There is a popular narrative about the history of psychoanalysis and schizophrenia; that it involved little more than the invocation of schizophrenogenic parents and equated to victim blaming. This version of history is sometimes raised to engender doubts about any psychological theorizing in this area and shut it down. It’s intellectually healthy to raise such doubts. Contemporary psychoanalysts - worried about repeating historical mistakes - have grappled with them too. Here is an excellent essay, by a psychoanalyst warning his colleagues to heed the "cautionary tale" of the schizophrenogenic mother theory.
But historical reality is more nuanced than the narrative that runs "psychoanalytic theory bad; biomedical revolution good": Frieda Fromm-Reichmann’s “schizophrenogenic mother” idea has come to symbolise the theoretical chauvinism of the age, but her legacy is more complex. She didn’t focus on aetiology as much as on therapy. Her heroic efforts are documented in Gail Hornstein’s fantastic biography.
More overtly anti-mother was the work of Theodore Lidz, who devoted a large part of his career to studying the dynamics of families of those diagnosed with schizophrenia. His descriptions of two schizophrenia-creating family patterns (skewed families locate all of the power in one parent while schismatic families split it between them in a perplexing civil war) contain toe-curlingly misogynistic descriptions of mothers. These ideas stuck around a long time. As late as 1994 the notion of schizophrenogenic parenting was still doggedly advocated by some authors, with no attention to the idea’s serious evidential shortcomings.
But there was a more subtle and integrative idea at large during the psychoanalytic heydey of American Psychiatry. Sandor Rado was a peculiar figure in American psychoanalysis. Although an elder statesman of the field (he had known Freud well and was selected by him to edit two early psychoanalytic journals), he was cast out from the orthodox New York Psychoanalytic Society for his belief that psychoanalytic knowledge could not be separated from a sound understanding of neurology and genetics. “I believe that the influence of genetics, especially biochemical genetics, is going to be so enormous that it would be bootless to try to outline it.” Rado once said (see page 141 in this)
Rado coined a term that has become ubiquitous in modern academic psychiatry: schizotype. This portmanteau (a collapsing of “schizophrenic genotype”) was used to designate an individual genetically vulnerable to a psychotic decompensation. For Rado (who outlined his ideas in a 1953 paper) a psychotic breakdown represented a combination of this genetic predisposition and the very human process of adapting to the world in light of that predisposition. Although highly speculative and somewhat vaguely couched, Rado’s paper on schizotypy is notable for its almost Laingian level of phenomenological detail. His ideas about the relationship between the constitutional factor (an “integrative pleasure deficit”) and the dynamic contents of the mind were supposed to be the start of a serious mind-body theory of psychosis. But it wasn’t to be.
Although some theorists took note (Paul Meehl brought the concept to academic clinical psychology where it slowly began to gain traction), American psychoanalysis at the time - which is virtually to say American psychiatry at the time - entirely ignored Rado’s idea. In fact “ignored” might be too suggestive of indifference.Some have gone so far as to suggest that Rado’s influence on psychiatry was repressed: “Rado and his collaborators were shunted out of the mainstream psychoanalytic journals and largely vanished from even their references and citations” (p.975 here). Instead American psychoanalysis became committed to ever more dogmatic assertions of the role of parenting in the development of schizophrenia. It's tantalizing to imagine how different it could have been.