In Wednesday’s post, “Childhood Trauma Linked to Psychosis: Maybe Not,” I introduced a few terms and concepts that many people seem to wrestle with. In this post, I try to clarify the terminology and explain some of the concepts related to psychosis, hallucinations, and delusions.
Psychosis is defined as an abnormality of thoughts (content) or thinking (process). Psychosis is not a diagnosis in itself but a type of psychiatric symptom that occurs in a variety of diagnoses, including schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
Schizophrenia is primarily a disorder of thinking – psychotic symptoms are the main presenting symptoms. Depressive or manic episodes sometimes include psychotic symptoms, but not always. Certain drugs such as LSD, mushrooms, and other psychedelics can also cause psychotic symptoms.
Psychotic thought content consists of thoughts not based in reality. The most common forms of are hallucinations and delusions.
Hallucinations are disorders of perception distinguished by the different senses:
People with auditory hallucinations do not usually have awareness that the thoughts are in their head, at least until after they have recovered and can begin to work on identifying the voices. Even then, if they enter another acute episode, they often don’t have insight into where the voices are coming from or that they are saying things that are false. If someone tells you that they hear voices – and they know the voices are not real – it is less clear cut whether or not to identify this as a true hallucination.
In psychiatric illnesses, such as schizophrenia, the hallucinations are almost always primarily auditory. Visual, olfactory, and tactile hallucinations are much more likely related to other brain impairments, such as drugs or drug overdose or severe medical illness that compromises thinking, including organ failures, sepsis (blood infection), or seizures.
Delusions are ideas or thoughts about the world that are not based in reality. Delusions may be present in any of the following forms:
Disorders of thought process are also common in psychosis and are sometimes easier than disorders of perception to observe from the outside. They include the following:
Photo by Vern Southern, available under a Creative Commons attribution license.
Other types of hallucinations and delusions are present in psychosis, but those described here are some of the most common.
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Last reviewed: 4 Feb 2011