In the New York Times article “The Violence in our Heads”, published in September, 2013, the writer, Luhrmann, seeks to give an explanation of the differences in and diversity of patient experiences. Also, he covers the matter of numerous emerging treatment options. This is in the wake of the recent spate of horrifying acts of violence, committed by schizophrenia sufferers such as Aaron Alexis in the Washington Navy Yard and also by individuals who have exhibited symptoms similar to those shown by schizophrenics. These include the school killer of Newtown, Connecticut. This essay is a critical response to Luhrmann’s article.
The writer immediately moves to make it clear that despite the grim introduction to the article, the biggest majority of schizophrenics are not violent and in fact, “They are more likely to become victims of violence than to be perpetrators of it.”(Luhrmann, 2013) However, there has been seen a marked increase in violence committed by mentally ill individuals who have spoken of hearing voices that command them to carry out violent acts. The writer points out that most schizophrenia sufferers go through life with the condition untreated. In fact, even in instances where treatment is made available, it is often inadequate.
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The writer then goes ahead to try and evaluate the prevalence of the violent incidence of schizophrenia in the United States and cites findings from the research she has been conducting with colleagues at the Schizophrenia Research Foundation in Chennai, India to back up the same. The results give a remarkable outcome. The prevalence of violent schizophrenia seems to be most common in the United States where there seems to be a dire, “… need (for) reasonable controls on semiautomatic weapons; criminal penalties for those who sell weapons to people with clear signs of psychosis; greater insurance coverage and capacity at private and public hospitals for lengthier treatment…” (Steinberg, 2012) This seems to be the country where the voices schizophrenics hear are usually of a violent nature. They instruct them to carry out gory acts of violence and torture with a patient reporting being asked to “…take their eyes out with a fork, or cut off someone’s head and drink the blood, that kind of stuff.” (Luhrmann, 2013)
In contrast, schizophrenia patients in India were faced with completely different manifestations of the condition in terms of the commands which were given. The voices in Indian patients were mostly instructing them to carry out household chores such as cooking, cleaning and bathing. This doesn’t mean there weren’t incidences of unusual commands but even these were tame compared to the gory violence in American patients. Most of the extreme cases of unusual commands seem to have been mostly of a sexually explicit nature. This suggests that the author believes that cultural exposure in a society does influence the experiences of people suffering from schizophrenia. This claim is authenticated by the research she has done in the United States and in India that shows a heterogeneous distribution of patient experiences as diverse as there are cultures in the world.
It is with this background that the writer goes forward to express support for a new method of treating schizophrenia, and this doesn’t require the patient to be on medication to deal with and eventually rid themselves of the symptoms of the disease. This is the Hearing Voices Movement that suggests an alternative treatment method that is based on the premise that, “…if you treat unsettling voices with dignity and respect, you can change them.” (Luhrmann, 2013) This is a method that has had studies conducted on it that have shown remarkable results. This method of treatment where the patient is encouraged to engage the voices in their heads and try to reason with them goes flat out against the common practice of treatment in the United States where the doctors do not encourage patients to give the voices any meaningful significance as that would give the voices more authority to direct their hearers.
The Hearing Voices method has become more popular widespread in Europe especially due to its drug free treatment regime and a radical, effective new method. Although it hasn’t been subject to scientific evaluation yet, patients who meaningfully engaged these voices have reported that with time the, “…voices diminish, become kinder and sometimes disappear altogether-…”(Luhrmann, 2013) To back this new scientifically unqualified method the author cites a recent study in London where patients were asked to create computer simulated avatars for their voices and to challenge them, with a therapist giving responses, shifting the voices response from persecuting to supporting them. All 16 patients reported that their psychotic episode became less frequent, less intense and less disturbing. Some even reported incredible breakthroughs with the treatment, for instance a patient who had heard voices for 16 years reported that the voices disappeared after being on the trial treatment and three months on the patient seemed to have been completely cured.
Overall, this article has been presented in a very well laid manner, and its ideas are procedurally and therefore, well arranged, for the writer builds up his message towards her main thesis which is the emerging alternative treatment for schizophrenia. With her citation of key studies, one conducted by the author herself with colleagues that shows the diversity of diverse experiences for patients from different parts of the world to the research conducted in London that mirrors the Hearing Voices therapy which posts tremendous results, the author manages to present a very convincing and relevant article. In her conclusion she doesn’t forget to take the discussion back to where it started, on the issue of gun violence in America and this article shows that traditional treatment might be in need of a fresh look and alternatives seriously considered. She concludes with an admonition of the American gun culture as being a great contributor to the perpetration of these acts of violence by schizophrenic persons. She ends,” The same cultural patterns that make it difficult to get gun violence under control may also be responsible for making these terrible auditory commands that much harsher.” (Luhrmann, 2013)
Luhrmann, T. M. (2013), “The Violence in Our Heads” The New York Times. Retrieved from: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/20/opinion/luhrmann-the-violence-in-our-heads.html
Steinberg, P. (2012), “Our Failed Approach to Schizophrenia.” The New York Times. Retrieved from: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/26/opinion/our-failed-approach-to-schizophrenia.html