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Schizophrenic Unicorn

Truth in Love 466

Schizophrenia represents a description of symptoms, not a biological discovery by the psychiatry establishment.

May 20, 2024

Dale Johnson: This week on the podcast, I have with me Dr. Daniel Berger II. He’s the lead pastor at Faith Fellowship Church in Clarence, NY. He’s the founder and director of Alethia International Ministries, and he serves as a director of Faith Biblical Counseling Center. When he’s not with his family and church family, he regularly travels to speak and teach. He’s the author of 14 books on various topics including biblical counseling and the history and philosophy behind the current mental health construct. Daniel earned his Bachelor of Science in counseling and an M.S. in counseling psychology and an M.A. in pastoral studies and a doctorate in pastoral theology. I’m looking forward to our conversation today on this issue of schizophrenia. Thank you, brother, for joining me.

Daniel Berger: Thank you, Dale. What a pleasure.

Dale Johnson: Daniel, I hope what happens today is we’re able to offer some level of clarity. You know, what’s interesting is, in my experience in teaching, people track exactly with the notion of biblical counseling, the principles. They’re committed to the ideas that we’re presenting from the Scripture. And then generally what happens is there’ll be one question that is really from an extreme perspective, it’s a very small percentage of the population who experience things like schizophrenic symptoms, and they’ll ask a question. And it’s almost like that question drives everything or reverses everything that they have a tendency to think might be true about the Scripture. And I think it’s important, right? We need to understand Scripturally that the truth of the Scriptures are true no matter what we may encounter in the future. And we do have to deal with this, you know, small percentage, and it causes so much confusion, unbelievably so. And so, I think it’s important that we talk about this today and talk about this issue of schizophrenia. And I want us to sort of hit it face-on.

Daniel, you’ve recently released a book called Schizophrenic Unicorn on this very subject. It’s a lengthy book and academic approach to this, which I think we need right now in the Christian world. And I want to give us the opportunity to talk about this, and so I’m just going to begin with some questions here that I think would be good for us to consider. These are common questions that I get when I’m traveling and speaking and people have questions about, you know, these types of symptoms or these types of issues, and how does this relate to biblical counseling and that sort of thing. So we’re just going to dive in and we’ll see how many of these we get to and we’ll approach it there. So, let’s start with this: how should one define schizophrenia and psychosis? I think this is a good place to start because a lot of people really are not sure what schizophrenia means. So let’s talk about the definition and then let’s talk about the difference between schizophrenia and a common, popular word like psychosis. What are the differences? Let’s dive in with these definitions.

Daniel Berger: Yeah. So first of all, just even that meaning of the name psychosis means a condition of the soul. So it’s really kind of an abstract idea, and the secular terms, they prefer heterogeneous, which is often used in reference to medical issues. Heterogeneous just means, again, abstract. It’s not one thing. It can be different things to different people or present in different people differently. So it complicates things because when we try to define what is psychosis or we try to define what is alleged schizophrenia, it really depends on the person you’re talking to and their experience, their reference, their understanding, or even their theory. When we talk about schizophrenia, it simply means a split mind. It comes from, you know, the two Greek words schizo and phren or mind, and it really is just a re-descriptive term. So it doesn’t give us clarity on anything. It doesn’t explain anything. It literally just re-describes what was already known: that someone is in deceit and living in reality. It’s a split mind, if you would. If I can also just say that the construct of schizophrenia, if we look at in even psychosis, psychosis is really the foundation of anybody that’s labeled as schizophrenia. So if I say that schizophrenia is not a real thing, I’m not saying that psychosis isn’t a real thing.

We can certainly talk about that. But I want to make it clear that psychosis, the condition of the soul, consists of delusions and hallucinations. And delusions, by definition, are false fixed beliefs, and hallucinations are false sensory perceptions. And there’s more to those definitions, but that’s the crux of the definition. We’re simply identifying someone that has falsehood, either false beliefs or false sensory perceptions, and that allows us to say that person is psychotic or in a psychotic break or having a psychotic episode. And again, that is the core of what we’re calling a schizophrenia diagnosis. So I hope that helps in answering that.

