Looking at Schizophrenia through an Integrative Lens
Like many others who have passed through Fuller’s School of Psychology, Richard Josiassen (PhD ’79) enrolled in the program because he wanted to simultaneously study psychology and theology, “and Fuller was the only opportunity that allowed me to do that.”
Now, Josiassen—who currently serves as Chief Scientific Officer of the research institute Translational Neuroscience, LLC, as well as Research Professor of Psychiatry (Psychology) at Drexel University College of Medicine—is coming back to Fuller to participate again in its unique combination of the two fields. He is one of the primary organizers of this year’s Fuller Symposium on the Integration of Psychology and Theology (better known as the Integration Symposium), an annual lectureship hosted by the School of Psychology featuring a nationally recognized scholar who focuses on a single integrative issue.
Concentrating this year on the topic “Schizophrenia and Human Flourishing,” Josiassen has gathered a group of national and international experts in the field to discuss research and practice as it pertains to schizophrenia within the context of a theological institution. Nobel Laureate John Nash, who suffers from schizophrenia and is the subject of the Academy Award winning film A Beautiful Mind, will also be a special guest at the symposium. Josiassen and Nash became friends several years ago after a scientific meeting.
For Josiassen, an event like the symposium is where he does some of his most rewarding work—teaching people whose minds are open and eager to learn. “We get to share new knowledge and then explore it further with others who care deeply about this illness,” said Josiassen. “Usually the discussion goes to areas I never even thought about.” As church leaders, clinicians, and neuroscientists convene for the symposium, Josiassen believes they are discussing an extremely significant topic that affects more people around the world than most might realize.
“Schizophrenia afflicts approximately one percent of the human race—and if you add family members the impact of this illness becomes quite large,” he observed. Because this chronic, debilitating illness is not fatal, he said, “there is a sizeable population who live their lives in quiet desperation struggling with the symptoms of this disease.” Since many larger hospitals have closed down, “people suffering from schizophrenia are treated in the most perfunctory sorts of way,” said Josiassen, and many of them wind up living on the streets or in prisons where they get the “lowest common denominator of treatment. It’s as if we turned back the clock 100 years.”
“It’s a sad situation,” he stated, and pointed out that the church has its own role to play. Because schizophrenia is an “equal opportunity illness” that can afflict people of any race, gender, or economic status, Josiassen remarked, it follows that just as one percent of the population suffers from the disease, so would one percent of church congregations. The incidence might even be higher, he said, “because the church holds itself up as a place to get help and care, and families with a schizophrenic member often come hoping that what is advertised is real.” Unfortunately, many of their needs remain unmet as churches have not equipped themselves to help in the ways they can. “There are lots of things churches can do,” he said. “Early detection and support for families is crucial.”
Besides equipping and informing those in both the church and the mental health field, Josiassen has another underlying hope for the symposium: greater understanding between religious and scientific communities. Many of his scientific colleagues who do not have positive views of religious groups can be exposed to them as they discuss a common issue. “Good science should influence religious thought and practice,” he said, adding that the potential for a positive religious influence on those suffering with schizophrenia deserves scientific attention. “Both sides of the dialogue will have the opportunity to see things differently.”