Some excerpts from an intriguing Invisibilia episode (transcript):
BAXTER: Sure. At the village of Geel in Belgium, it was well-known that the insane have been placed under the management of the villagers.
MILLER: Geel, it turned out, was a quite radical society, a place where everyday people welcomed strangers with mental illness into their homes.
BAXTER: Like a beloved aunt or uncle.
MILLER: And would allow them to stay there, often for decades.
BAXTER: When I asked several foster families why they had welcomed a guest, they seemed confused. Why would they not? Their parents and grandparents had all done the same.
MILLER: First stop, the doctor’s. There’s this big medical facility right in the center of town called the OPZ, where patients come when they first arrive in Geel. They’re prescribed meds and paired with a therapist. And it is there that the doctors discuss and choose which family the patient will go and live with.
The doctors in Geel believe in its power so much that they have dispatched with the thing most sacred to the profession – the idea that there is a problem to fix. When a patient comes to stay with a family in Geel, they are told nothing about the diagnosis.
Right, so the mystery began more than 50 years ago when a British sociologist, George Brown, made a very surprising observation. Male patients who were suffering from chronic schizophrenia did a lot better after they left the hospital when they went to live in lodgings rather than going home to live with their wives or their parents.
That desire to fix the problem, it oozes out of a person, they have found, and works to trigger relapse in the person they’re thinking about. … Crazy as it sounds, our private thoughts about a person, our disappointment in them or even our wishes for them to get better, shoot out of us like lasers and can change their very insides.