Martyrs of the Unconscious: Bearing Testimony to Anomalous Experiences in Schizophrenia Spectrum Disorders.

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Cathrine Bjørnholt Michaelsen


DKK 700,000




Internationalisation Fellowships


Persons suffering from schizophrenia spectrum disorders often have so-called anomalous experiences that are difficult to articulate with conventional means of communication. Their sense of isolation and marginalization is thereby increased. This may lead to the anxious feeling of having entirely lost the relation to a world in common with others making the process of recovery difficult. The biomedical paradigm that has dominated academic and clinical psychiatry for the past four decades not been capable of meeting this challenge. The aim of the present project is to survey whether and how artistic practice and aesthetic experience can help to alleviate the often painful exposure to anomalous experiences in schizophrenia by making them expressible via imagery or creative writing.


In times when an unprecedented and increasingly large number of the world’s population are experiencing mental health issues and when prevailing forms of psychiatric treatments appear insufficient to meet this global challenge, unprecedented and unconventional measures are called for. According to the World Health Organization, nearly 1 in 10 people have a mental health disorder and more than 23 million people worldwide are affected by schizophrenia spectrum disorders, 50% of which are not receiving appropriate treatment. Not only mental health workers, but also philosophers and other researchers within the humanities, ought to raise questions about this disturbing development and engage in the search for solutions.


The project responds to the necessity of coextensively articulating several empirical and theoretical approaches to the complex problem of anomalous experience in schizophrenia spectrum disorders. The project's methodological fulcrum consists in its unique coupling of a tradition of philosophical aesthetics (incl. art and literary studies) with a tradition of phenomenological and existential psychopathology and theoretical psychoanalysis in order to enrich our understanding of the nature of the communicative disturbances in schizophrenia as well as the possibility of their creative mitigation. In collaboration with Universitätklinikum Heidelberg, the project combines aesthetic analyses of artworks with textual examination of autobiographical manuscripts and historical clinical material.

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