What schizophrenia looks and feels like to the patient/client

I have written a lot about my personal experiences as a lawyer dealing with people who suffer from schizophrenia. See here, here, and here. Without intending to brag, I know a lot about this disease. The disease is horrible. It frequently manifests itself with hallucinations and delusions that terrify the patient. Until you have spent time dealing with sufferers of this awful affliction you simply cannot imagine the terror they express when the disease is florid.

I have wondered in the past how to communicate to people who have not dealt with schizophrenia what the disease and resulting terror must look and feel like to the sufferer. Yesterday, Robin Williams died and that provided the inspiration for this post. To be clear, this is not a tribute to Williams, although it could be. Rather, his tragic death brought to mind a scene from an old movie where Williams plays a schizophrenic desperately dealing with his disease. The 1991 move is the Fisher King.

Williams play a character who witnessed the violent shotgun death of his wife and emerges with schizophrenia, although the illness is never actually named.  Williams’ character is continually plagued by a hallucinatory Red Knight, who terrifies him whenever he shows any confidence in rebuilding his life. The attached clip follows a date with a shy woman where Williams’ character has enjoyed a wonderful time. As he steps back from her door step after kissing her good night and feeling that a fulfilling life may emerge, the full horror of the schizophrenia is revealed.

I urge to you watch the clip if you want to know what schizophrenia looks and feels like to the patient. In particular, any lawyer who is likely to encounter a client who is a schizophrenic desperately needs to know how terrifying the world appears to these terribly ill people. I honestly don’t think a lawyer can competently represent a person who has this disease without understanding the horror that permeates the mind of the client when his or her illness is florid. Obtaining and then internalizing this knowledge will be unpleasant for the lawyer, but such effort and action are critical in my view if the lawyer wants to represent the schizophrenic competently. At the very least, you will develop a justifiable empathy with the client, and that is a good thing for those lawyers, like most of us, who constantly battle cynicism.


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