I have met many clinicians who believe that people with certain disorders are untreatable and have little or no hope for recovery. They push this “truth” upon their clients, honestly thinking they are sparing them later disappointment, when they are actually hurting them by squelching hope. I can no longer locate the exact source, but psychiatrist Daniel Fisher, himself completely recovered from schizophrenia for decades, has argued that the only thing worse than false hope is false hopelessness. McWilliams (2004) writes:
Frieda Fromm-Reichmann used to try to assign the most “hopeless, untreatable” psychotic patients to the least experienced therapists at Chestnut Lodge, because those therapists did not know they were hopeless and untreatable and consequently succeeded in helping them (p. 47).
Did the less experienced therapists not know the “truth” that these clients were “hopeless and untreatable”? Or were the more experienced therapists, due to burnout and discouragement from failure in the past, unaware of the truth that these clients were treatable and worthy of feeling hopeful? Even when it is true that we do not yet know how to help certain people, it is also true that we continue to learn and find new ways of helping others.
McWilliams, N. (2004) Psychoanalytic psychotherapy: A practitioner’s guide. New York: Guilford Press.