Saturday, May 30, 2020

Psychiatric harm

I've mentioned before, when discussing the Royal College of Psychiatrists' views about antidepressant discontinuation problems (see previous post), that the College has not paid enough attention to adverse reactions to antidepressants and psychotropic medication in general. Fava & Ravanelli (2019) discuss psychological and behavioural iatrogenic effects of psychiatric medication.

These effects include: ''paradoxical' mood changes eg. increased anxiety with anxiolytics and worsening depression with antidepressants; 'pendular' mood changes eg. euphoria with antidepressants; tolerance and loss of treatment efficacy, dependence and withdrawal effects, which may be persistent; cognitive impairment and apathy. Frequency of such reactions varies enormously.

Fava & Ravanelli may not differentiate as clearly as I would like between the physiological and psychological/behavioural effects of taking medication. I've said before (see eg. previous post) that I find the oppositional tolerance model too speculative. I'm not saying adaptive changes do not take place at receptor levels but any behavioural effects of these changes are unclear. The brain's homeostatic mechanisms may in fact mask any behavioural effects of the adaptation of receptors to medication.

Dismissing iatrogenic side effects of psychotropic medication as trifling may well be unhelpful. In practice, the specific pharmacological action of a psychotropic drug in terms of its intended therapeutic action (eg. antidepressants intended to improve depressed mood; anxiolytics intended to treat anxiety) may in fact be very difficult to differentiate from side effects or even the general physiological effects of the drug. For traditional neuroleptic medication, for example, such as chlorpromazine, even though it is called antipsychotic medication, any apparent antipsychotic effect may be far less obvious than parkinsonism, which is called a side effect. Similarly, as another example, the gut effects of an SSRI antidepressant, even though generally short-lived and seen as side-effects, may be more obvious that any so-called antidepressant action. Furthermore, it is not always easy to decide whether an adverse reaction is caused physiologically, rather than psychologically, by the drug.

Besides prescribed harm, more generally, psychiatry, despite whatever good it may do on occasions, has always caused harm, including the abuse and neglect of people. For example, one of the main reasons traditional asylums were closed was because the conditions under which people were kept could be appalling and disgusting. Psychiatric practice may not always be very ethical (eg. see my book chapter). As I've kept saying in this blog, psychiatry has a tendency to reduce people to objects, and not treat them as people but things. I'm not saying psychiatry can't do good (see eg. previous post), but working alongside abuse and neglect in psychiatry, not just in its history, may not be easy (see eg. my article).

I, therefore, can understand the anger of the prescribed harm community in psychiatry. Some of them gain more support from each other online than from psychiatry. Psychiatry needs to engage properly with this issue and it's more than just an issue about antidepressant withdrawal (see previous post).

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

The Philadelphia Association: Meeting oneself in the other

I’ve previously (eg. see post) mentioned the Philadelphia Association (PA). Its first therapeutic community was the infamous Kingsley Hall (see another previous post). The PA still runs two community houses and provides a full psychotherapy course and other training. I did a review of Bruce Scott's book which presents the testimonies of 14 people who have lived in PA households. I’m very grateful to Miles Clapham for agreeing to do this guest post on the PA. 



“understanding meaning impinges on myself in the other...” Karl Jaspers1

At a Philadelphia Association open evening this May, a participant asked about the different theories favoured by different psychotherapy trainings: Kleinian, Freudian, Lacanian, and so on, wanting to know where the Philadelphia Association stood in relation to these ideas. A colleague replied with elegant simplicity that most psychoanalytic trainings ask you to see the client or patient through the lens of their favoured theory as the way to truly understand the position that person is caught in; in contrast at the Philadelphia Association we want to try and meet the person (of course seeing the person in front of you involves many complexities, and with or without theories we bring all sorts of expectations, prejudices, hopes and desires which may distort or influence the way any meeting may go). My response, not so elegant, was perception is part of the world, language is part of perception, and theories inform or regulate the language used and therefore our way of seeing or perceiving. What we want to do is to find, if there is such a thing, “wild perception”2, untutored perception, astonishment at the world and each other, to break out of captivation by our preformed ways of seeing. And somehow do psychotherapy with or within this way of being.

