Some Conspiracy Theorists Mentally Ill, Others Not

Conspiracy theories … real or contrived? Perhaps President Kennedy’s assassination opened up the doors for conspiracy believers to have a place at the table. Even the President Lincoln assassination provided a forum for in-depth dialogue about the real true story. Hollywood took some licence to reference ”who done it” with the ending of the ”National Treasure” movie. The originators of the myriad theories appear to be deep thinkers.

Who is conspiring to create chaos and wreak havoc amongst the populace? The conspiracy theorists certainly promote the possibility if not probability that this, that or the other must have occurred. Firm believers of any conspiracy theory exhort others to follow their lead. ”The CIA or the FBI was behind it.” ”An underground anonymous group representing corporations did it.” What to believe? With the unlimited sites on the Internet, folks can spend countless hours reading, reviewing and eventually deciding upon their truth.

Did we really have a man walking on the moon? Did the Bush administration conspire to create 9/11? Are there airplanes seeding clouds to control our weather and therefore, crop production? One can go on and on. What emotionally and mentally is rooted in these theories?

I remember asking a client who was diagnosed schizophrenic, paranoid disorder about his life story. The gentleman wasn’t clear about the origins of his diagnosed psychosis. The documented history of his mental illness, written by psychiatrists and psychologists who tested, questioned and observed this man, added up to an obvious diagnosis. Now, years later, he was my client. Given months of a slow process of building trust with this man, I was able to inch my way forward to ask questions beyond the pedantic how are your medications and basic daily functioning. The gentleman confirmed the psychiatrist’s findings that he believed he was Jesus Christ. A component of a paranoid state called religiosity along with an agitated mood was clear.

However, all this took place 20 years before I acquired his case. I wondered, maybe conspiratorially if the original diagnosis stood firm. Does time to include treatment possibly alter a person’s state of mind and mood. He no longer believed he was Jesus Christ. He was brought up in a strict religious family. He suffered, we discovered, from a belief of unworthiness. His parents were tough on him and he had no clear direction. Beyond a paranoid state, he had no purpose or belief in himself. We worked on disproving his unworthy beliefs and opening up avenues albeit slowly for success. We get up small achievable goals. We shed blame upon his parents and placed responsibility for stated goals on him. As he became more self-confident, it eventually brought to light whether the diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenic was valid. The psychiatrists weren’t moving from their 20-year belief system. The gentleman wondered ”are they conspiring against me?”

The question gone unanswered might be are conspiracy theorists the originators and their followers mentally sound or paranoid. I don’t envy my professional colleagues who diagnose clients and maintain that position steadfastly for a lifetime. The work is delicate. Mistakes can be made. I once took a stand that mental health diagnosis need to be reviewed annually. I stood alone. ”If the client is doing OK, then let it be.” I invite clients to request an annual review. Time can change a person. And even if the diagnosis remains the same, can the treatment approach be modified? Lots of questions to ponder.

Let there be peace on Earth and let it begin with me.

Marshall Greenstein holds a master’s degree in marriage and family counseling and is a licensed marriage and family counselor and a licensed mental health counselor in New York state. He has regular office hours at Hutton and Greenstein Counseling Services, 501 E. Third St., Suite 2B, Jamestown, 484-7756. For more information or to suggest topics, email