4 out of 4 stars
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British poet John Dryden wrote the following lines in the seventeenth century: ‘Great wits are sure to madness near allied, and thin partitions do their bounds divide'. He was commenting on a phenomenon which had been recognized centuries before by Aristotle, who wondered why ‘melancholic’ individuals were so often involved in the expressive arts. In The Creative Advantages of Schizophrenia, author and clinical psychologist Paul Kiritsis explores this relationship between creativity and psychopathology, between The Muse and the Mad Hatter, to quote the book’s subtitle.
At one point, Kiritsis lists some of the eminent people who have suffered from schizophrenia. The list includes renowned scientists Descartes, Kepler, and Newton. Philosophers Kant and Swedenborg make the list, as do Leonardo da Vinci, writer Lewis Carroll and warrior Joan of Arc. In his doctoral dissertation, the author set out to corroborate the link between creativity and schizophrenia which had been postulated by other academics and clinicians. Chapter six details the results of his study. The other six chapters in this short book look at some of the wider issues thrown up by his work: how schizophrenia and schizophrenics are viewed by society; how the condition is treated; how creativity can be measured accurately; the clinical and social implications of the book’s conclusions. The book also contains over twenty art illustrations.
Given that the roots of this book are to be found in a doctoral dissertation, it is no surprise that this is, first and foremost, an academic book. There are ten pages of bibliography and every statement, claim, and assertion made by the author in the text is meticulously referenced. There are also details of clinical trials, discussions of the efficacy of various drug treatments, and references to different parts of the brain and its various functions.
While this book may not be targeted at a mainstream audience, there is still much that the layperson can enjoy. The author is also a poet and short-story writer. He deploys some of these skills to good effect, in that the non-technical side of this book is very readable. He highlights facts that most people will find interesting. For example, he tackles some of the myths that surround schizophrenia, particularly the fear that schizophrenia sufferers are all capable of psychotic violence. He points out that schizophrenics are much more likely to harm themselves than to harm other people.
I also appreciated his argument in favor of a more holistic approach to the treatment of mental health disorders. His view is that society has adopted a reductive, biomedical approach to schizophrenia. Drugs used in its treatment often succeed in ameliorating symptoms of the condition, but they do little to stop the downward trajectory of the patient. Additionally, they come with some significant side-effects. Kiritsis argues for recognition that schizophrenia is not simply a disease that can be medicated away. He argues in favor of alternatives, like cognitive behavioral therapy, in both the treatment and prevention of the worst effects of schizophrenia. The author believes that proper treatment of the condition would permit sufferers to retain the advantages of their Muse while keeping the more malign Mad Hatter elements under control.
I’m happy to award this book four out of four stars. It is well-researched and well-edited: I found only two minor errors or typographical mistakes. It is also surprisingly readable, allowing for the fact that it is an academic text. The book will appeal to clinicians and medical students. It may also be something that relatives and friends of schizophrenics might turn to in search of a greater understanding of the condition.
The Creative Advantages of Schizophrenia
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