A History Of Delusions

Episodes

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A Paranoid Conspiracy: James Tilly Matthews and the Air Loom Gang20181207

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

Clinical psychologist Daniel Freeman explores cases of delusion.

Experimental psychologist Daniel Freeman explores cases of delusion.

Capgras: the 'Illusion of Doubles'20181210

Clinical psychologist Professor Daniel Freeman explores historic and contemporary cases of delusions – a belief that is impossible, incredible or false; is held with a high degree of certainty; and endures despite evidence to the contrary.

In this programme he examines the 'Capgras Delusion' or the 'Illusion of Doubles'.

In 1923 the French psychiatrist Joseph Capgras first described the delusion which later took his name. The case study concerned his patient, Madame M, who claimed that her husband and children had been substituted for doubles.

Daniel also talks to a contemporary contributor who shares her experience of a delusion that she was in a reality show.

Produced by Victoria Shepherd and Eve Streeter
A Greenpoint Production for BBC Radio 4

Clinical psychologist Daniel Freeman explores cases of delusion.

Experimental psychologist Daniel Freeman explores cases of delusion.

Cotard: the 'Walking Corpse Delusion'20181204

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

Clinical psychologist Daniel Freeman explores cases of delusion.

Experimental psychologist Daniel Freeman explores cases of delusion.

Delusions of the body20181213

Clinical psychologist Professor Daniel Freeman explores cases of delusions - strongly held, preoccupying false beliefs.

In this series he unearths case studies from the archives dating back to the Renaissance, he meets people who have recently experienced delusions, and finds out about new thinking in this relatively little-known field from psychologists and psychiatrists.

Distressing concerns about the body often feature in the content of delusions. Although unusual examples, Renaissance case studies of people who believed they had frogs living in their belly or that they are made out of glass or butter can be viewed as hypochondriacal delusions. In hypochondriacal delusions people erroneously believe that their body is unhealthy, rotten, or diseased.

But there are also people who are unaware at first that they do have a physical illness and that it is a physical illness that is leading to delusions.

Daniel meets Sarah, who shares her story.

Produced by Victoria Shepherd and Eve Streeter
A Greenpoint Production for BBC Radio 4

Clinical psychologist Daniel Freeman explores cases of delusion.

Experimental psychologist Daniel Freeman explores cases of delusion.

Francis Spira and the 'Delusion of Despair'20181205

Clinical psychologist Professor Daniel Freeman continues his exploration of delusions, looking at both historic and contemporary case studies.

In this programme he examines the Delusion of Despair.

He begins with the story of Francis Spira, the 15th-century Italian lawyer who believed he was damned by God – a case of delusional thinking that haunted the 16th and 17th centuries, and inspired Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus.

In the last 20 years, our appreciation and understanding of delusions - a strongly held, fixed, false belief - has begun to shift enormously. Delusional ideas are remarkably common in the population. And delusions are closely tied to a person’s sense of self, their views of the world and what is happening in the environment.

Daniel talks to Cheryl to find out how an excessively negative sense of self can set in motion a troubling line of thought that other people may be judging you, observing you, and waiting to punish you.

Produced by Victoria Shepherd and Eve Streeter
A Greenpoint production for BBC Radio 4

Clinical psychologist Daniel Freeman explores cases of delusion.

Experimental psychologist Daniel Freeman explores cases of delusion.

Grand Passions20181211

Psychologist and therapist Professor Daniel Freeman explores the history of delusions - strongly held, preoccupying false beliefs – with cases from the archives and first-hand testimonies from people who have experienced delusional thinking. Conversations usually confined to the clinic room.

In recent years, delusions have started to emerge as a field of study in their own right, and Daniel has been at the forefront of new research and treatment for the past 20 years. His aim is to make delusions more understandable and explicable.

In this programme Daniel hears how in 1921, Gaetan Gatien De Clerambault, a French psychiatrist, published a landmark paper detailing the delusion that became commonly known as ‘erotomania’. The case study featured ‘Lea Anne B’ a 53-year-old milliner who became convinced that the English King George V was in love with her.

And a contemporary contributor shares her experience of the belief that she had to save the world from the Millennium Bug.