The Philadelphia Association was founded by R.D. Laing with others. Laing, who was an extraordinary person, wrote some extraordinary books, influenced many doctors to come into psychiatry, including myself, and influenced many to criticise psychiatry, including a number of psychiatrists. Arguably Laing was part of the large scale social critique that resulted in the eventual change in the law from the 1957 Mental Health Act to the 1983 Act, which gave many more rights to psychiatric patients than previously. The 2007 amendments to the Act took some of those rights away again, making it easier to justify detention for a ‘mental disorder’, a change that many psychiatrists opposed but was forced through regardless.

The Philadelphia Association started with the once famous/notorious ‘therapeutic community’ at Kingsley Hall in 1965, which has been much written about. A year or two later, led by Dr John Heaton, originally an ophthalmologist who became interested in perception and philosophy especially phenomenology, and trained as a psychoanalyst, the PA developed a psychotherapy training. The training was and is based in philosophy and psychoanalysis, particularly developing a phenomenological and existential critique of psychoanalytic approaches. The PA is now a locus for a critique of psychiatry and the many and various psychotherapies based in psychoanalysis and academic psychology, such as CBT. The ‘style’ of therapy offered is outside any simplistic divide between objectivity and subjectivity, inner world and outer world, mind and body, strongly opposing a scientistic world view in therapy that sees only the measurable as real.

The Philadelphia Association currently runs two houses in London for people struggling with life, and who may have been (this is not essential) through psychiatric services and therefore in some sense a survivor. These houses require people to self-refer, and then once invited by the residents, to attend at least one and sometimes more meetings with the house residents, along with the house therapists. One has to ‘find one’s way’ to the house, you cannot be referred by your community mental health or social care team, although that said social workers or community mental health teams may be involved in some way to encourage a person to look into the houses. The houses have therapists who conduct group meetings for the residents three times a week, and residents also need to have individual psychotherapy, often at a ‘low cost’ rate. This is mostly paid for through benefits, sometimes disability allowance. Residents may have paid employment, not organised through the house, and pay rent themselves. The houses are therefore not a drain on NHS or social care resources, and are amazingly cheap compared with more formal residential care ‘placements’ or inpatient care.

The house therapists do not participate in the Care Programme Approach (CPA), although some residents remain involved with their community mental health team. Some residents are on medication. When the PA was founded in 1965, there was an idea that residents would not have any psychiatric medication. There is still a debate about this, and certainly it is an option if someone is on medication that they can come off it while living in the house. If the person wanted medical oversight for this reduction or cessation of medication, this would need to be by a doctor outside the PA. Alternatively, the individual can take responsibility her or himself for this.

The houses are not set up to manage serious crises, although back in the day some people came in quite acute psychotic states and lots of those involved in the PA and the psychotherapy training would spend time, sometimes many hours, in the house with the person in crisis, to try and see them through without psychiatric intervention. It is fair to say this did not always work, although for others this was enough to allow them to manage their own journey. One example, the person concerned has written about this, was a young man who spent two years in his room, almost never coming out, at one point almost starving himself to death. There was huge concern in those around him about leaving him. Most psychiatric doctors, nurses and others would think this terrible neglect. Nevertheless, and while the PA would eschew measuring success as a return to social conformity, this young man did subsequently go to University and complete a higher degree.

The houses are therapeutic communities, in perhaps a minimalistic sense. There is no daily programme of activities, no occupational therapy, no particular routine other than the house meetings. The houses provide a safe living space, a community of others who have their own often difficult life journey, and there is no pressure to stay a quick few weeks or even few months and then leave and move on. The houses are a limited resource, as people may sometimes stay for 2-3 years, and movement from the house would be considered slow by other services. That said the houses tend to have vacancies. It is not always easy to find people who want to live in these interesting and quite difficult places. Because of the unstructured ‘referral’ process, and the PA houses being unorthodox and relatively unknown, there is not always a steady stream of applicants to live in them.

