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A delusion is commonly defined as a fixed false belief and is used in everyday language to describe a belief that is either false, fanciful or derived from deception. In psychiatry, the definition is necessarily more precise and implies that the belief is pathological (the result of an illness or illness process). As a pathology it is distinct from a belief based on false or incomplete information or certain effects of perception which would more properly be termed an apperception or illusion.
Delusions typically occur in the context of neurological or mental illness, although they are not tied to any particular disease and have been found to occur in the context of many pathological states (both physical and mental). However, they are of particular diagnostic importance in psychotic disorders and particularly in schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
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Although non-specific concepts of madness have been around for several thousand years, the psychiatrist and philosopher Karl Jaspers was the first to define the three main criteria for a belief to be considered delusional in his book General Psychopathology. These criteria are:
*certainty (held with absolute conviction)
*incorrigibility (not changeable by compelling counterargument or proof to the contrary)
*impossibility or falsity of content (implausible, bizarre or patently untrue)
These criteria still continue in modern psychiatric diagnosis. In the most recent Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, a delusion is defined as:
A false belief based on incorrect inference about external reality that is firmly sustained despite what almost everybody else believes and despite what constitutes incontrovertible and obvious proof or evidence to the contrary. The belief is not one ordinarily accepted by other members of the person’s culture or subculture (e.g., it is not an article of religious faith).
The criteria that define delusional disorder are furnished in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Fourth Edition Text Revision, or DSM-IV-TR, published by the American Psychiatric Association. The criteria for delusional disorder are as follows:
*non-bizarre delusions which have been present for at least one month
*absence of obviously odd or bizarre behavior
*absence of hallucinations, or hallucinations that only occur infrequently in comparison to other psychotic disorders
*no memory loss, medical illness or drug or alcohol-related effects are associated with the development of delusions
The modern definition and Jaspers’ original criteria have been criticised, as counter-examples can be shown for every defining feature.
Studies on psychiatric patients have shown that delusions can be seen to vary in intensity and conviction over time which suggests that certainty and incorrigibility are not necessary components of a delusional belief.
Delusions do not necessarily have to be false or ‘incorrect inferences about external reality’. Some religious or spiritual beliefs by their nature may not be falsifiable, and hence cannot be described as false or incorrect, no matter whether the person holding these beliefs was diagnosed as delusional or not.
In other situations the delusion may turn out to be true belief. For example, delusional jealousy, where a person believes that their partner is being unfaithful (and may even follow them into the bathroom believing them to be seeing their lover even during the briefest of partings) may result in the faithful partner being driven to infidelity by the constant and unreasonable strain put on them by their delusional spouse. In this case the delusion does not cease to be a delusion because the content later turns out to be true.
In other cases, the delusion may be assumed to be false by a doctor or psychiatrist assessing the belief, because it seems to be unlikely, bizarre or held with excessive conviction. Psychiatrists rarely have the time or resources to check the validity of a person’s claims leading to some true beliefs to be erroneously classified as delusional.This is known as the Martha Mitchell effect, after the wife of the attorney general who alleged that illegal activity was taking place in the White House. At the time her claims were thought to be signs of mental illness, and only after the Watergate scandal broke was she proved right (and hence sane).
Similar factors have led to criticisms of Jaspers’ definition of true delusions as being ultimately ‘un-understandable’. Critics (such as R. D. Laing) have argued that this leads to the diagnosis of delusions being based on the subjective understanding of a particular psychiatrist, who may not have access to all the information which might make a belief otherwise interpretable.
Another difficulty with the diagnosis of delusions is that almost all of these features can be found in “normal” beliefs. Many religious beliefs hold exactly the same features, yet are not universally considered delusional. Similarly, Thomas Kuhn argued in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions that scientists can hold strong beliefs in scientific theories despite considerable apparent discrepancies with experimental evidence.
These factors have led the psychiatrist Anthony David to note that “there is no acceptable (rather than accepted) definition of a delusion.” In practice psychiatrists tend to diagnose a belief as delusional if it is either patently bizarre, causing significant distress, or excessively pre-occupies the patient, especially if the person is subsequently unswayed in belief by counter-evidence or reasonable arguments.
