Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Smokescreen about the origins of psychosis

I said in a previous post that it was illogical to interpret an association between cigarette smoking and psychosis as causal, but this hasn't stopped Gage & Munafo in correspondence in Lancet Psychiatry trying. This publication was rushed through online first, presumably because the journal thinks it is potentially important. It follows a comment in the same journal by Fergusson et al published this month

As the correspondence authors say, "Of course, these data alone are not definitive". To reiterate, as they also said in a previous Lancet Psychiatry comment, "Although evidence of a causal effect of cigarette smoking on schizophrenia risk is consistent, it is certainly not definitive".

Please tell me why cigarette smoking can't be a proxy measure for poor premorbid adjustment associated with psychosis! Are people so blind to the psychosocial origins of psychosis that we have to be led down such aberrant research alleys? There seems to be a more fundamental need for revising our understanding of the psychosocial origins of psychosis than speculating wrongly about whether cigarette smoking causes psychosis.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Patient-centred psychiatry

I was pleased to hear from Anna Ludvigsen that the Royal College of Psychiatrists has a scoping group to look at how to make training more patient-centred. Believe it or not, medicine hasn't always been patient-centred. Historically, clinical training has emphasised a doctor-centred or disease-centred approach, which involves diagnosing the patient's disease and prescribing a management plan appropriate to the diagnosis. A patient-centred approach is designed to attain an understanding of the patient as well as the disease.

Patient-centred medicine is based on the University of Western Ontario method (Levenstein et al 1986, Stewart et al 2003). It is not technology-centred, doctor-centred, hospital-centred or disease-centred. Instead, it explores patients' main reasons for consultation, their concerns and their need for information. It seeks an integrated understanding of the whole person, including emotional needs and life issues. It finds common ground with patients on what the problem is and mutually agrees about how to manage the problem. Its focus encourages prevention and health promotion. It also emphasises the continuing relationship between the patient and the doctor. It provides a realistic and effective use of time in the consultation. It also has to be sensitive to context as, for example, an acutely ill patient may require more focus on disease. It also has to be sensitive to patient preference as, for example, some patients may require more information than others.

The approach may well have its origins with Michael and Enid Balint, both psychoanalysts, who began work in the 1950s to help general practitioners reach a better understanding of the emotional content of the doctor patient-relationship. and so improve their therapeutic potential (see UK Balint Society). Patient-centredness may be a poorly understood concept. Doctors vary in the degree to which their practice is patient-centred, although on the whole most doctors provide patients with partially patient-centred care.

Critical psychiatry is the application of the patient-centred method in psychiatry. Inherently it is a challenge to biomedical psychiatry. In my publications, I have tried to emphasise how it restates the conceptual position of Adolf Meyer and George Engel (eg. see my article).

Sunday, July 05, 2015

Need to integrate mental and brain activities

Following my previous post, Ed Pinkney @mwproject sent a tweet asking me to elaborate on what I meant by the "need to integrate mental and brain activities" and I said I would. Psychiatry functions within the mind-brain philosophical problem. Psychiatrists don't need to be philosophers but they do need to realise there's an issue in this respect.

Nineteenth century medicine developed on the basis of the anatomoclinical method, which recognised disease as having a bodily pathological origin. Psychiatry didn't quite fit with this, although it was recognised that dementia paralytica was a late consequence of syphilis, senile dementia had a physical cause such as Alzheimer's disease, that there could be focal abnormalities in the brain and that learning disability could also have physical causes (eg. see my book chapter). However, most psychiatric illnesses are functional, in the sense that there are no structural abnormalities in the brain.

As this is the case, how should psychiatry be practiced? All medicine should be patient-centred. The danger is that if doctors focus on disease, they may be distracted from dealing with the ill person. There may actually be some self-protective element in this, considering the emotional consequences of dealing with the suffering of patients, but ultimately medical training is about learning to focus on the ill person. This situation is even more prominent in psychiatry, as the symptoms and signs that patients have are part of them as people rather than due to a structural abnormality in the brain. Don't misunderstand me! Of course, the thoughts, feelings and behaviour of people who are not mentally ill are due to their brain. We have an integrated understanding of their mental and brain activities. In the same way, we should have an integrated understanding of the mental and brain activities of people who are mentally ill.