Some research has been done on outcomes, but the PA has not been good at organising research, nor has it wanted to particularly. The PA’s philosophical position is to eschew ascientific, objectifying approach, although there are good examples elsewhere of phenomenological research into other approaches to ‘mental illness’, in Europe and in Australia. The PA does not claim to be treating people’s ‘mental illnesses’, nor does it claim anything special, rather emphasising ordinary living. People may choose to come to the houses, live there for a while, and perhaps find a different direction for themselves in their life. Nothing is promised, nor could it be.

The same is true of the psychotherapy the PA tries to show a way towards. Therapy in our privileged society (for many but certainly not for all, and maybe for a lot less now) is often seen as a treatment for ‘mental illness’. With mental illness destigmatised especially for young people, many embrace a diagnosis - bipolar disorder is popular - as some sort of indication of self-awareness. We now expect solutions to life problems, happiness is a commodity we must have, CBT or mindfulness supposedly reshape our minds or thoughts so we are no longer anxious, depressed or in despair. There is perhaps a sense in our society, although this is not unique, that it is your social duty to get ‘sorted’ so you are not a burden – read cost – to others, and you can take your place in a commodity and consumer driven neo-liberal capitalist society, without worrying too much about the climate emergency or even Covid-19. Medication is a huge part of this as we know, many people expect targeted drugs, perhaps tailored to genetic or immunological differences, to rapidly rebalance their neurotransmitters and endorphins.

The PA takes a sceptical view towards theory and practice in psychotherapy. One of the main thinkers behind this scepticism was John Heaton. Heaton was for a long time, from an early member in 1965, until his death in 2017, one of the main intellectual figures in the PA. He was also one of the founders of the Guild of Psychotherapists, with Ben Churchill and Peter Lomas, who also took a critical view of psychoanalytic theory and practice. Laing, although radically criticising the psychiatry of his early years when heavy use of ECT and lobotomy were common, and patients often spent years incarcerated in psychiatric ‘bins’, was not so clear in his critique. Laing brought together the philosophy of Sartre and the existentialists, with psychoanalytic ideas, notably from Winnicott and the “Middle Group” at the Institute of Psychoanalysis. Heaton in contrast took psychoanalysis to task for reification and objectification of ideas such as the unconscious, projection, transference, but vitally our more general ideas about the ‘mind’, the nature of thinking or feeling, and what might count as psychotherapy and training in psychotherapy.

Heaton was a member of the British Phenomenology Society, and a regular attender and contributor to the annual Wittgenstein conference in Austria. He published several books including Wittgenstein and psychotherapy: From paradox to wonder and The talking cure, which explicate his thinking in relation to how we conceptualise and practice psychotherapy, very much influenced by the ‘therapeutic’ move in understanding Wittgenstein’s philosophy. Heaton comes to see therapy not as a rule based activity (not that anything goes) but a relationship in which someone is helped to make sense of her life in new ways perhaps freeing herself from a weight of fixed ideas and ways of perceiving things. Psychotherapy is not a technical process, but an exploration, and language, however at times difficult to find, is ordinary.

Importantly, especially in finding other ways of thinking about symptoms or the ‘unconscious’, Heaton emphasised, following Wittgenstein, that while psychoanalysts as well as neuroscientists might insist that ‘experience’ is private and mediated in the brain, many questions can be asked here. When it comes to making sense of ‘experience’ we depend on language which cannot sensibly be private, or just ‘in my head’. Wittgenstein, well before developments such as systemic family therapy or attachment theory, suggests that we learn to speak of our pain as children surrounded by adults who give us the words to use. Words at first are part of the expression of pain, and not a description, and replace crying or screaming, unless we are in extremis.

This distinction between language as expression, and language as description is missed in psychiatry, leading to deep confusion about the nature of so called ‘mental states’. Psychiatrists tend to assume there is some mental object, a mood, an hallucination, that must be accurately described, although mainly for diagnostic purposes. Currently in psychiatry, there is little attempt to understand what drives the torments, whether thoughts, voices, moods, although psychoanalysis, as well as Jaspers, traditionally has wanted and attempted to do just this. Psychiatry still distinguishes between the form and content of psychiatric symptoms for nosological purposes and orthodox psychiatrists are often very suspicious of the search for meaning in the terrifying experiences of those they are confronted by.

