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The hidden meaning behind psychosis: “In this blog about the hidden meaning behind psychosis we dive into the idea that someone’s psychotic episodes – the specific topics of delusions and the nature of hallucinations – aren’t just random thoughts or images.”

On the contrary; they’re often closely related to a person’s life history, attachment experiences, and traumas. Both the positive and negative events someone has gone through.

The hidden meaning behind psychosis: A reflection of the mind

When we think about psychosis, we often imagine the most notable signs (‘symptoms’); unusual perceptions (‘hallucinations’) and unusual thoughts (‘delusions’). And though they’re incomprehensible to the outside world, these events have a deep and personal meaning to the person who experiences them.

Nothing in our mind is random

Psychosis can be seen as something that reflects what’s hiding deep in someone’s mind. The themes of delusions and the nature of hallucinations can often be traced back to important life events. Or unresolved conflicts and deep-rooted fears or desires for example.

For example:

• An unusual conviction of persecution can stem from real life experiences of neglect or abuse, whereby the individual constantly felt threatened.
• Or, positive hallucinations can arise from a deep desire for connection and support in times of loneliness and isolation.
• The idea that newspapers, radio, and television are talking about a person can result from insecurity about their position in the world.

The importance of context

To unravel the true meaning behind psychosis, it is essential to pay attention to the context of someone’s life. This means a thorough understanding of their life history, including attachment issues (trouble learning about getting close to, trusting, and relationships with important other people during childhood), and traumas (going through intense experiences during childhood).

The way in which someone attached themselves to others in their early life, and the traumas they’ve experienced, play a crucial part in how their psychosis manifests itself. Recognising and understanding these connections cannot only help with treatment, but also promote empathy and connection between healthcare professionals and the people experiencing psychosis.

The hidden meaning behind psychosis : Listening to the stories

Understanding the ‘content’ of psychosis requires a listening ear and an open heart. It’s important that healthcare professionals don’t just focus on reducing the symptoms, but that they take the time to listen to the stories and the meaning that their patients assign to their experiences as well – and to help them with this if there is still a lot of confusion. By working together to unravel the symbolic and the underlying issues, individuals can gain insights that help them recover and grow.

Those who listen carefully to psychosis will discover that it is all about metaphors of everyday concerns and fears like: Who am I? How do I relate to other people? What do other people think about me? Can I trust them? What is my place in the world? Do I have something to contribute to it? Can I trust my body? What do my emotions tell me? What are my possibilities and talents? Do I dare to stand up for myself, and be here?

The hidden meaning behind psychosis: The road to recovery

Recognising the meaning behind psychosis is an important step on the road to recovery. It can help individuals understand and accept their own story. It can lead them in the direction of integration that is not just focused on diminishing symptoms, but also on tackling underlying causes and promoting personal growth and development.

In our approach to psychosis we must not forget that every unusual perception and every unusual thought hides a person’s story, that is waiting to be heard. By paying attention to these stories, we can clear the way for a more understanding, empathic, and effective approach to mental health care.

What does this way of looking at psychosis mean for you?

Let us know in the comments how this view on psychosis has influenced your understanding of mental health, or share experiences that support this vision. Together we can build a supporting network that recognises complexity and deep humanity in mental health care.

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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