Thursday, September 10, 2015

Self-Disturbance and the Bizarre: On Incomprehensibility in Schizophrenic Delusions

The notion of 'bizarre delusion' has come into question in contemporary anglophone psychopathology. In DSM-5, it no longer serves as a special criterion for diagnosing schizophrenia nor as an exclusion criterion for delusional disorder. Empirical studies influencing this development have, however, been relatively sparse and subject to methodological criticism. 

Major reviews have concluded that current conceptualizations of bizarre delusions may require rethinking and refinement. Defining bizarreness entails a return to Jaspers, whose influential views on the supposed incomprehensibility of bizarre delusions and schizophrenic experience are more nuanced than is generally recognized. Jaspers insisted we must 'get behind' three 'external characteristics' (extraordinary conviction, imperviousness, impossible content) in order to acknowledge a 'primary experience traceable to the illness' in the 'delusions proper' of schizophrenia. He also denied that one could empathize with or otherwise 'understand' this basis. 

Here, we focus on three features of bizarre delusions that Jaspers foregrounded as illustrating schizophrenic incomprehensibility: disturbance of the cogito, certitude combined with inconsequentiality, delusional mood. We link these with the contemporary ipseity disturbance model of schizophrenia, arguing that Jaspers' examples of incomprehensibility can be understood as manifestations of the three complementary aspects of ipseity-disturbance: diminished self-presence, hyperreflexivity and disturbed grip/hold. We follow Jaspers' lead in acknowledging a distinctive strangeness that defies ready comprehension, but we challenge the absolutism of Jaspers' skepticism by offering a phenomenological account that comprehends bizarreness in two ways: rendering it psychologically understandable, and fitting the various instances of bizarreness into a comprehensive explanatory framework.


By: Sass LA1Byrom G.
1Department of Clinical Psychology, Graduate School of Applied and Professional Psychology, Rutgers University, Piscataway, N.J., USA

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