalization from society.
Regardless of diagnosis, my patients were people. The one hour spent in the Dance Movement Psychotherapy group session was often the first time in years that these people had felt accepted and part of a, very small, community of people. A community all trying to manage their own mental health, while simultaneously supporting others through the power of the moving body.
Witnessing someone develop schizophrenia can be an overwhelming experience but living with it is even more traumatic.
Just imagine being unable to grasp and hold onto a recognisable sense of self. The core of your being and ability to relate rapidly slipping through your fingers.
Today, although I can’t fully identify with people diagnosed with schizophrenia, my body, through working in close therapeutic relationship with this client group, resonates with embodied empathy. There is nothing more terrifying than battling with your own mind. Those who are moving towards a victory are heroes who should be celebrated not muted or, in the case of some cultures, feared!
I hope, for the future of the management of schizophrenia,that the Arts Therapies, especially Dance Movement psychotherapy, is continued to be recognised by the NICE guidelines as invaluable intervention. Moving towards bringing the body back into a manageable relationship with the whole self.
“Never give up on someone with a mental illness. When “I” is replaced by “We”, illness becomes wellness.”
Shannon L. Alder
NICE Guidlines: You might want to go straight to 9.3.5 on page 220. Of note on page 221: ‘ arts therapies are currently the only interventions (both psychological and pharmacological) to demonstrate consistent efficacy in the reduction of negative symptoms.’