One point about these experiences remains to be looked at: while most religious people find their beliefs comforting and encouraging, many psychotic experiences are deeply unpleasant, demoralizing and frightening. We will talk more about these experiences and the kind of suffering they can cause. Even though many of them are so unpleasant, many sufferers continue to believe that they are real, and some sufferers also find value in positive aspects of their experiences. In any event, they are often not helped by being told that what they experience is not real. As therapists, we tend to avoid arguing with patients: we cannot tell them what they are experiencing, and, whatever we think of the causes of these experiences, we have to accept that, at least to the sufferer, they are real. Instead, we try to focus on finding ways of reducing distress, as well as helping the sufferer to understand that the experiences may be real to them, but are not real to most people. Perhaps the most helpful stance is to ‘agree to differ’. It is also worth acknowledging at this point that for many people the key issue is not so much the experience of hearing voices or unusual beliefs: it is often the interpretation of these experiences and the fear or distress it can cause which has the most profound effects on people’s lives.
Help is available
The most important point is this: a great deal of help is available. Today a diagnosis of schizophrenia does not mean a lifetime of disability. There are now a wide variety of treatments, including medical, psychological and psychosocial approaches, and new treatments continue to be developed. We also know that with almost, maintaining a positive attitude is very important, so a major goal is to reinforce a sense of hope and optimism in sufferers and their caregivers.