Making Sense of Madness: Contesting the Meaning of Schizophrenia

Making Sense of Madness: Contesting the Meaning of Schizophrenia

Making Sense of Madness: Contesting the Meaning of Schizophrenia

Making Sense of Madness: Contesting the Meaning of Schizophrenia


The experience of madness - which might also be referred to more formally as 'schizophrenia' or 'psychosis' - consists of a complex, confusing and often distressing collection of experiences, such as hearing voices or developing unusual, seemingly unfounded beliefs. Madness, in its various forms and guises, seems to be a ubiquitous feature of being human, yet our ability to make sense of madness, and our knowledge of how to help those who are so troubled, is limited.

Making Sense of Madnessexplores the subjective experiences of madness. Using clients' stories and verbatim descriptions, it argues that the experience of 'madness' is an integral part of what it is to be human, and that greater focus on subjective experiences can contribute to professional understandings and ways of helping those who might be troubled by these experiences.

Areas of discussion include:

  • how people who experience psychosis make sense of it themselves
  • scientific/professional understandings of 'madness'
  • what the public thinks about 'schizophrenia'

Making Sense of Madnesswill be essential reading for all mental health professionals as well as being of great interest to people who experience psychosis and their families and friends.


As this is, in many ways, a book about stories, we have decided that we should begin this book with a story. A true story.

A young mother sits at home every night thinking about her predicament.
Her two boys, aged 2 and 5, are asleep, and her husband is out working
night shift in a coal mine. He won’t be back until early the next morning.
She’s preoccupied with how her life has been going recently, and finds
she thinks about nothing else once the kids are in bed. Night after night
after night, she returns to the same old issues, the same old questions,
and finds she reaches the same old dead-ends in looking for answers.

As the weeks pass, the content of her thoughts remains much the
same, but the way in which she thinks about her situation starts to
change. It moves from being an internal monologue to being an external
dialogue. She finds that instead of having her thoughts running around in
endless circles in her mind, she is now having a discussion with her own
head, which has somehow, miraculously she thinks, started to appear in
the top corner of the bedroom, looking down on her, talking to her and
contributing ideas and suggestions about ways of dealing with her cur
rent circumstances. Her head appears pretty much every night, and she
finds that the discussions she has with her head are more fruitful than
just having the thoughts running around in her mind.

After some months of these nocturnal discussions, the young mother
and her disembodied head together find a solution. It’s simple: she
just has to kill herself. That now seems fairly straightforward to her.
However, this in itself creates another problem: what to do with the
children? It would be cruel to leave them behind. Indeed, she would
find it impossible to do so given the circumstances. The solution to this
dilemma also develops out of the dialogue the young woman has with
her head. Again, it’s a simple and obvious solution. She will kill her two

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