Saturday, July 04, 2015

Biopsychosocial formulation

There is an article in Lancet Psychiatry about rethinking biosychosocial formulation. I think the article is a little unfair on George Engel but I do understand what it means about the eclectic way in which the biopsychosocial model is implemented. It wasn't how Engel meant it to work to encourage "students to think about the patient from three different perspectives, rather than beginning with the premise that everything that happens to the patient is biological". This comment also reminds me of the emphasis of Susan Lamb in her book on Adolf Meyer (see previous post). What's needed is to integrate mental and brain activities.

The describe/review/link model may well help us to move on from the eclecticism of modern psychiatry for which this mistaken implementation of the biopsychosocial model may be blamed (see my review of Nassir Ghaemi's book and his response). I agree with the authors of the article about the importance of formulation (eg. see previous post).

Friday, July 03, 2015

Psychiatry's 'nemesis'

I don't want to make a habit of commenting on trainees' articles when they get them published in Royal College of Psychiatrists' journals (see previous posts - Neurology-psychiatry integration and Being explicit about the nature of mental illness), but I just wanted to pick up a comment from Helen Henfrey in her recent BJPsych editorial. She suggests that, "Psychiatry is unique among other specialties in that it has its own ‘nemesis’ in the form of the ‘antipsychiatry movement’". True, she has put the word 'nemesis' in inverted commas. Psychiatry in fact needs to be critical and I think it would help recruitment to psychiatry, which is what her article is about, if it engaged with anti-psychiatry.

If anti-psychiatry is psychiatry's nemesis, it is partly psychiatry's creation by including RD Laing and Thomas Szasz within its remit (eg. see my book chapter). Of course there are people that want to abolish psychiatry. Laing and Szasz were legitimate psychiatrists in challenging the biomedical model of mental illness (eg. see previous post on Szsaz). I've commented before (eg. see previous post) that recruitment to psychiatry would be improved by encouraging debate about the basis of psychiatry. Helen Henfrey shouldn't be frightened of conflict with so-called anti-psychiatry. Psychiatry by its very nature is conflictual and that's part of its attraction as a career.

Thursday, July 02, 2015

Do psychiatric medications correct a chemical abnormality in the brain?

I don't think David Taylor, Director of Pharmacy and Pathology, South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust & Professor of Psychopharmacology, King's College, London can be a prescriber. This may be why, in his BJPsych Advances article, he suggests that psychiatrists don't infer that people with a diagnosis of schizophrenia need antipsychotics to block a surfeit of dopamine. If so, why is this what some psychiatrists tell patients? Medical students may even be taught to explain to patients that this is the reason they need antipsychotics. Perhaps Taylor needs to be more explicit that psychiatrists are wrong to tell people that medications correct a chemical imbalance and, if he does some medical student examining, mark students wrong when they suggest this.

I do agree with him that, "Rarely is there any certainty about [psychiatric] diagnosis". I think psychiatrists will still regard quetiapine as something to do with dopamine by calling it a dopamine multifunctional receptor antagonist (DAmF-RAn). They will just believe that they can use it for more conditions besides schizophrenia. I accept that the rationale for psychiatric prescribing is often not properly thought through (eg. see previous post).

Framing the model of drug action as drug-centred rather than disease-centred is primarily a critique of the biomedical model (eg. see my book review). It emphasises the non-specific effects of medication. I suspect that Taylor still thinks psychiatric medications correct a chemical abnormality in the brain. In that sense, he is not drug-centred, even disease-centred. What he means is that he doesn't accept simplistic hypotheses of biochemical imbalance. All well and good, but the critique of the biomedical model is more fundamental. There may be no difference between the chemical processes underlying mental illness and our "normal" behaviour.