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No Chariots of Fire

Humans are inherently rational.


Yes, I realize that sounds like an irrational statement.


But think about it. Our ancestors didn’t just look up at the big ball of fire crossing the sky and go, “Huh. Oh, well,” and then go on with their day.


No, they had an innate need to explain what they were seeing. Oh sure, their explanation was that the sun was carried across the sky by a God on a chariot, but it was still an explanation.


Other animals certainly observe their environment. Our dogs are watching me right now. But that is reactive.


Humans ask “Why?”


And this is a double-edged sword. It drives our quest for knowledge. We know what we know because of this.


But that desire to explain is so powerful that it creates the tendency to attribute causes to events that are not in fact true.


And so it is with psychosis and abuse.


There are still some people who believe schizophrenia is caused by childhood trauma. I understand this. It is an easy explanation.


And it gives us someone to hate. In rhetoric, we call this “humanizing the issue.” It is easier for people to care about people than about issues, which can be more abstract. I ask you for money for a cause and you may say no. But I put a child in front of you who needs help for that very issue and it becomes almost impossible to say no.


By the way, many charities exploit that reaction in you. They show you pictures of suffering children and you get on the phone with your credit card. You want to help. Unfortunately, they don’t tell you that only 10 cents of your donation will ever reach its intended target.  They prey upon your desire to save a child. That makes them scum and you a good human being.


Schizophrenia, of course, is not a person. It is a “thing,” a thing that we have only the barest understanding of. But a parent is a human being and therefore easier to direct your anger, the manifestation of your feeling of powerlessness.


Hence part of the reason why the concept of psychosis being caused by abuse remains alive in fringe psychology.


Those that cling to this belief, known as the “trauma model,” point to studies that show a correlation between abuse and psychotic illnesses. A correlation simply means that two things appear together in a statistical significant way. It does not mean one is caused by the other.


First, in those studies, have you ever looked at the average age of participants? They’re not young kids. They are people whose onset of illness occurred before the advent of modern Child Protective Services in the 1970s. Therefore, they ignore the cultural shift that occurred in America in the 1980s and 90s as we became a more child-centric culture.


Do you remember what it was like to be a kid in the Seventies? Kids were an afterthought. Our society flipped to a near paranoia over child safety as the Baby Boomers had kids in the 80s, leading to mass hysterical accusations of child abuse rivaling the Salem Witch Trials.


Studies that show a correlation between abuse and psychosis involve subjects born in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s. Are there studies looking for a correlation between abuse in psychosis and children born after the 1980s? No.


American culture has changed. For thirty years we have lived in a child centric culture… except perhaps for SMI kids.


So we no longer live in a culture that turns a blind eye to abuse. Spank your kid at risk of losing your child.


“Mandated reporters” are everywhere. Doctors, teachers, therapists.


I am not going to say that abuse doesn’t happen anymore but I imagine it has to be pretty damn hard unless the child is totally isolated from society. Somebody is going to ask questions. Someone is going to report.


Then there is the issue of how do we define “abuse?”


CPS defines it as the “Big Three:” sexual, physical, and neglect.


Emotional abuse, because the major difficulty in defining it, is not counted. Emotional abuse is subjective, hence the reason why it is not criminally prosecuted. And by the way, I am not talking about PTSD, which is a psychiatric diagnosis triggered by extended and intense periods of existing in a “fight or flight” state.


Yet, 9 times out of 10 it is the amorphous “emotional trauma” that advocates of the trauma model point to.


In terms of sexual, physical abuse, and neglect, there is no higher rate amongst severely mentally ill children than the general population….


…as long as they stay with their parents. In residentials and foster homes, the numbers are exponentially higher than the general population. I don’t say to demonize foster parents. Most are not abusive and are fantastic parents. That is just the stats. In Texas, the rate of abuse amongst those in foster care or residential is a whopping 4000% higher than the general population.


I am not saying that the trauma model needs to be abandoned to spare the poor parents. Parents of SMI kids go through way more difficult things. What the peanut gallery says means nothing.


No, the concept that psychosis comes from abuse is dangerous because it is a simple explanation that prevents us from looking for the real cause. It takes us away from biology and provides a simple answer that if the child was removed from the perceived abuse, he/she would recover. This prevents us from pushing for research and medical treatments. In other words, the trauma model negates the need for research. That is its biggest risk and why it must be abandoned.


Thankfully, some of our ancestors didn’t accept that the sun was pulled across the sky by a chariot. Because of them, we now know the sun appears to move because we are turning on our axis.


Relativity is a bitch.


If we keep defaulting to abuse as the cause of psychosis, we lose the perspective of the greater environment.


3 comments on “No Chariots of Fire

  1. I think maybe you should take some psychology classes before attempting to understand research into the role abuse can play in the development of schizophrenia.
    As someone completing a PhD in clinical psychology, I can assure you that most of us don’t believe that abuse is linked to schizophrenia just because we want some kind of explanation for it. Rather, it is because there is more and more evidence (and yes, many recent studies have been done, or are being done right now) that suggests abuse increases the risk of developing schizophrenia.

  2. You are also blatantly wrong when you say that linking abuse to schizophrenia is a simple explanation and negates the need for research. Rather, even if abuse was found to clearly be a cause for schizophrenia, this would only lead to more research into what treatments can help treat it, given this knowledge about it’s cause.
    You are just such a hypocrite – you are trying to stop research into environmental causes of mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, because of your misguided belief that mental illnesses like schizophrenia are purely biological. And your view is so damaging – many psychological treatments are showing exciting results in the treatment of schizophrenia, where as antipsychotics have a whole heap of dangerous side effects, especially if taken long term. Why are you therefore trying to push that researchers only look at biological causes and treatments of schizophrenia? Maybe when your kids gets tardive dyskinesia after taking antipsychotics for 20 years, or becomes obese due to the weight gain associated with such drugs, you might realize how misguided your view are. Or maybe you need to realize that not every country in the world is like the US and believes that schizophrenia is purely biological and the only treatment is medication.

  3. “I am not going to say that abuse doesn’t happen anymore but I imagine it has to be pretty damn hard unless the child is totally isolated from society. Somebody is going to ask questions. Someone is going to report.”

    I realize that this blog post is not about abuse but I still have to comment on this quote because it’s so off the wall it’s absurd. Considering how many kids are abused, your belief that it’s hard to abuse a child unless the child is totally isolated from society is clearly wrong. In the vast majority of cases nobody asks questions and nobody reports. It’s not at all because the kids are isolated from society, totally or otherwise, but because of a number of different reasons. It tends to stay hidden because the victim is afraid, embarrassed, or loyal to the abuser. Sexual abuse is especially well hidden since there are often no visible physical signs and it always takes place behind closed doors when nobody else is around. But even physical abuse is easy to hide. Most physical abuse does not lead to severe injuries that require medical care. It usually just leaves red marks, scratches and bruises that of course can be hidden under clothes. The vast majority of physical abuse is never reported and when it is it has often gone on for years. It would be great if things work the way you think but fact is that it doesn’t, not even close.