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Demystification of psychosis, what is that about? Psychosis is a phenomenon that is often dogged by misconceptions and stigma. It is a complex state of being that is often misunderstood and wrongly interpreted.

Jim van Os says: “In this blog about the demystification of psychosis we dive deeper into the part our emotions play in it and how we perceive the world, and how this understanding can help us with handling and understanding psychosis.

The lens of emotion

Our perception of the world is strongly influenced by our emotions. When we are frightened, the world can seem threatening; objects and situations can seem more dangerous and hostile than they actually are. This can then open the door to paranoia. When we feel down, we might see the world as hopeless and destroyed, and every negative experience might feel like it’s pressing directly down on our shoulders. On the other hand, when we feel euphoric and ecstatic, everything seems possible and we might feel like we’re on some divine mission.

These emotional states are natural variations of our psyche. They strongly affect how we give meaning and colour to our lives.

Psychosis and meaning:

Psychosis can be seen as an extreme manifestations of the influence of emotions on our perception of reality. People who experience psychosis often find themselves in a state in which their emotions are closely intertwined their perception of the world around them. This can lead to a unique and sometimes worrying interpretation of their surroundings, whereby the line between the ‘I’ and the external world fades.

Understanding that psychosis stems from these deep and emotional experiences, can help us be more empathic and understanding. It helps us to not just see the psychotic experience as a set of symptoms that need to be treated, but as a complex, emotionally driven reaction of the psyche to its environment.

Demystification of psychosis: The role of empathy

Empathy is vital when approaching someone who is experiencing psychosis. By recognising that the person’s experiences arise from their emotional state, we can better connect with their perception of things. This doesn’t mean we should consider their observations factually correct, but that we should try to understand how their emotions shape their perceptions.

The key to empathy lies in recognising that, just like our emotions affect the way in which we see the world, for someone who is suffering from psychosis this can be even more intense. Through this lens we can open the dialogue. Not by judging or trying to ‘correct’ their reality, but by listening and trying to understand what is being experienced.


Demystification of psychosis starts with recognising the deep, emotional roots that fuel the symptoms. By approaching psychosis as an intense and emotional way of giving meaning to this world, we can achieve a more empathic and effective way of supporting those who are going through it. This is not about diminishing psychosis to merely emotions. It’s about appreciating the complexity and humanity of the experience.

Translated from Dutch by SGM Taplin

Prof. dr. Jim van OsChair Division Neuroscience, Utrecht University Medical Centre. Jim is also Visiting Professor of Psychiatric Epidemiology at the Institute of Psychiatry in London. Jim works at the interface of ‘hard’ brain science, health services research, art and subjective experiences of people with ‘lived experience’ in mental healthcare. 

Jim has been appearing on the Thomson-Reuter Web of Science list of ‘most influential scientific minds of our time’ since 2014. In 2014 he published his book ‘Beyond DSM-5‘, and in 2016 the book ‘Good Mental Health Care’. 

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