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Schizophr Bull. 1993;19(3):579-97.

Schizophrenic delusions: a phenomenological approach.

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  • 1Policlinique psychiatrique universitaire, Lausanne, Switzerland.


The issue of specificity of delusions in schizophrenia is still a matter of debate. The authors analyze the delusion formation in schizophrenia from a prototypical, phenomenological point of view, focusing on the subject's experience. This perspective links delusion formation to the autistic predisposition, which is considered here as the elementary phenotypic expression of the vulnerability to schizophrenia. Autism is viewed as a defective preconceptual (i.e., before language) attunement to the world. It impedes the individual's sharing of "common sense" with others and impairs the ability to project into the future. The development of delusions is illustrated, in part, by Klaus Conrad's work on the onset of paranoid schizophrenia. Delusions are viewed as transformations of the structure of experiencing. When threatened in future ability to be, the autistic, vulnerable person looks for the clues to becoming by attributing significance to disparate elements of the environment, which become self-referential. The link established between these disparate elements is based on universal characteristics that give the schizophrenic delusion a metaphysical quality. The transitivistic experience in delusions of control and omnipotence points to a specific way of crossing the border between "mine" and "yours" (disturbances of the experiencing "I"). What strikes a clinician in these delusions is that the normally tacit link between the sense of being and the sense of acting becomes quite apparent. The authors also propose a specificity in the themes of schizophrenic delusions. Delusions acquire a schizophrenic quality when ontological (i.e., universal) elements of the discourse between the locutor and the Other dominate at the expense of the worldly elements. It is emphasized that delusional content and form are dialectically related and hardly distinguishable. The authors consider the delusion formation as a phenomenon of emergence, a situation in which a new qualitative order arises from the reorganization of essentially unchanged elements. To consider schizophrenia as an emergent, particular way of experiencing, related to the autistic defect, has important consequences for research and for treatment. A dialectic exchange is needed between prototypical models generated by phenomenological inquiry and empirical, operational validation of testable aspects of such models.

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