The Man Who Loved Schizophrenics

By Keith, David | Family Therapy Networker, July/August 1995 | Go to article overview

The Man Who Loved Schizophrenics


Keith, David, Family Therapy Networker


IN AN INTERVIEW AT THE 1990 AAMFT Conference, Carl Whi-taker was asked what he hoped his primary legacy to the field of family therapy would be After a brief pause, Carl said, "My ado-ration of schizophrenics." Carl believed that to be a socially adapted citizen meant living behind an artificial facade concealing our real lives and endless ambivalence about ourselves. He saw schizophrenics as pathologically determined to live up to their own world view, refusing to become social robots. For him schizophrenia was a disease of abnormal integrity and proof of a hunger for psychological health.

I remember treating a family with Carl about 15 years ago that included Jack, a 20-year-old college student, who was diagnosed as schizophrenic and was prescribed Navane, which he refused to take. After dropping out of college, he returned home, where he continually disrupted his intensely religious, well-to-do family with his bad temper and irregular hours The mounting tension exploded one Sunday morning when his father, a high-powered corporate executive, lit in to him for refusing to shave and insisting on wearing his shabby Salvation Army clothing to church. Jack maintained that he was only dressing as Christ would dress were he living in Wisconsin in 1980.

After the family left for church, Jack tried to hang himself, but the scaffolding collapsed and he failed. His stay at the University Hospital, where he was admitted, was complicated by his angry father's interference with the ward routine and Jack's continued refusal to take medication. The case was referred to Carl and me when the father, an influential man, called the Dean of the Medical School for help. It appeared the ways to fail in this case were numberless.

Carl began the first interview as usual by asking the father to "tell me about your family." "I am not here to talk about my family," Jack's dad replied angrily, "We are here to talk about Jack." The father went on to express his dim view of psychiatry, his faith in Christianity and the power of positive thinking, and his rigid insistence on the abnormal normality of his family.

At one point, father had us both stymied as he held forth that what was happening in his family was God's will. Carl turned to me and said, "You know being God is such a fascinating job. It has all that freedom in it. It's not like being President; you don't have any Congress to deal with. I've been trying to decide whether I would want the job if God ever retired." I added, "But I hear Mrs. God says He is very difficult to live with. He is always working, and his all-knowing stuff is tiresome." Jack suddenly got interested. "Did you say Mrs. God?" he asked, entering the interview for the first time. "Yeah, hadn't you heard?" I answered '"Mrs. God,' . I don't believe this. " He was smiling.

Up until this point, the family believed no one could talk to Jack. And even though father was angered by our lack of piety, the entire family was quietly relieved by Jack's response to us. Carl added to the son, "I suppose you thought you could avoid all this complicated marriage stuff by being the Messiah Sorry for the bad news."

Later in the interview, father thought I was holding him responsible for his son's suicide attempt (I was, but he was not supposed to notice), and fought back. As father's tirade gained momentum, Carl slumped down in his chair, shoulders hunched, legs straight out in front of him with ankles crossed while Jack absent-mindedly rubbed the forehead of a small teddy bear on the couch beside him. Then Carl said, "By the way, Jack, I'm glad you are giving that bear some attention. He got kicked out of his family and showed up here. He complains every morning when I come in that no one loves him. Actually, if you wouldn't mind taking him home and loving him up some, I would appreciate it."

"Do you think he wants to kill himself?" Jack asked.

Carl thought for a minute and said, "I don't know. …

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