Finding Meaning in First Episode Psychosis: Experience, Agency, and the Cultural Repertoire

Abstract

The article examines individuals’ attempts to generate meaning following their experiences with psychosis. The inquiry is based on a person-centered ethnographic study of a Danish mental health community program for early intervention in schizophrenia and involves longitudinal interviews with 15 of its participants. The article takes an existential anthropological perspective emphasizing agency and cultural phenomenology to investigate how individuals draw on resources from the cultural repertoire to make sense of personally disturbing experiences during their psychosis. It is suggested that the concept of “system of explanation” has advantages over, for example, “illness narrative” and “explanatory model” when demonstrating how some individuals engage in the creative analytic and theory-building work of bricolage, selecting, adding, and combining various systems of explanation. Delusions are equally derived from the cultural repertoire but are constructed as dogmatic explanations that are idiosyncratic to the individual who holds them.