Dante's Cure, A Journey Into Madness Contact the Author
by Daniel Dorman, MD

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Dante's Cure

Palm Springs Desert Sun | Booklist | Publisher's Weekly

Palm Springs Desert Sun
May 2, 2004

Journey of hope: Psychotherapy rids woman of schizophrenia
by Kelly O’Connor

Most doctors will tell you schizophrenia can’t be cured. They’ll tell you with medication and coping mechanisms, a person can learn to live with delusions and hallucinations.

"Dante’s Cure: A Journey out of Madness" speaks to the contrary.

Written by psychiatrist Daniel Dorman of Los Angeles, the book is about the years Morongo Valley resident Catherine Penney heard voices that told her to kill herself, her mother and even her doctor.

After years of counseling -- known as psychotherapy -- and the assistance of Dorman, who refused to medicate Penney, she overcame her illness.

Dorman saw beneath Penney’s symptoms and never made her feel hopeless, which was the key to her recovery, Penney said.

She is a registered nurse who works with mentally ill patients. Dorman, a clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of California, Los Angeles, has practiced psychotherapy for 30 years.

At 7 p.m. Friday the two will be at Peppertree Bookstore in Palm Springs to talk about the book, Penney’s years in a mental hospital and Dorman’s decision to treat her without medication -- a choice that put his reputation on the line.

"Medication is not treatment, it’s management," Dorman said.

He only medicates patients if the situation is life or death. Madness, in Dorman’s opinion, is not a result of a chemical imbalance. "In fact there’s little proof that these imbalances exist," Dorman said.

Penney’s schizophrenia

Penney, now 54, was 17 when she was diagnosed schizophrenic. She was hospitalized twice, prescribed tranquilizers such as Thorazine and sent home. For a while the murderous and suicidal voices stopped.

She enrolled at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo, but only lasted six weeks. She was paranoid. Her jaw and neck had tightened from medication.

When she grew a tolerance to the drugs, the "loud whispers" resurfaced. It became evident to Penney’s mom that her daughter needed serious help.

At 19, Penney was checked into a psychiatric hospital at UCLA where she met Dorman, the doctor who the voices would later tell Penney to kill.

"It felt like there was a large weight sitting on my head and shoulders," Penney said.

She weighed 85 pounds and rarely spoke. She developed anorexia by obsessing about food and often talked of suicide. Trying to kill herself, she once drank shoe lacquer mixed with hot cocoa and milk.

However, the simple fact that Penney always made her daily appointments with Dorman is why the doctor saw hope.

"It told me she saw something hopeful," he said. "Then she began to speak more openly."

Dorman became convinced that her condition was a response to her family history.

Penney’s childhood

Her father died in the Korean War when Penney was 10 months old. For the next five years her mom was severely depressed. Looking back, Penney can see how she assumed her mother’s depression.

When Penney was 6, her mother married an alcoholic who was emotionally abusive to the family. Adding to her low self-esteem were school children who called Penney "witchy."

A devout Catholic with four younger siblings, Penney kept her feelings of rage and anger to herself. In her senior year in high school the voices started. She knew something was wrong, but instead of telling anyone, she prayed and went into isolation.

She rarely spent time with friends and stayed in her room while at home. She felt trapped in her own body.

"At times I felt like I didn’t have a body," Penney said.

Penney’s recovery

Through her sessions with Dorman, Penney began to talk and make sense of her feelings. The voices silenced in 1973, and after seven years of therapy, she rejoined society.

Today, she works with patients who suffer from schizophrenia and other mental illnesses.

"I know the overwhelming loneliness. The suicide rates are high. I want to give back what was given to me."

Dorman continues to treat mentally ill patients without the use of drugs.

See the review!

March 15, 2004

Dante’s Cure: A Journey Out of Madness
Daniel Dorman. Apr. 2004. 280p. Other, $25 (1-59051-101-8).
by Donna Chavez

Psychiatry professor Dorman compassionately chronicles the remarkable life, from onset of illness through recovery, of one of his patients without stinting graphic descriptions of her struggles with madness. Diagnosed with schizophrenia, 19-year-old Catherine Penney was dangerously thin, tormented by self-destructive voices, all but completely withdrawn. By the time she was admitted to UCLA Hospital psychiatric ward, where Dorman was a young resident, she had already been taking antipsychotic drugs for several years to no apparent avail. Certain that her illness was treatable with psychotherapy and not a believer in pharmaceutical intervention, Dorman initiated his relationship with Catherine by interviewing her and her family. What he learned about her background reconfirmed his faith in therapy, and so the pair embarked upon a seven-year-long, six-day-a-week trek toward wellness. The upshot reads almost like fiction: 36 years later, Catherine has become a nurse and patient advocate. Her story bodies forth a convincing affirmation that, with enough determination and the unflagging tenacity of a committed psychotherapist, anything is possible.

Publisher's Weekly
February 9, 2004

DANTE’S CURE: A Journey Out of Madness: A True Story
Daniel Dorman. Other Press, $25 (280p) ISBN 1-59051-101-8

Dorman, a professor of clinical psychiatry, traces his patient Catherine’s inspirational life journey from severe schizophrenia to health. When Catherine first came under Dorman’s care in the 1970s at a UCLA hospital, she was an adolescent anorexic hearing suicidal and murderous voices. After fully investigating her family dynamic and diagnosing schizophrenia, Dorman began therapy sessions, but rejected the use of standard medications. Dorman describes his patient’s various states during her years of crisis as a hospital inmate: her infantilism, physical deterioration, self-loathing and anger. He also describes her key dreams and the moments of interpretive breakthrough he and she made together, emphasizing the substance of their discussions and Catherine’s humanity. Having successfully resisted pressure to medicate Catherine, Dorman set up private practice and continued sessions with her. This coincided with her gradual, albeit at first fragile, recovery. Living in an apartment, attending college and qualifying as a psychiatric nurse, Catherine grew in life experience, miraculously surviving professional and relationship pressures without further breakdown or recourse to medication. In her career, Catherine, like Dorman, opposed forcing drugs on her patients, becoming a mental health activist. Dorman and Catherine came to enjoy a relationship of mutual respect and shared philosophies. Dorman’s epilogue sets out a readable and reasonable opposition to the now dominant view of schizophrenia as primarily a 'brain disorder' that requires medication. His advocacy of a humanist approach that emphasizes patient-doctor collaboration and the growth of soul will be welcomed by all those who value the psychotherapeutic tradition. (Apr.)