Dale Johnson: I think it does help. And maybe we’ll get into this where we distinguish maybe our perception of schizophrenia as a disease versus schizophrenia as a list of symptoms, a syndrome as the DSM even describes it. It’s not described as a disease in the DSM; it’s described as a collection of symptoms which can be reflective of somebody who’s out of touch with reality, right? They’re hallucinating or they’re delusional, you know. Again, being driven by what? That’s the big question. And so maybe it’s helpful for us to work backwards a little bit. I find this always very helpful, looking back into history and thinking about the schizophrenia and where it came from. You gave a little bit in terms of definition, but let’s talk specifically about how this construct was created or some people sort of see it in this category of it being empirical and we need to understand it that way. So describe this, was schizophrenia something that was empirically discovered or is this a theoretical approach?

Daniel Berger: So this may shock a lot of people but schizophrenia does not exist organically. And by that, I mean no one has ever found anything called schizophrenia in the body. Now, certainly there are theories about where schizophrenia might live, such as in the genome or specific genes. There’s a polygenomic view that there’s many genes. And of course, just recently, most seculars have denounced that entirely and said now we just have risk factors that are represented in genes. There are also theories that it’s neurological, theories that there’s a chemical imbalance, and, of course, chemical imbalance has been dispelled as well. So they’re just not sure, you know. The immune system is the new one, the gut is by some people, but specifically the immune system. That’s the new working theory. They’re hoping to find something in the immune system. But I do want to make it clear that schizophrenia is a construct, and by that, I mean it’s an inorganic idea or interpretation of psychosis, but it’s never been discovered. The guy who actually invented the construct, he called it premature dementia, which is I think telling as well because dementia is different than what we’re trying to call schizophrenia. And since Kraepelin is the one who framed that first and it was actually another eugenicist (Emil Kraepelin was a eugenicist), it was another eugenicist named Eugen Bleuler who actually coined the term “schizophrenia” and he advocated to kill off any one that was diagnosed as schizophrenic because of the eugenic theory that it was hereditary. And so the idea if you kill off everyone that it can’t persist.

We could go ahead a bunch of different ways here, but I will mention E. Fuller Torrey who is a very, very prominent psychiatrist just actually recently came out and said the entire genetic theory is false and we know it. We would have found it if doing the genome worldwide study. He also pointed out that in Nazi Germany in the first phase for the final solution of the Holocaust when the schizophrenics were targeted, alleged schizophrenics, they killed about 200,000 people, and he said, if it were genetic, then schizophrenia would have been eliminated from the genetic pool in Nazi Germany. It certainly should have reduced it, and they saw more people being diagnosed with psychotic disorders post-war than before, and the only explanation to that is something other than genetics. And so he even back then advocated decades ago that there’s no way that this could be a genetic theory. Although again, it’s troubling but Schizophrenia was born in, or really central to, the eugenic theory that led to the Holocaust.

Dale Johnson: I think it’s so important to frame it that way because that’s historically accurate. You know, we were a little bit more humane in America in our eugenics program; instead of killing people off, our understanding of the genetic influence and the hereditary influence, we just would sterilize people who were considered psychotic. That was very influential. Promoting that idea became influential in Nazi Germany. So to cover what we’ve talked about up to this point, I think it’s really important, this is not something that’s been empirically discovered, not pinpointed something in the brain. That’s what most people sort of contrived or conceived. This is something that’s what we’ve been told. This has been something that’s theoretical, and even some of those theories have changed into, you know, how we describe what somebody’s experiencing. Okay, and that goes back to what you were saying earlier.

We’re not saying that people aren’t experiencing delusional moments or they’re not hallucinating. We’re not saying that that experience is not real, but we are saying that the theoretical approaches that have been described certainly have been insufficient and we have to be cautious about how we’re labeling these particular things. But you just mentioned something that I want us to dive into a little bit further, and I think this is a part of where people get confused. So I want to build off of this. We’re not describing something that’s been empirically discovered; we’re describing theoretical proposals.

Is schizophrenia something that is a biological disease? Because I would argue that many, many, many people if we were to just, you know, go around like you see on YouTube and we’re doing some interviews on the streets and you were to ask people “Hey, it’s schizophrenia a disease?” by and large you would get “yes.” I mean people sort of have that assumption. So, is it a disease or a construct? And I want you to sort of flesh out what a construct is, how we understand a construct. So is it a biological disease or is it a construct, Daniel?

Daniel Berger: So the first thing I’ll say in answering that is that schizophrenia is actually a failure to explain psychosis. There are literally hundreds of different things that arrive people at a psychotic break or a psychotic episode or a psychotic state, however you want to frame that. Things like, for example, traumatic brain injury, even 30% of children diagnosed as autistic are then labeled as schizophrenic (and there’s a reason that we can talk about here in the future as to why that is), there is neuro encephalitis, there’s neurosyphilis. I mean, on and on it goes of people going through different valid (heart disease is another one). There’s so many different physical things that can lead people to be diagnosed down the road as schizophrenic.