While Jaspers and Freud both set a limit on trying to understand psychosis, a phenomenological approach is exploratory but not dogmatic about what might be found. Interestingly, Roger Boyes, a Times journalist who experienced hallucinations after coming out of intensive care for Covid-19 (see article), apparently a common experience, talked of these as ‘his brain’ trying to make sense of what happens when you are so ill and in an induced coma for some time. Working with young people I have seen, sometimes at least, hallucinations disappear, not when made sense of directly, but when the young person makes sense of their often traumatic or abusive experiences in other ways. Hallucinations may be experienced when things don’t make sense; when language in some way reaches into someone’s experience, the hallucinations might fade away.  

We can ask therefore, what could psychiatry be like if it was recognised that there was no such thing as a ‘mental state’, certainly not the reified object it is taken to be, and that what patients need is to be able to express themselves, in whatever way comes to them? Art and music are vital ways of expression, whether or not they are part of a therapeutic method. Recognising this is important as children who were abused are often not given words by concerned adults to express their pain. The abusing adult more often insists on secrecy and silence. Hence the inchoate nature of someone’s pain that may end up being expressed through illness, of whatever kind. We now know that trauma is non-specific in its effects and can be part of ‘mental illnesses’, ‘physical illnesses’, the rather horribly named ‘medically unexplained symptoms', as well as for some a push to do extraordinary things. Finding expression through speech or in any other way is not necessarily a cure, there is no cure, but may allow some form of liberation.

Wittgenstein said the philosopher seeks to find the liberating word. Liberation itself is a word that leads to many domains, not least questions of race, gender and class. This is the subject for another blog, but having recently, in spite of ‘knowing’ about it before, woken up to the hidden ways racism works even when the protagonists are not overtly or deliberately racist, it needs acknowledgement. It is common knowledge that poverty is linked with poor health outcomes in all domains, it is also common knowledge that BAME people have more mental illness than white people and are imprisoned and hospitalised using the MHA more. That BAME people die more from Covid-19 is also linked. How do we talk about this knowing how painful it is, how difficult it is for BAME people to be constantly the whistleblower (whistleblowers are still more likely to be discriminated against, sacked from their jobs, and further persecuted in some way), how difficult for white people to acknowledge that even without intention our actions, social structures, regulations, stop and search or policing of social distancing can be racist?

Intersectionality3 is a broader way of thinking about people’s position than existentialism, which claims universality from a European context, showing that non-European value systems are equally valid, and making explicit how race, gender, class and sexuality interrelate in the subjectivity and position of people of colour. However the idea of situation in existentialism still has a lot to offer to psychiatry and psychotherapy in thinking about meaning, value and position. Sonia Kruks in Situation and human existence  discusses the social aspects of situation, mutuality and freedom. Alfred Kraus’ idea of a phenomenological-anthropological approach in psychiatry covering all aspects of the personal, social, cultural, meaning world of the subject derives in part from this idea of situation.4 We are not determined by our situation, freedom is fundamental, situation is however our starting point. Situation, and the meanings attached, move between or beyond notions of the inner world and particularly horrible, ‘external reality’. External to what? Another question is whether we can ‘transcend’ our situation by our own efforts, or do we require a revolution, a social movement, politics? Can psychotherapy address all of this? Whether we have the potential for change in relation to the areas considered by intersectionality, whether racism, sexism, ableism, class, not to mention the climate emergency, is at the heart of our current dilemmas.

The PA tries – what does this mean exactly? – to put all this in question: theory, position, situation, subjectivity, power structures. But there is a limit. And we are bodies, as Merleau-Ponty lets us know, and merely human. If we ‘meet’ in some sense, see each other, experience through our limited speech something of the terror we face, the hurt, the loss, our ‘thrownness’ into this world, our despair, our futility, our ravenous desires and destructiveness, our rage at the world and at death … is all this universal, cross cultural, beyond intersectionality? Doubtless not, but there is the necessity that we meet, and find ourselves not in isolation but in the face of, in the presence of the other.

