TV programme highlights psychosis treatment without medication

A controversial approach to treating psychosis without the use of medication was highlighted last week in a drama documentary broadcast on Channel 4 about British psychologist Dr Rufus May.

‘The Doctor Who Hears Voices’, broadcast on Monday April 21, dramatised the true story of a junior doctor at a London hospital who experienced suicidal feelings when she began hearing voices.

Initially prescribed a course of anti-psychotic medication, the patient went on to consult Dr May, who was himself diagnosed with schizophrenia at the age of 18.

The film follows Ruth – not her real name – over the next 18 months as she is treated by Dr May, who supports her decision to stop taking her medication and engages her in a range of therapeutic strategies.

Dr May’s approach, which involves engaging with Ruth’s voices, resists orthodox categories of mental illness and mental health.

The film concludes with Ruth returning to her job at the hospital and a postscript tells us that the woman on whom Ruth was based is well and working today.

Dr May, who is often described as a maverick psychologist, explained, “There is a whole school of maverick psychology to which I belong, the international Hearing Voices movement, combined of voice-hearers, therapists and academics all on an equal footing.

“We refuse to brand people as ‘schizophrenic’ when they hear voices, instead looking at the voices as messengers about people’s lives.

“We are an underground network of people who believe we should listen to voices. The film takes this movement to a new audience.”

Bill Walden-Jones, Chief Executive of mental health charity Hafal, said: “The programme raises important issues about mental illness and puts them before a mainstream audience, which is to be welcomed.

“It would worry us, however, if people drew the conclusion that medication had no role to play in relieving the symptoms of psychosis, as we know that medication can help people to gain control over their illness.

“But we are as concerned as anyone that new perspectives on the treatment of serious mental illness should take into account the whole person and that medication is not seen as the only relevant factor in recovery from mental illness.”