When Severe Mental Illness Strikes a Loved One

When Severe Mental Illness Strikes a Loved One

Book Review: “I Am Not Sick, I Don’t Need Help” by Xavier Amador, PhD.  (Vida Press, 2012)

For the last 20 or so years, brain research has helped doctors and therapists understand that the serious mental illnesses of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder are diseases of brain function. During the century before the “Decade of the Brain (the 1990’s)”, these rare and frightening mental diseases were blamed on bad or inadequate mothering (the “schizophrenogenic mother”), thanks to the early theories of Freud and subsequent generations of psychology, puzzling over the cause and treatments of such life-altering and permanent mental illnesses.

In his wonderfully personal and helpful book “I Am Not Sick,” Dr. Amador explains that the primary feature of these severe mental illnesses is the core belief that the sufferer is “not sick.” In medical terms, this disbelief in their illness is called “anosognosia”  (ã-nõ’sog-nõ’sê-ã). Sufferers may be homeless, talking to voices in their head, unable to sleep or put together a clear sentence, believing that aliens have made inroads to their cells, but to these ill brains, the beliefs and thoughts are as real as sunlight and gravity.

If you have ever been in a relationship with a loved one who has become mentally ill and whose illness has this feature of anosognosia, you know that trying to convince them to get to the hospital for treatment or to take their medication is a futile, frustrating, and relationship damaging exercise. But this is how almost everyone attempts to get their loved one’s the help they need to be safe and recover.

In his best-selling book, Amador explains the model of engagement that he has developed over 30 years of living with his older brother, who was a schizophrenic, and working as a professional forensic psychologist and therapist. He walks the reader through this counter-intuitive but effective model that listens, understands and collaborates with the sufferer, who, in the end, must participate in their care in order to get better.

He calls this program “LEAP,” which stands for Listen, Empathize, Agree and Partner. Utilizing the tools familiar to therapists of Client-Centered/Active Listening, Cognitive-Behavioral, and Motivational Interviewing models, Dr. Amador provides tools, examples, and scripts as examples of learning to use this strategy with loved ones who need help.

I read this book as a way to help one of my clients, whose loved one is beginning to demonstrate marked personality changes, delusions and strange behaviors. As we talked about how to be helpful short of calling 911, this book has become a welcome addition to my library and therapeutic models. If you have someone in your life you are seriously worried about and wonder how to help. I urge you to get this book or log onto his website, LeapInstitute.org.

 

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