I think one of the most famous cases of this is the book and movie that was made after it called Brain on Fire where New York Times journalist had neuro encephalitis. She had an infection in her brain, and if it wasn’t for a neurologist (she had been diagnosed as schizophrenic) she likely would have died because the pseudo-diagnosis actually was covering the real reason why she was in a psychotic state. And maybe we can talk, there’s a lot to talk about in a massive book like this, but there’s always an explanation. And so when we frame schizophrenia as a biological disease when there’s actually no biology to uniquely identify schizophrenia.

So if I can just clarify what I’m saying here. Everything that they’re calling schizophrenia, for example, any problems with the D2 and D3 receptors in the dopaminergic system, it can be explained very simply by other things that are not just rational but really are explanatory. And so when we try to attribute any physical change to this schizophrenia idea, we’re actually missing real causes. And central to that is the real issue of sleep deprivation, disruption, dysfunction, etc. And so all of these things that we’re talking about that lead people to a psychotic break, almost all of them go centrally through sleep problems. Cannabis is another one. Cannabis is considered to be the number one cause of people being diagnosed as schizophrenic today, and cannabis is widely understood to impair sleep when you go off of it and what they call the Cannabis withdrawal state.

So I would just graciously argue, there is no biological marker and that’s not my theory. That’s pretty well established scientifically. There’s no biological marker for being diagnosed as schizophrenic. It literally is someone is coming into the office or the clinic and they’re given a description, “this is what’s taking place with the person,” or the clinician is observing they’re in a psychotic state and the clinician just re-describes what was described. And it’s essentially what’s called tautology. It’s repeating a description, but it acts as an explanation. And so people leave the clinic with no new information, but yet they believe that something was actually discovered in the clinic that explains them. And that’s where the confusion and the real deceit comes in that this is biological, and again let me just say this, it could be a biological cause to psychosis, but it’s not schizophrenia. I mentioned neuro encephalitis. When you put a pseudo explanation on somebody’s psychotic state, you actually hide or obstruct discovering or truly diagnosing what’s going on with them.

If I could say one more thing, the secularists (and I lay this out in pretty lengthy detail in my book) the secularists admit. Matthew Walker, for example, used to be a psychiatrist. He now is at UC Berkeley as a Neuroscientist. He actually says that anxiety is the number one cause of people not sleeping and then getting diagnosed eventually with some type of psychotic disorder, whether it be schizophrenia or bipolar. That’s an important issue, sleep is central to this, and I mentioned, too, bipolar is actually being called a psychotic disorder. Now, they’ve actually done away with schizophrenia because it is just such a fluid or abstract concept they’re calling schizophrenia spectrum disorder, so it’s just a fluid, inorganic idea construct that is said to be organic. So hopefully that makes sense.

Dale Johnson: Yeah, I think it’s important. I have a lot of more questions. We’re closer to the 18-20 minute mark now and I want, if I could, to have you come back. I’d love to chat a little bit more. I think I would encourage our listeners to go back and hear some of the things Daniel is describing. These are the things that I’m reading certainly in the psychiatric literature. You’re reading here as well. This goes back into the history of psychiatry and how this diagnosis was developed and understanding the construct behind it. I think the point that you made at the very end, no one is saying that there might not be biological effect towards psychosis, but that’s not what schizophrenia is attempting to describe. People misunderstand that, so it’s very important that we have clarity here in what we’re saying and what we’re not saying. And I think you did a good job, you know, explaining some of this. But it’s more that we need to wrestle with.

Daniel Berger: It’s certainly hard to do in such a short time. But yes.

Dale Johnson: It is, it is. Because people have so many questions, and you know, there are complexities. You’ve written an 800+ page book on this subject because a lot of people are talking about this, a lot of people are wanting to wrestle with this, and I think it’s important for us to consider. We’re going to pause here. I want us to come back. I’m going to ask Daniel to come back and we’re going to answer some more questions as it relates to this topic of schizophrenia. I will encourage you to go find this book, Schizophrenic Unicorn, and then join us next week again as we continue this discussion on schizophrenia itself as a construct.

Helpful Resources:

Mental Health Awareness Month Podcast Series

The Schizophrenic Unicorn book by Daniel Berger

Counseling the Hard Cases book by Stuart Scott and Heath Lambert

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