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A History of Delusions

BBC Radio 4

Experimental psychologist Daniel Freeman explores cases of delusion.

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Clinical psychologist Daniel Freeman explores cases of delusion from the archives and speaks to people who have experienced them first-hand. In this programme, Daniel examines the most common type of delusion – paranoia. The incorrect belief that others are observing you and may be trying to harm you. Occasionally in the archives, cases emerge that allow us to see what such a delusion might have meant on an existential level for a person suffering from it. One of them is the case of James Tilly Matthews. A London tea broker who was committed to Bethlem psychiatric hospital in 1797, Tilly Matthews became convinced of an elaborate conspiracy involving the British establishment and a mind-controlling machine called the Air Loom. He is considered to be the first fully documented case of paranoid schizophrenia. Developing the understanding and treatment of paranoia has been the focus of Daniel's work as a clinical psychologist at the University of Oxford. Deciding whether to trust or mistrust is a vital aspect of human cognition, but accurate judgment of others’ intentions is often challenging. At a cultural level, a fear of others is variably connected to the political and social climate. At the heart of the severest paranoia - persecutory delusions - is the unfounded belief in an ongoing threat from others. In people seen in clinical services with a diagnosis of schizophrenia, the fears can also be provoked by hearing negative voices (auditory hallucinations). Daniel meets Toby, who volunteered to share his own experience of a paranoid delusion, and the isolation that takes hold as a consequence. Produced by Victoria Shepherd and Eve Streeter A Greenpoint production for BBC Radio 4
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Clinical psychologist Professor Daniel Freeman continues his exploration of delusions, looking at both historic and contemporary case studies. In this programme, he examines Cotard's Syndrome - the belief that you are dead. In Paris in 1880, Jules Cotard wrote the case study of a 43-year-old woman he called Mademoiselle X. He described her condition as “le délire des negations”. He recorded how she claimed to have “no brain, no nerves, no chest, no stomach and no intestines”. The “delusions negation” wrote Cotard, “extended to the metaphysical”, as Mademoiselle X believed “she has no soul and accordingly she does not need to eat in order to live.” She is recorded as dying of starvation. Cotard’s Syndrome is often an extension of severe depression, a person’s explanation of experiences of disassociation and detachment. To find out more Daniel meets Sophie, who shares her own experience of believing she was dead. Daniel's research at the University of Oxford focuses on improving our understanding and treatment of delusions – strongly held and preoccupying false beliefs. In this series he unearths case studies from the Renaissance, through to the asylums of 19th-century Paris and Victorian Britain. He meets people who have experienced delusional thinking first-hand and discovers more about the latest thinking on delusions from psychologists and psychiatrists. The purpose is to better understand this common but too-often unexplored human experience. Produced by Victoria Shepherd and Eve Streeter A Greenpoint production for BBC Radio 4
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