Schizophrenia - A Theory of Cause and Possible Cure

by Alfred A. Barrios, Ph.D


In my book Understanding Hypnosis: Theory, Scope and Potential [Barrios, 2009], I present an explanation for the cause of schizophrenia that derived from my theory of hypnosis [Barrios, 2001]. Based on this explanation, I also present a possible cure for schizophrenia using hypnosis. This article will be a presentation of these very same ideas.


I would like to begin by giving you a brief overview of my theory of hypnosis, focusing especially on how the theory explains hypnotic phenomena such as hallucinations and delusions. I define hypnosis as a state of heightened belief produced by a series of positively-responded-to-suggestions. With each positive response the belief factor is increased (belief in what the hypnotist is suggesting). And I define belief as concentration on a thought to the exclusion of anything that would contradict that thought. Thus, in a state of heightened belief, any stimuli either sensory or cognitive that might contradict the suggestion given by the hypnotist are automatically blocked off. This highly focused state of mind then is capable of amplifying images to the point of becoming hallucinations, and amplifying thoughts to where they can become delusions.

All hallucinations and delusions can be explained in a very similar way: An image or thought can become highly amplified as a result of the blocking of any contradictory thoughts or stimuli. This blocking can be accomplished in a number of different ways. As pointed out in my theory explaining the behavioral and therapeutic effects of the hallucinogens [Barrios, 1965], it was pointed out that this “blocking” results from the inhibitory aspects of these drugs.


In the case of schizophrenics, this “blocking” is as a result of the hyper-suggestible state (heightened state of belief) they are in. The psychotic breakdown occurs when these individuals begin to think that the hallucinations and strange thoughts or voices are due to some “outside” sources, not realizing that they are self-induced. They believe that they have no control over what is happening and what’s worse they believe that this will become permanent. And because of the heightened state of belief they are in, it can become permanent. As pointed out in my theory of hypnosis, in the state of heightened belief, higher-order conditioning can be exponentially enhanced thus allowing for this belief to become permanently entrenched.

This explanation of schizophrenic psychotic breakdowns is supported by the fact that there have been numerous cases of psychotic breakdowns in people taking hallucinogenic drugs. Just as in the case of schizophrenics not realizing that the hallucinations they are experiencing are self-induced, the people who have the drug-induced breakdowns are the ones who think that the this state is due to “outside forces” that they have “no control” over, and what‘s worse, they believe that this state will be permanent. As pointed out above, because of the state of heightened belief, this belief can actually become permanent.

The following excerpt from Understanding Hypnosis will expand further on this:

"One may wonder if something very similar to this frightening state of uncontrolled hyper-suggestibility [occurring in some cases of people taking hallucinogenic drugs] isn't at the bottom of non-drug induced psychotic breakdowns. One question that would need to be answered here of course is what could have led to this state of uncontrolled hyper-suggestibility, hyper-responsiveness, in the first place? We know that a certain percentage of the population is highly suggestible to begin with. (Could this possibility be because some individuals have a higher concentration of hallucinogenic- type chemicals in their bloodstream than others? If so, this would fit in with the idea that schizophrenia is caused by a “chemical imbalance”.) Is it possible that a state of high stress or anxiety or certain negative thinking could cause this suggestibility to get out of control? And if uncontrolled heightened suggestibility does play a part leading to psychoses, such as schizophrenia, could a form of controlled hyper- suggestibility (such as hypnosis) be used to somehow reverse the psychosis, i.e. cure the psychosis? Could it be used to reverse the belief that the psychotic symptoms would be permanent? We know that hypnosis can be used to remove the causes of any precipitating high stress, anxiety or negative thinking. There are some interesting possibilities here."
[See the above mentioned studies by Abrams, 1963 and 1964 and Biddle, 1967 on the successful use of hypnosis in the treatment of psychoses.]

One of the most phenomenal hypnotherapy cases I have worked on was that of a paranoid schizophrenic whom I cured in one three-hour session by making use of the hypnotic state of heightened belief to reverse the negative thinking, the negative beliefs underlying her paranoia. The following excerpt from my book Towards Greater Freedom and Happiness [Barrios, 1985] describes the case. (Please note that in my writings I often refer to my hypnosis techniques as SPC, or Self-Programmed Control techniques.):

"Maria, a woman in her late thirties, was brought to me by her sister out of desperation. The woman had been suffering from paranoid schizophrenia for the past three years and she was getting worse. Her primary symptom was the delusion that people were "out to get her". She had also recently shown signs of being homicidal — having so scared her husband with very real threats on his life that he had moved out.

