Learning that a loved one has been diagnosed with schizophrenia can be extremely stressful and confusing. There can be many questions about the nature of the illness, treatment possibilities, and the prospects for recovery. Many people may have no knowledge of schizophrenia other than what they have seen portrayed on television and in movies. In their book, Schizophrenia for Dummies, Jerome Levine, MD and Irene S. Levine, PhD provide a comprehensive overview of the illness, treatment options, and how to navigate the often-labyrinthine mental health system. This book can be a valuable tool for anyone caring for a family member with a schizophrenia diagnosis.
In my work as a counselor at a psychiatric center, I have listened to many people with schizophrenia describe the difficulties they have had when dealing with family members who do not understand their illness. While mental health professionals are available to speak with family members, their availability is often limited and many questions may go unanswered. Books such as Schizophrenia for Dummies can be a valuable addition to information gained from mental health providers. The book’s authors both have extensive experience in the mental health field — Jerome Levine, MD is a board-certified psychiatrist and researcher ande Irene S. Levine, PhD is a clinical psychologist. They utilize their knowledge of the subject to give the reader a one-stop summary of schizophrenia for the uninformed.
In the first part of the book, Understanding Schizophrenia, the authors define the illness and differentiate the reality from the misconceptions. They make clear that schizophrenia is a biological disorder and that effective treatments. They describe the symptoms that doctors and therapists look for when making a diagnosis, and they do so in clear, concise language. I found that while the authors based their information on the latest research, they were also careful to make the information easy to understand for any layperson that may be reading the book. I also found it useful that a point was made to debunk the outdated theories about the origins of the disorder, such as the idea of the “schizophrenogenic mother.” Readers may be surprised to learn that there are still mental health practitioners who subscribe to these theories and they do so to the detriment of those who seek treatment from them.
In the section titled Finding Out What’s Wrong and Getting Help, Levine and Levine discuss how to seek help if you feel that a loved one may be suffering from schizophrenia. Information is provided regarding how to obtain a diagnosis and how schizophrenia can be differentiated from other diagnoses such as schizoaffective disorder or bipolar disorder. Also particularly helpful in this section are explanations of the various people who often make up a mental health treatment team. For the uninitiated, telling the difference between psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, mental health counselors, case managers and the like can become quite confusing, and the authors do a fine job of describing the essential roles that each practitioner plays.
Another helpful element in this section is the authors’ information about various ways to pay for treatment. In my experience, financial concerns all too often play a role in people not obtaining the proper treatment. I am glad to see some tips given on obtaining help from government and charitable agencies (although the authors also acknowledge the hard work and persistence that is often needed in order to get assistance).
After detailing how to obtain treatment, in the book’s third part, “Treating Schizophrenia,” the authors describe types of medication that are used in schizophrenia treatment. Besides the names of common medications, there is also information provided about the possible side effects and tips about how to manage medication. Non-medication therapies such as cognitive behavioral therapy and self-help groups also are discussed. While descriptions of these methods are informative, I was somewhat surprised by the near-total omission of any discussion regarding creative therapy methods (such as art, music, drama, etc.). There is a very brief paragraph stating that “there is scant empirical research supporting the effectiveness of these therapies.” However, many programs utilize such programs as vital parts of their treatment.
Levine & Levine conclude the book with a series of segments titled Living with Schizophrenia and then the Part of Tens (which is a for Dummies staple). In these sections they provide tips for coping with the daily stresses that schizophrenia can cause and how to prevent relapse as best as possible. These tips range from general ones such as how to maintain a positive attitude to practical advice about things like obtaining housing for a person with schizophrenia. As throughout the book, the authors find a way to give a multitude of information without sugarcoating the realities of schizophrenia and the mental health system.
Schizophrenia for Dummies is a great resource for anybody with a loved one who is suffering from schizophrenia. I would even recommend it for students in the mental health field looking for a condensed package of information on the disorder and its treatment. Levine and Levine combine their years of experience to leave virtually no aspect of the illness unexamined. And they do so in a way that demystifies schizophrenia while also instilling hope that recovery is not only possible, but probable if the right steps are taken
Schizophrenia for Dummies
By Jerome Levin, MD and Irene S. Levine, PhD
For Dummies: October 2008
Paperback, 384 pages