How Can Professionals Learn to Reduce Fears of Psychotic Experiences Rather Than Emphasize Pathology?

The kinds of experience we call psychotic are often incredibly scary: people feel they are being persecuted by strange forces, or that their brains have been invaded by demons or riddled with implants from the CIA….. the list of possible fears is endless, and often horrifying.

While standard mental health approaches counter many of these fears, they often create new fears of a different variety.   People diagnosed with schizophrenia for example may be led to believe that they will definitely be mentally ill for life, that this illness controls what happens in their brain and not themselves, and that there are few or even no alternatives if drugs don’t work for them.

This can be extremely demoralizing.  Oryx Cohen, at the 2013 ISPS-US conference,  graphically described his own reaction to the standard mental health psychoeducation he received after his first psychotic experience:  he reported it made him feel he had lost his membership in the human race!  As a result of it, he felt caught up in a pathologized understanding of himself, he lost his expectation of being capable of learning from experience and shaping his future, and he now felt defined by his abnormality rather than by his humanity.

Despite rather than because of what the mental health system taught him to believe, Oryx later discovered other ways of understanding his experience, and he made a full recovery.  But wouldn’t it be better if people like Oryx were helped to find a more humanistic understanding of themselves within the mental health system and from the very beginning of treatment?

Wouldn’t it be helpful if professionals were trained in an approach that could help people shift away from both dangerous psychotic ways of thinking and also away from the sometimes equally terrifying explanations which emphasize pathology?

Further, what if such an approach could also build a foundation for learning effective coping skills, and also help a person build hope and a road map toward a possible full recovery?

And wouldn’t it be nice if this approach was already proven to be “evidence based” so that both people learning the methods and their supervisors and colleagues could have confidence in its effectiveness and safety?

Fortunately, at least one such an approach exists, and it is called CBT for psychosis.  This method allows professionals to collaborate with people in developing understandings of their psychotic experiences that neither minimize problems nor emphasize pathology, but instead help make sense of extreme human experiences in a way that is grounded in more everyday human experience and issues.

And better yet, those of you who are interested don’t need to go out and buy something, or travel to a seminar somewhere, in order to learn this method:  instead, an online training module on normalizing is now being made available, for free!*

To access this training, I’m asking that you first register with my email list at this link, then you will be instructed in how to sign up for the training module itself.

Here’s an outline of what you can learn from participating in this training module:

  • Grasp the full picture of what normalizing consists of and what it can accomplish
  • Shape the concepts and language you use to understand and explain psychosis, so that normalizing and realistic hopes for recovery will be supported each step of the way within mental health treatment
  • Understand how normalizing explanations can help people shift from life destroying “vicious circles” to the “virtuous circles” associated with recovery
  • Learn ways normalizing can go wrong, and how to avoid those mistakes
  • Watch normalizing in practice, and begin to experiment with putting it into use

*  This training module is one part of a complete basic course in CBT for psychosis that will be made available later this year for a modest fee, that will include CE credits for most professionals.

I hope those of you who are interested in helping people with psychosis do consider taking this relatively brief training!  I believe those of you who are new to this approach will find it extremely valuable, while those who are already familiar with many of the components will still benefit from the review and will likely find some new angles on the approach.

So again, to access this training, I’m asking that you first register with my email list at this link, then you will be instructed how to sign up for the training module itself.  Signing up for the email list will insure you are notified when the entire CBT for psychosis course becomes available.


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 by going to my blog,, and clicking on the tab "about Ron Unger."
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