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Client interviews focused on obtaining information about the sufferer’s life situation and past history aid in identification of delusional disorder. With the client’s permission, the clinician obtains details from earlier medical records, and engages in thorough discussion with the client’s immediate family—helpful measures in determining whether delusions are present. The clinician may use a semi-structured interview called a mental status examination to assess the patient’s concentration, memory, understanding the individual’s situation and logical thinking. The mental status examination is intended to reveal peculiar thought processes in the patient. The Peters Delusion Inventory (PDI) is a psychological test that focuses on identifying and understanding delusional thinking; but its use is more common in research than in clinical practice.
Even using the DSM-IV-TRcriteria listed above, classification of delusional disorder is relatively subjective. The criteria “non-bizarre” and “resistant to change” and “not culturally accepted” are all subject to very individual interpretations. They create variability in how professionals diagnose the illness. The utility of diagnosing the syndrome rather than focusing on successful treatment of delusion in any form of illness is debated in the medical community. Some researchers further contend that delusional disorder, currently classified as a psychotic disorder, is actually a variation of depression and might respond better to antidepressants or therapy more similar to that utilized for depression. Also, the meaning and implications of “culturally accepted” can create problems. The cultural relativity of “delusions,”—most evident where the beliefs shown are typical of the person’s subculture or religion yet would be viewed as strange or delusional by the dominant culture—can force complex choices to be made in diagnosis and treatment. An example could be that of a Haitian immigrant to the United States who believed in voodoo. If that person became aggressive toward neighbors issuing curses or hexes, believing that death is imminent at the hands of those neighbors, a question arises. The belief is typical of the individual’s subculture, so the issue is whether it should be diagnosed or treated. If it were to be treated, whether the remedy should come through Western medicine, or be conducted through voodoo shamanistic treatment is the problem to be solved.
Delusional disorder treatment often involves atypical(also callednovelornewer-generation) antipsychotic medications, which can be effective in some patients. Risperidone(Risperdal), quetiapine(Seroquel), and olanzapine(Zyprexa) are all examples of atypical or novel antipsychotic medications. If agitationoccurs, a number of different antipsychotics can be used to conclude the outbreak of acute agitation. Agitation, a state of frantic activity experienced concurrently with anger or exaggerated fearfulness, increases the risk that the client will endanger self or others. To decrease anxiety and slow behavior in emergency situations where agitation is a factor, an injection of haloperidol(Haldol) is often given usually in combination with other medications (often lorazepam, also known as Ativan). Agitation in delusional disorder is a typical response to severe or harsh confrontation when dealing with the existence of the delusions. It can also be a result of blocking the individual from performing inappropriate actions the client views as urgent in light of the delusional reality. A novel antipsychotic is generally given orally on a daily basis for ongoing treatment meant for long-term effect on the symptoms. Response to antipsychotics in delusional disorder seems to follow the “rule of thirds,” in which about one-third of patients respond somewhat positively, one-third show little change, and one-third worsen or are unable to comply.
Cognitive therapy has shown promise as an emerging treatment for delusions. The cognitive therapist tries to capitalize on any doubt the individual has about the delusions; then attempts to develop a joint effort with the sufferer to generate alternative explanations, assisting the client in checking the evidence. This examination proceeds in favor of the various explanations. Much of the work is done by use of empathy, asking hypothetical questions in a form of therapeutic Socratic dialogue—a process that follows a basic question and answer format, figuring out what is known and unknown before reaching a logical conclusion. Combining pharmacotherapy with cognitive therapy integrates both treating the possible underlying biological problems and decreasing the symptoms with psychotherapy.
Evidence collected to date indicates about 10% of cases will show some improvement of delusional symptoms though irrational beliefs may remain; 33–50% may show complete remission; and, in 30–40% of cases there will be persistent non-improving symptoms. The prognosis for clients with delusional disorder is largely related to the level of conviction regarding the delusions and the openness the person has for allowing information that contradicts the delusion.
Little work has been done thus far regarding prevention of the disorder. Effective means of prevention have not been identified.
Disclaimer: This information is not meant to be a substitute for professional medical advise or help. It is always best to consult with a Physician about serious health concerns. This information is in no way intended to diagnose or prescribe remedies.This is purely for educational purpose.