Rethinking Madness: Towards a Paradigm Shift in our Understanding and Treatment of Psychosis

I just received my copy of Rethinking Madness, which Paris Williams, the author, mailed to me. It’s truly an essential text for anyone who wants to understand the psyche, particularly such phenomena that is considered psychotic and mad.

One of the many things he explores which is critically important, is that even within the field of tranpersonal psychology there is a bias against people who have “genuine” psychosis as opposed to “spiritual emergence.”

Paris points out that this distinction is a dangerous one to make and is often not at all clear.

I, for example, contacted Stan Grof as a young woman having recognized my issues were not mental illness and was engaged with interest until I told him I’d been labeled bi-polar. At that point he couldn’t wait to get off the phone. I was struck with the hypocrisy of that, him having married the wife he met as a patient in the psych ward. Her book, The Stormy Search for the Self, about her own spiritual emergence and crisis was at one time very helpful to me. 

Anyway, the fact is many people are lost to psychiatry and neurotoxic drugs for life because too few people who might be in a position to help want to really delve into the dark and difficult content that the psyche sometimes presents and then those people experiencing such difficulties are all too often tossed away and drugged for life…a few of us escape to tell the tail of neglect. We too have stories of transformation albeit with some additional struggles that had there been people around to recognize our process and support us we might have been spared some suffering.

This book, Rethinking Madness and many of us who have these experiences hope to democratize the opportunity to heal. Right now only the lucky few are able to find their way.


My first post on the book with some more copy about what is in the book is copied and pasted here:

This is an important contribution to the literature because those of us who have experienced psychosis are recovering and thriving all the time and yet we remain invisible. As long as there is a denial of the great potential in all of us to heal and blossom we will continue hurting those who get diagnosed with psychotic disorders and unnecessarily damning many to a lifetime of illness.

You can download the first 87 pages in PDF format here by clicking VIEW EXCERPT. Here is an excerpt from the PDF that seems to do a decent job of summarizing what the book is about:

When we look closely at the recovery stories of many people [diagnosed with schizophrenia]…We discover that very often, recovery does not simply entail the return to the person’s apre-psychotic way of being, but that a profoundly healing transformation has taken place resulting in a much healthier state of mind than that which existed prior to the psychosis.

When we recognize the very real possibility of full recovery and profound healing and transformation, it becomes quite clear that something truly extra-ordinary is taking place within the psychotic process. While we must not forget the potential for tremendous pain and tragedy that is all too often associated with psychosis, in order to move towards a more complete vision of what psychosis really is, we must also account for the possibility of great healing and renewal.

In order to do this, however, we must come to terms with the fact that the mainstream vision of psychosis currently held in the West is somehow seriously missing the mark. We must question everything we think we know about psychosis and schizophrenia and be willing to approach this topic with a beginner’s mind, finding the courage to venture into the terrifying vortex of madness while not losing sight of the very real possibility of genuine healing and life-renewing transformation.

Anamolous Experiences

The content and form of the subjective experiences of psychosis are generally described as being delusions and/or hallucinations. There is the assumption that these experiences are not valid because they do not conform to consensus reality, and so according to this reasoning, the ultimate goal should be to bring the individual’s experiences back into alignment with consensus reality as quickly as possible. However, consensus reality does not necessarily correspond to some objective truth, and indeed may be vastly different from one culture to another. Therefore, I find it more useful to define subjective experiences that are not in alignment with consensus reality as simply anomalous experiences, rather than assuming that they are psychotic.

Is psychosis necessarily a bad thing?

There are many people who hear voices but are not at all distressed by them, and some even find them to be helpful. Ordinarily, based on the criteria found within the DSM-IV-TR11, such experiences would be considered psychotic based purely upon the degree of their dissonance with consensus reality, but if such experiences do not cause harm to oneself or others, then what is the benefit of labeling them as such? Doing so leads to the difficult and sometimes impossible task of trying to determine whose beliefs and perceptions are closer to so-called objective reality…ultimately distress is subjective– no one except for the individual experiencing distress is capable of determining what is and is not distressing for that individual.

So what is recovery?

I propose that recovery must refer to the abatement of the distress­ing aspects of anomalous experiences. In other words, it is distress that one is recovering from, not necessarily anomaly.

And some comments from the books website:

Recent domestic and international research suggests that full recovery from schizophrenia and other related psychotic disorders is not only possible, but may actually be the most common outcome given the right conditions, a finding that flies directly in the face of the mainstream understanding of these confusing disorders.

In Rethinking Madness, Dr. Paris Williams takes the reader step by step on a highly engaging journey of discovery, exploring how the mainstream understanding of schizophrenia has become so profoundly misguided, while crafting a much more accurate and hopeful vision of madness. As this vision unfolds, we discover a deeper sense of appreciation for the profound wisdom and resilience that lies within our beings while also coming to the unsettling realization of just how thin the boundary is between so called madness and so called sanity.

Some impressive reviews also from books website:

“In Rethinking Madness, Paris Williams writes of how science, history, and personal stories of recovery from madness all tell of how the medical model of schizophrenia/psychosis is horribly flawed and needs to be fundamentally rethought. In a clear manner, he lays out the evidence for a ‘paradigm shift’ in our thinking that, at its core, would offer people who experience madness both hope and the knowledge that robust recovery is possible, and, with the right support, quite common. And as the personal stories in his book reveal, for some, a bout of madness can be a transformative personal journey.”

Robert Whitaker, winner of the George Polk award in medical writing and author of Mad in America and Anatomy of an Epidemic


“At last, a book that summarizes the very latest–not in brain chemistry–but in the phenomenology of psychosis. Rethinking Madness is a book of profound illumination both for the scholar and the person struggling for his or her psychical life. I highly recommend this book to all those who are touched by the psychotic experience, which really means all of us–and to find out why, just read this book!”

Kirk Schneider, Ph.D., editor of the Journal of Humanistic Psychology


“Every page of this book was exciting to me, offering clear, profound insights not only into the processes of psychosis/alternative realities, but also into philosophical views about human experience, including the spiritual elements of the psychotic process. This spiritual part can conduce toward health if enlisted in the sufferer’s behalf. A spiritual component has seldom been used by the members of the medical establishment in treating the illness in any direct way, until now. While Dr. Williams never trivializes the anguish and psychic and sometimes physical pain mentally ill people endure, he is never without hope for their relief. His help/harm equation in the recovery process had me enthralled with its truth. This book should be a part of the training of every physician, psychiatrist, and pastoral counselor, and owned by the family and friends of every mentally ill person as well as the sufferers themselves.”

Joanne Greenberg, author of the international bestseller I Never Promised You a Rose Garden

You can download the first 87 pages in PDF format here by clicking VIEW EXCERPT.

Get the whole thing here: Rethinking Madness: Towards a Paradigm Shift in our Understanding and Treatment of Psychosis

Many stories about med-free recovery from psychosis here: Psychosis Recovery

See also: Spiritual emergency: one way of interpreting activity of the psyche that is often labeled psychotic

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