Conducting an experiment to test one's beliefs has played an important role in the cure of some schizophrenics. Clifford Whittingham Beers, the author of A Mind that Found Itself, believed that his brothers sisters and parents were all imposters and were detectives determined to lull him into revealing information that would incriminate him in a future trial. One day he did an experiment to test his belief. He wrote a letter to his brother and had a friend send it for him under his friend's name. The following is the letter he wrote to his brother.
August 29, 1902
On last Wednesday morning a person who claimed to be George M. Beers of New Haven, Ct., clerk in the Director's Office of the Sheffield Scientific School and a brother of mine, called to see me.
Perhaps what he said was true, but after the events of the last two years I find myself inclined to doubt the truth of everything that is told me. He said that he would come and see me again sometime next week, and I am sending you this letter in order that you may bring it with you as a passport, provided you are the one who was here on Wednesday.
If you did not call as stated please say nothing about this letter to anyone, and when your double arrives, I'll tell him what I think of him. Would send other messages, but while things seems as they do at present it is impossible. Have had someone else address envelope for fear letter might be held up on the way.
Clifford W. B.
Clifford wrote what happened the next day.
The person approaching me was indeed the counterpart of my brother as I remembered him. Yet he was no more my brother than he had been at any time during the preceding two years. He was still a detective. Such he was when I shook his hand. As soon as that ceremony was over, he drew forth a leather pocketbook. I instantly recognized it as one I myself had carried for several years prior to the time I was taken ill in 1900. It was from this that he took my recent letter.
Here's my passport," he said.
It's a good thing you brought it," I replied, as I glanced at it and again shook his hand--this time the hand of my own brother....
The very instant I caught sight of my letter in the hands of my brother, all was changed. The thousands of false impressions recorded during the seven hundred and ninety-eight days of my depression seemed at once to correct themselves. Untruth became Truth. To me, at least, my mind seemed to have found itself, for the gigantic web of false beliefs in which it had been all but hopelessly enmeshed I now immediately recognized as a snare of delusions.
A turning point in the mental health of Karl Ericson also occurred after he conducted an experiment in which he tried to think "They love me" instead of "They hate me" and observed that his feelings of weakness disappeared.
Cognitive therapy sometimes involves encouraging patients to test their beliefs with little experiments.
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