The lure of ‘cool’ brain research is stifling psychotherapy | Aeon Ideas

‘There is always a well-known solution to every human problem – neat, plausible, and wrong.’
From Prejudices (1920) by H L Mencken
There has never been a problem facing mankind more complex than understanding our own human nature. And no shortage of neat, plausible and wrong answers purporting to plumb its depths.

Having treated many thousands of psychiatric patients in my career, and having worked on the American Psychiatric Association’s efforts to classify psychiatric symptoms (published as the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM-IV and DSM-5), I can affirm confidently that there are no neat answers in psychiatry. The best we can do is embrace an ecumenical four-dimensional model that includes all possible contributors to human functioning: the biological, the psychological, the social, and the spiritual. Reducing people to just one element – their brain functioning, or their psychological tendencies, or their social context, or their struggle for meaning – results in a flat, distorted image that leaves out more than it can capture.

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) was established in 1949 by the federal government in the United States with the practical goal of providing ‘an objective, thorough, nationwide analysis and reevaluation of the human and economic problems of mental health’. Until 30 years ago, the NIMH appreciated the need for this well-rounded approach, and maintained a balanced research budget that covered an extraordinarily wide range of topics and techniques.
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