Schizophrenia – A Frequently Misused Word

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I can’t tell you how many times and from some of the most reputable authors and sources I see the word schizophrenia misused. Over and over I read and hear people use the term schizophrenia or schizophrenic when they mean multiple personality disorder. The most recent comes from Thom Rainer in Simple Church, “When ministry philosophies collide, schizophrenia happens. The church is unsure of who she is…” (p.21). “Schizophrenia happens”? You mean church members start hearing voices and get delusional? He is trying to say a ministry can result in trying to act like more than one person or have so many dimensions that it gets stymied. I doubt this post will do any good to correct this issue but I think it is important to bring up even if it just breaks a few dozen people of this habit.

The DSM-IV defines schizophrenia as, “a disturbance that lasts for at least 6 months and includes at least a month of active-phase symptoms (that is, two [or more] of the following: delusions, hallucinations, disorganized speech, grossly disorganized or catatonic behavior, negative symptoms.”

This is confused by many people with Multiple personality disorder/dissociative identity disorder, “The presence of two more more distinct identities or personality states (each with its own relatively enduring pattern of perceiving, relating to, and thinking about the environment and self).”

It is time to drop this altogether. When you say something is schizophrenic you are saying it is characterized by delusions and hallucinations (and possibly paranoia depending on the subtype). If you are trying to say something gets confusing or trying to take on too many roles at once, just use another term or avoid this altogether.

0 Responses

  1. I dunno, Matt. There are lots of churches out there that are characterized by delusions, disorganized speech and grossly disorganized or catatonic behavior.

    Maybe they are schizophrenic after all!

  2. “Maybe they are schizophrenic after all!”

    Pardon my nit-picking.
    The term “schizophrenic” is the adj form applied to people who unfortunately have the schizophrenia illness. Those with the illness are not simply “schizophrenic”; they are mothers, fathers, children, etc. who just happen to have the illness. For many the label is offensive; it is another anti-mental illness stigma.
    We show more respect for someone with the cancer illness. We say “they have cancer”; we don’t label them “canceric!”
    People with mental illness have enough challenges at being accepted in society; let’s not continue to add to the stigma of mental illness by degrading people as “schizophrenic”.

  3. Matt,
    I found the following excerpt at

    “Schizophrenia literally means “a split mind,” and this may be where the misconception of split personality took root. Eugen Bleuler, a Swiss psychiatrist, first used the term in 1911 to describe patients whose thought processes seemed disconnected.”

    I also found this definition at The American Heritage® New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition
    Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Company.

    “A form of psychosis marked by a strong tendency to dissociate oneself from reality. Schizophrenia is often characterized by hallucinations, delusions, and inappropriate reactions to situations. The word schizophrenia is often used informally as well as scientifically to indicate a split personality.”

    1. Bob,

      Thanks for the info. One thing, it is most certainly not used in scientific/psychological fields to indicate a split personality. Dissociative identity disorder is used for that. I studied/worked in that field for 5 years including doctoral work in clinical and health psychology. I am not just blowing smoke here 😉

  4. I’m with you on this one, Matt. It drives me nuts! Well, what I mean is… You know what I mean.

    Good call, Bob – that whole “split mind” thing really threw the popular concept of the disorder for a loop.

    Now, to clarify the actual meaning of “Antisocial” 😀

  5. Thanks for this post Matt.
    I know people who suffer from the illness and it is mothers, fathers, sons, daughters. An illness that they didn’t choose or have anything to do with at all. I think other terms can be used to discribe an unheathy church. We need to be sensative with the words we choose to describe the church or others. For example I don’t think it would go over very well if someone was to call the church “Retarted!”, even though many churches act as such. I think of the words my 3 year olds class sang yesterday, “Oh be careful little mouth what you say…” Thanks again brother and hope you have a great week!

  6. I was doing a little writing and was about to type the word “schizophrenic” to describe my own conflicted opionions about a particular topic but caught myself and decided to bust out the old thesaurus. Not helpful. Then went to Google and your post came up. I’m one of the “dozens” you have influenced…Thanks. By the way, I wholeheartedly agree with john alan turner’s observation. I would say that quite possibly a majority of churches are characterized by “delusions, disorganized speech and grossly disorganized or catatonic behavior.” That might turn out to be a blog post at somepoint…diagnosing church maladies using the DSM-IV. Systemic Psychotherapy might be an up and coming practice. (Thanks for your post)

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