Is that Schizophrenia or a Schizophrenic?

The all powerful receptor. Harold Maio quotes one participant’s part of the New York Times Freakonomics piece on the progress of psychology and psychiatry:

“It works by binding to certain receptors in the brain, and if you give it to “schizophrenics,” many of them stop their otherwise full-blown hallucinations.” Until the practice of referencing people as diseases ends, psychiatry will continue to fail. “schizophrenics,” indeed!!

Schizophrenia or schizophrenic — what’s the difference?
The source of Maio’s indignation might be lost on some. What he is sorely rejecting to is the objectification of the patient. Rather than “schizophrenic,” I am quite sure he would prefer “the patient suffering from schizophrenia.” What’s the big difference? The former, schizophrenic, implies an outcome, foreclosure, even worse — an identity.

The latter implies a process, with a number of symptoms that come and go, it also implies that there’s a person in there! No doubt — schizophrenia is a lifelong condition that requires medication, management, and psychotherapy, but to be a “schizophrenic” sounds like a life sentence rather than a lifelong condition. Please take a look at Elyn Saks’ book on this topic. (She manages to graduate from Oxford and teaches law at USC, all while having a diagnosis of schizophrenia.)

The objectification reminds me of a New Yorker story about medical training. At a certain point in his training the writer recounted that he and his colleagues starting referring to the body parts of the people they were treating, rather than the people themselves. “You should see the liver in room 18!”

As clinicians we can never lose sight of the fact that we are treating human beings with human problems, and there is not so much separating them from ourselves.

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Kalea Chapman, Psy.D.


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Clinical Psychologist practicing in the Los Feliz neighborhood of Los Angeles, California.

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