"As with many psychotics, Maria had been put on a drug treatment program and sent home, even though not cured. The drugs had only served to mask the symptoms, and little had been done about getting rid of the root cause of her problem. When I saw her, she had stopped taking the drugs (without approval).

"One advantage I had was the fact that I had cured her 27-year-old nephew of heroin addiction — in a total of only three sessions, incidentally. The all-important belief, or prestige factor, was thus quite high from the beginning.

"The first half of the three-hour session was devoted to getting some idea of the root causes of her problem. It wasn't too long before I saw that she had deep-seated feelings of inferiority, and as a result she felt that no one could possibly love her.

"Judging from her background, I could see why she might have thought this. Coming from a minority background, she had been conditioned to think of herself as inferior from an early age. Her subsequent life experiences only served to add to this low self-image. She had been a heroin addict for a good part of her life and had resorted to prostitution as well as dealing in heroin to support her habit. The latter had resulted in her spending five years in prison, so she was an ex-con as well. The breakdown had been triggered by a younger sister who, in a fit of anger, one day threw all this in her face.

"How did I cure her in just one session? Using the SPC Pendulum technique [p. 34], I had her go into a state of heightened belief or increased responsiveness to words. Once she was in this state, I was able to convince her that she was indeed capable of being loved. I pointed out all her good points (something that I was able to ascertain in the first half of the session) and assured her that her family, and especially her husband, did love her. Others before me had tried to convince her of this, but to no avail — the words had gone in one ear and out the other. But in this state of increased responsiveness to words, I was now more able to get through.

"Within a week, every one of her symptoms — hallucinations, delusions, etc. — were gone. She had gotten back with her husband and was happily looking forward to a trip to San Francisco with him. Six months later when I called to see how she was doing, her sister informed me that she continued to be fine and free of symptoms.

"The most amazing thing about this case was that I had been able to cure this woman of paranoid schizophrenia in just one three-hour session. Such a feat is considered so extraordinary that I hesitated mentioning it lest I be labeled a charlatan by my fellow professionals, for paranoid schizophrenia is a most difficult mental illness to cure. It usually takes years and many are never cured. So to say that I cured such a case in one session is almost like someone claiming to have cured a case of cancer by "laying on of the hands". I have included it here because I want the reader to see the real potential of an approach that allows the power of the word to really get through. This is not to say, of course, that all such problems can be cleared up in just one SPC session. But still, it should take a lot less time and be more effective than if a standard approach were taken."

A Possible Explanation and Cure for Bipolar Disorder

Could it be that an explanations for bipolar disorder (once referred to manic-depressive disorder) lies along similar lines? If in a state of hyper-suggestibility, a state of hyper-responsiveness, cognitive stimuli can be amplified to cause psychotic delusions or hallucinations, why not the possibility of manic and depressive thoughts or behavior also being magnified in a similar uncontrolled hyper-responsive state leading to a state of hyper-mania or hyper-depression? And if so, then one can see the possible use of hypnosis to also helping one regain control and toning down or reversing these hyper states as well as getting rid of any underlying negative states of mind adding to the problem.


Abrams, S. (1963) Short-term hypnotherapy of a schizophrenic patient,
American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis, 5,237-247.

Abrams, S. (1964) The use of hypnotic techniques with psychotics. A critical review,
American Journal of Psychotherapy, pp. 79-94.

Barrios, A.A. (1965) An explanation of the behavioral and therapeutic effects
of the hallucinogens. International Journal of Neuropsychiatry 1: 574-92.

Barrios, A.A. (1985)Towards Greater Freedom and Happiness. Los Angeles, SPC Press.

Barrios, A.A. (2001) A theory of hypnosis based on principles of conditioning and inhibition.
Contemporary Hypnosis 18: 163-203.

Barrios, A.A. (2009) Understanding Hypnosis: Theory, Scope and Potential.
New York: Nova Science Publishers.

Biddle, W.E. (1967) Hypnosis in the Psychoses. Springfield, Ill.: Charles C. Thomas.

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