By Tom Pyle
Surviving Schizophrenia: A Manual for Families, Patients, and Providers (Fifth Edition), by E. Fuller Torrey, M.D. New York: HarperCollins, 2006.
When families must navigate the maelstrom of mental illness, they need so much yet know so little. This is especially true of the world’s most devastating mental illness, schizophrenia. The burdens it imposes on families and society are enormous—to say nothing, of course, on those loved ones whom it afflicts.
One of these burdens is acquiring the best information possible in the most expeditious manner from the most authoritative sources amidst the most confounding circumstances. When a family is flailing, there are precious few opportunities to exclaim, “Eureka!” Fortunately, such a chance comes to us (hopefully sooner rather than later in the journey) with E. Fuller Torrey’s definitive Surviving Schizophrenia, a gold mine of useful and sympathetic information for all those who are traumatized by this most tragic and misunderstood illness.
Torrey thoroughly and accessibly covers all that that families need to know. He tells us what the illness is like for the sufferer. We learn about its causes, onset, and prognosis. He describes all aspects of its treatments. He details the rehabilitation of the illness, the major problems related to it, and how families can survive it. We are shown the dimensions of the illness, how it appears in the public eye, and a copious agenda of public policy issues for families to advocate. Torrey also tells us what we should not to know, or at least believe, namely, which theories and modalities are ineffective, incorrect, or outdated. He even provides us an annotated list of the best and worst books on schizophrenia, based on his own extensive research and experience in the field.
Surviving Schizophrenia is satisfyingly comprehensive. Perplexed family members will feel relieved that it contains nearly all they need to chart their own psychodysseys better. The book is also reassuringly authoritative. A family member himself whose sister had schizophrenia, Torrey knows the subject cold, down to the smallest detail. He is not shy about debating and debunking any whom he feels hew to unscientific and politically correct beliefs about schizophrenia that actually do damage to families and their loved ones. He reserves particular opprobrium for the likes of Thomas Szasz, R. D. Laing, Peter Breggin, Gregory Bateson, Loren Mosher, Ken Kesey, Erving Goffman, the Bazelton Law Center, and the ACLU for what Torrey believes are misguided and fanciful, but ultimately dangerous and even inhumane, notions about this serious illness.
For all encountering schizophrenia, Surviving Schizophrenia is the ultimate go-to “bible book”. It lifts the clouds of ignorance. It settles the turbulence of anxiety, fear, stigma, and frustration. It helps traumatized families begin to chart a navigable course through their maelstroms. All families who must learn how to sail the stormy seas of schizophrenia should start with this indispensable sojourner’s manual.