Has Anyone Ever Fully Recovered From “Schizophrenia?”

When someone recently asked this on Quora, the first answer they received was the typical perspective offered by our mental health system.  It was stated that schizophrenia is a chronic biological illness, and that no cure exists.  The only hope offered was that many people with “the illness” can “lead productive and fulfilling lives with the proper treatment.”

I believe that answer to be horribly wrong in two respects.

  • First, it contains assertions not based on facts, and it suggests for example that schizophrenia is definitely a “real illness” based on biological differences and that people diagnosed with schizophrenia are only ever able to lead productive fulfilling lives if they continue to receive the “proper treatment.”
  • Second, since hope has been found to be one of the keys to recovery, and since this answer reduces any hope for full recovery, it functions as a kind of dark, self-fulfilling prophecy that impedes recovery.

So I offered the following answer:

The answer [to the question of whether anyone can fully recover from schizophrenia] is clearly yes. While it’s popular to say that schizophrenia is a biological illness, there is in fact no biological test for it, it is diagnosed when people talk and behave in certain ways for a period of time. And when researchers follow people who are diagnosed that way, they find that a great many of them no longer meet the criteria for the disorder when followed up later, and many of them have even very successful lives.

To give just one example: Daniel Fisher. Over a five year period, he was treated for schizophrenia, with drugs and a few hospitalizations. He then worked on recovery, became a psychiatrist, and eventually a national leader in the recovery movement. He got married, had kids, had a good life, etc. He did not continue to take drugs or to have the sorts of problems associated with “schizophrenia” and so he would meet any reasonable criteria for full recovery. He has written about his experience, and I recently reviewed his book “Heartbeats of Hope: The Empowerment Way to Recover”

I think it’s worth noting that when recovery is discussed in the mainstream mental health system, it is discussed usually in terms of working to regain a valued life despite continued illness.  I do believe that focus can be important, but as I argued in my article Moving Beyond Clinical Recovery AND Personal Recovery: Reclaiming the Possibility of Full Recovery,  it is only one side of the possibility of full recovery, which also involves getting to a place where nothing that might seem to be an “illness” remains.

For more thoughts about full recovery, and the possible role of mental health treatments in accomplishing it (or possibly getting in the way), see Questions and Answers About Recovery.

About Ron Unger

I am a licensed clinical social worker and therapist who works with people diagnosed with schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders, using a respectful and skill building approach called cognitive therapy for psychosis. I also talk and teach seminars related to this approach. You can read more about me and about how I became interested in this field at http://recoveryfromschizophrenia.org/about-ron-unger/personal-steps-toward-a-revolution-in-mental-health-care/
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