Produced by Victoria Shepherd and Eve Streeter
A Greenpoint production for BBC Radio 4

Clinical psychologist Daniel Freeman explores cases of delusion.

Experimental psychologist Daniel Freeman explores cases of delusion.

Intensive care delirium20181212

Clinical psychologist Professor Daniel Freeman continues his exploration of delusions, looking at both historic and contemporary case studies.

In this programme he hears a case from 1892, of a patient at the Victorian psychiatric hospital Bethlem in London who believed that people were telephoning into her ears. And he meets a man who experienced delusions of being dead and under attack as a consequence of being in a hospital intensive care unit.

Produced by Victoria Shepherd and Eve Streeter
A Greenpoint Production for BBC Radio 4

Clinical psychologist Daniel Freeman explores cases of delusion.

Experimental psychologist Daniel Freeman explores cases of delusion.

Long Shadows: Trauma and Delusions20181206

Clinical psychologist Professor Daniel Freeman continues his exploration of delusions, looking at historic and contemporary case studies.

In this programme, he looks at delusions relating to trauma.

He begins with a case study from 1800 recorded by the pioneering mental health physician Philippe Pinel in Paris, of a man who believed he had lost his head on the scaffold. It is one of many accounts of how guillotine trauma created delusional responses in people during the French Revolution.

It is vivid cases such as these most likely to be recorded in psychiatric studies. But today there is a growing awareness of the "clinician's illusion" and how mental health services see only the rare, extreme end of a continuum. Delusional thinking is actually more common then once thought, and for most people it is not problematic or in need of care.

In fact, is there an untold story in the history of delusions - that they can be helpful?

Daniel talks to John about the delusion he believes sustained him in the aftermath of a traumatic childhood.

Produced by Victoria Shepherd and Eve Streeter
A Greenpoint production for BBC Radio 4

Clinical psychologist Daniel Freeman explores cases of delusion.

Experimental psychologist Daniel Freeman explores cases of delusion.

Napoleon and 'Delusions of Grandeur'20181203

Clinical psychologist Professor Daniel Freeman begins an exploration of delusions, looking at both historic and contemporary case studies. He hears first about the fourteen "Emperor Napoleons" who presented at Bicetre Asylum in Paris in 1840, the year Napoleon's body was returned to the city.

This "Delusion of Grandeur", featuring Napoleon in particular, continued as an intriguing phenomenon for many decades afterwards.

"That first day we found him dressed elegantly, head held high, with a proud, haughty air; his tone was that of command, and his least gestures indicated power and authority. He soon informed us that he was the Emperor of France, with millions in riches, that Louis Philippe was his chancellor, etc. Then... he pompously recited verses of his own commission, in which he allocated kingdoms, settled the affairs of Belgium and Poland, etc. During the day he smashed everything because people would not obey his every order."
Charenton Asylum, Paris. Register of Medical Observations. Patient admitted June 10th 1831.

Daniel Freeman also meets a woman who experienced a "Delusion of Grandeur" in more recent years, and hears her first-hand account of believing for a time that she was Christ.

Producers: Victoria Shepherd and Eve Streeter
A Greenpoint production for BBC Radio 4

Clinical psychologist Daniel Freeman explores cases of delusion.

Experimental psychologist Daniel Freeman explores cases of delusion.

The Future20181214

Psychologist Professor Daniel Freeman concludes his exploration of delusions, looking at both historic and contemporary case studies.

In the final programme he examines the latest thinking on the causes of and treatment for delusional thinking.

Daniel looks at the latest research suggesting delusions are part of a continuum in the general population, the impact of societal effects, and how delusions give us the chance to understand beliefs in general. He finds out how far delusions are hereditary, and the role played by poor sleep patterns. And we eavesdrop on a trial in Daniel's cutting edge virtual reality laboratory, where people with lived experience of delusions are helping him develop our understanding and treatment of this overlooked aspect of human experience.

Produced by Victoria Shepherd and Eve Streeter
A Greenpoint production for BBC Radio 4

Clinical psychologist Daniel Freeman explores cases of delusion.

Experimental psychologist Daniel Freeman explores cases of delusion.