Book Review: Surviving Schizophrenia

  • The Sixth edition of Surviving Schizophrenia: a Family Manual was published in December 2013.  I first read the 1983 first edition in 1987 when I came out of the hospital.


    The author is E. Fuller Torrey, M.D. and his sister had schizophrenia and died in her early fifties.


    I recommend this newly revised and updated book as the first reading resource you use to make sense of what's happening to a loved one who has been diagnosed with this illness. 


    He talks about delusions and hallucinations, anosognosia and altered sense of self.  Torrey lists the criteria for a diagnosis and other common causes of psychosis.  Predictors of outcome and possible courses 10 years later and 30 years later are listed.

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    Other chapters are devoted to research findings on the causes of schizophrenia, and detailed information on the treatment of this illness.


    Torrey talks about the recovery model and whether schizophrenia changes the underlying personality. (It doesn't.)  He gives a recommended further reading list at the end of each chapter.


    It's of interest that he lists unhelpful and damaging books and resources.  Torrey indicts Robert Whitaker, the Mad in America frontman, for using methodologically flawed and inaccurate research studies to advance his anti-medication cause.


    Throughout, the author quotes individuals affected by schizophrenia who give honest, searing accounts about how their illness changed their lives.


    I checked Surviving Schizophrenia out of the library as soon as it arrived in the catalog.  Yet I recommend everyone buy the book to keep on hand if you or a loved one has schizophrenia.  It should be one of the first at-home resources a person turns to for insight and information.


    Another interesting thing is that Torrey is critical of people who recovered who tell others they can recover too.  He claims this is disingenuous because not everyone will recover completely.  He thinks telling others they can recover when they can't sets them up to feel like it's their fault if they can't achieve what recovered people achieve.


    Torrey gives statistics on recovery yet doesn't quote the source of the percentages.  He has quoted these figures for at least ten years.  I will end with Torrey's outlook on the course of schizophrenia.


    10 Years Later:


    25% completely recovered.

    25% much improved, relatively independent.

    25% improved, but required extensive support network.

    15% hospitalized, unimproved.

    10% dead (mostly suicide).


    30 Years Later:


    25% completely recovered.

    35% much improved, relatively independent.

    15% improved, but requiring extensive support network.

    10% hospitalized.

    15% dead (mostly suicide).


    In this section on outcomes, he goes into further detail on these statistics and breaks down their definitions into likely scenarios.


    I take issue with the fact that under the much improved, relatively independent category he includes people who are married or have a part-time or full-time job or live on their own.  This would fit into the recovered status if you ask me so I don't know why Torrey is so strict in delineating who has completely recovered and who is much improved.


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    Torrey's standard for who has completely recovered includes only individuals that don't need to take medication or who would have recovered even if they didn't take medication.  This is much too strict in my estimation.  He labels people who have recovered with the use of medication only as "much improved."  This is my big beef with the book.


    As with all statistics, you need to decide for yourself how useful they are as regards your own or your loved one's situation.  You should talk with your or your loved one's psychiatrist for a better picture of what's going.


    Recovery is possible.  I'm not so audacious to tell people that everyone can do what I do.  That's not the point at all.  The point is that a significant number of people diagnosed with schizophrenia can live a life filled with joy and satisfaction and their own version of achievements alongside people who don't have this illness.


    Surviving Schizophrenia is a must-read for everyone living with schizophrenia and also for those curious about this most misunderstood disease.

Published On: July 20, 2014