The Fable of the Schizophrenogenic Mother

From the late 1940s to the early 1970s, the prevailing theory was that mothers placed their children in double binds and this caused their children to develop schizophrenia; the schizophrenogenic mother.  Quietly the therapeutic community realized, that this is not the case.   Though, I wonder how it has come to be that with other illnesses, such as depression or anxiety, we still blame the parents.  It makes absolutely no sense.

Placing the blame on the parents for the client’s lack of wellbeing ultimately hurts the client. More often than not it dangerously separates the client from his or her family, causing further isolation and more depression.  For example, I know of a friend who after years of psychoanalytic treatment does not understand why we call our parents mom and dad and only calls his parents by their first name. I also know of people who detach so effectively from their family during the psychoanalytic process that they never actually are able to “reattach” so to speak.

My work is to encourage clients to own their decisions and their responsibilities in regards to their wellness. This can easily be undone or even regressed if we focus on the individual as victim.  This victim identity can leave the client paralyzed and unable to understand the notion that you choose your choices as an adult. (Of course, as a child it is most definitely a different scenario.)

Our wellbeing is influenced by many systems, the family system being one of them. There is also the school system, the religious system, the cultural system,the economic system, the biological system, and the peer system that influence our past and present. Sometimes, I will have a new client who should be functioning at a lower base line then he or she does. The first or second question I ask is: was there a good friend who helped you as a child or adolescent or young adult? Always, there is a resounding yes. Friends increase our resilience to trauma, whether it be abuse, war, or the trauma of mental illness itself. Scholastic systems also influence our well being. A recent studied highlighted that public schools have higher rates of suicide then private schools.  I am sure there are other influences that compound this finding, though it is interesting. In a stimulating supportive educational environment, we learn and grow in vital ways that can feel dampened and demoralizing if a student is under stimulated and bored.

We come in for therapy for many different reasons, especially existential ones; loneliness, death anxiety, tolerating an isolating society that can feel far from perfect at times.  Ultimately, treatment for mental illness is an active collaborative treatment. This means gaining awareness of blind spots in your life, instilling courage for change and growth,  and encouraging a gentle loving approach towards one self and others.

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