September 01, 2005

Family Therapy helps in dealing with Schizophrenia

This story is out of England:

"Rob Strawford's parents prayed it was just drugs that were triggering their teenage son's odd behaviour.

Perhaps, they thought, all teenagers went through periods of elation followed by depression.

Perhaps almost all had bouts of spending just one hour of the day out of their bedroom.

To believe Rob, from Weoley Castle in Birmingham, had a mental illness such as schizophrenia was too painful.

But when their son, then in his early twenties, complained that KGB spies were after him, they had to admit that this was no prolonged adolescence.

Rob, a former pupil of Shenley Court School in Northfield, appeared trapped in an imaginary world in which one minute he would be a government agent and the next he had BSE.

There were days when he would complain of being watched and withdraw himself into his bedroom refusing to eat, drink or wash. His highs and lows were on the verge of tearing his family apart.

His mother Val, a factory worker, stayed at home so that she didn't have to talk about Rob with friends and relatives. His father Robert, a driver, stayed away as long as he could to get away from life at home.

The couple were even about to divorce in 2001 when a psychiatric nurse offered a new family therapy for schizophrenics and their carers It was being pioneered in Birmingham and had already had considerable success across the West Midlands.

It meant an hour's session once-a-week for a year in which all the family worked through steps in a workbook aimed at understanding the illness and discussing their problems with a therapist Val, aged 51, said: "It was the first time anybody had been interested in me and my life. I was able to talk about how I'd lost my job, my friends and my self-esteem.

"The therapy gave us a kick up the backside and taught us the basic skills of how to be nice to each other, to sit and have a meal together, to have respect for each other and to solve our problems together.

"One part of the therapy involves saying pleasant things to one another. It was quite hard to do. Our family unit had just broken down, although the basic structure was still there.

"I realised we had been like animals. In fact even animals wouldn't have treated each other the way we were treating each other.

"We had refused to acknowledge that Rob had an illness. We could see no physical symptoms. We imagined it must be drugs. We couldn't take the thought that it could be a mental illness.

"Schizophrenia is a very complex and misunderstood illness. Each person experiences the symptoms in a different way. There was too little information explaining or describing the illness and hardly any type of therapy for families."

However, Rob, now aged 26, was less keen on the "family sessions". But when he saw his parents being kinder to each other he decided to join in.

He said: "I didn't want anyone to interrogate me, but I did realise that things could get so bad that I had nothing to lose.

"I would have uncontrollable panic attacks and worries. It felt as if someone was over me and forcing me to go to the bad side of life.

"I would spend all day in my bedroom and run back to my room from the bathroom. It was frightening to be anywhere else.

"Within three months I started having cups of tea with my parents and then joining them for meals."

Rob now is planning a career as a mental health worker and wants to start his own family in the future. His parents are getting on better than ever and have been on a holiday abroad organised by Rob.

Val said: "We have changed so much. Things are so good now. We actually get on well. Whenever there's a problem we go back to the workbook to sort it out

The Behavioural Family Therapy discussed in this story is available in the following cities in the UK: Birmingham and Solihull, Worcestershire, Hereford, Dudley, North and South Staffordshire, Shropshire, North and South Warwickshire, Coventry, Walsall, Wolverhampton and Sandwell mental health trusts. "

For more information on this UK program, click on this link

In the USA and Canada there are similar programs - NAMI has one called "Family to Family". Contact your local support group to see what they offer. See our Support Groups page.


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