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Cult Med Psychiatry. 2007 Sep;31(3):283-306.

Symbolic healing of early psychosis: psychoeducation and sociocultural processes of recovery.

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  • 1European Institute of Health and Medical Sciences, University of Surrey, Guildford, Surrey GU2 7TE, UK.


This article analyzes sociocultural processes of recovery in a Danish mental health service providing two years of integrated biopsychosocial treatment following first-episode psychosis. The study is based on ethnographic research in the service and person-centered involvement with 15 clients. The analysis applies Dow's [1986 American Anthropologist 88:56-69] model of universal components of symbolic healing to elucidate sociocultural aspects of therapeutic efficacy that are alternatively disregarded as placebo or nonspecific effects. It is demonstrated how staff engaged with clients to deliver "psychoeducation" that provided scientific and biomedical theories about mental illness, constituting a shared "mythic world" that was accepted as an experiential truth and used to explain clients' illness experiences. The analysis highlights the need to supplement attention in Dow's model to the healing procedure with consideration of variability in the healing process. Depending on individual responses to the intervention, the staff's professional backgrounds and staff-client relationships different recovery models were applied. One suggested "episodic psychosis" and full recovery, and the other suggested "chronic schizophrenia" and the necessity of comprehensive life adjustments to the mental illness. The recovery models influenced clients' perspectives on illness and self as they engaged in identity work, negotiating future plans and individual life projects by including also alternative systems of explanation from the wider cultural repertoire.

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