1 Karl Jaspers quoted in Thomas Fuchs, Brain mythologies; Fuchs, Breyer and Mundt (eds) Karl Jaspers’ philosophy and psychopathology, Springer, 2014.
2 Maurice Merleau-Ponty, The Visible and the Invisible, Chapter 4 The Intertwining, the Chiasm. Northwestern University Press, 1968.
3 Patricia Hill Collins Intersectionality as critical social theory. Duke University Press, 2019
4 Alfred Kraus. How can the phenomenological-anthropological approach contribute to diagnosis and classification in psychiatry. Chapter 13 in Nature and narrative, eds Fulford, Morris, Sadler and Stangellini. OUP 2003


Miles Clapham is a phenomenological psychotherapist at private practice in psychotherapy and psychoanalysis, having retired as an NHS consultant child and adolescent psychiatrist. He trained with the Philadelphia Association in psychoanalytic psychotherapy and is a member of its training committee.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Antidepressants and suicidality

Plöderl et al (2020) have produced the most definitive commentary yet on whether antidepressants are associated with increased suicide risk. Interestingly a twitter conversation (so twitter can be useful after all!) helped to produce this consensus statement. Further analysis of the data would apparently be possible if the FDA made a large dataset publicly available (I’m not sure why it isn’t).

Plöderl et al’s cautious conclusion is that “the analyses consistently hint at an elevated risk for suicide attempts and, less reliably, also for suicides in cohorts of adults”. They suggest this is “remarkable for drugs that are used to treat depressive symptoms”.

I agree that whether antidepressants are associated with increased suicidal risk is an important issue. However, I am perhaps not as surprised if this is the case, as Plöderl et al seem to be.

Doctors do need to be cautious about prescribing antidepressants. It can be an identity-altering experience (see previous post). People react to taking antidepressants in a multitude of ways. For example, some people may feel that a doctor is not taking them seriously by trying to palm them off with antidepressants and this may trigger a suicide attempt. Okay, they may well have been at high risk of suicide anyway, but how the doctor reacts to their presentation may well matter. We may all wish for a simple, quick, cheap, painless and complete cure if we’re feeling desperate, but reality may actually be more complex.

So, I think we do need to be clear, if there is an increased suicidal risk with antidepressants (and the evidence seems to confirm that there is, perhaps particularly in the first few weeks after initiating treatment with antidepressants), that this is probably related to the act of prescribing for people who are feeling desperate. As far as I’m aware, there is no evidence that there is any direct effect of antidepressants on the brain, for example, that increases suicidality.

Thursday, May 07, 2020

Looking back at the birth of postpsychiatry

I'm very grateful to Brad Lewis for this guest post, following that from Pat Bracken and Phil Thomas, also on postpsychiatry (see previous post).


I appreciate Duncan’s request to consider how postpsychiatry has evolved in my mind since the writing of Moving beyond Prozac, DSM, and the new psychiatry: The birth of postpsychiatry (2006). The book, which came out the same year as Pat Bracken and Philip Thomas’s Postpsychiatry: Mental health in a postmodern world, was the product of my layering an interdisciplinary PhD in arts, humanities, and cultural studies in with my previous training in medicine and psychiatry. At the time, I was director of a psychiatric day program at George Washington University. The book was designed to cross-think the many paradoxes I saw in the simultaneous emergence of biopsychiatry on the medical side of campus and contemporary theory on the arts and humanities side of campus.

The 'theory' at issue was widely called 'postmodern theory' and it produced lots of excitement in the academy (which helps explain why my book and Bracken and Thomas’s book came out at the same moment). That said, however, the term 'postmodern' was already becoming hard to think with since it signaled both a hopeful move beyond problematic aspects of modern thought and at the same time a pessimistic concern over the rise of a neo-liberal/neo-colonial global order. I was attracted to the more hopeful side and I tried to make it serviceable for re-thinking psychiatry — especially since psychiatry is such a quintessentially modernist discourse and practice.

Zigmunt Bauman coined my favorite version of the hopeful side, which to me is still worth quoting today:
Postmodernity is modernity coming of age: modernity looking at itself at a distance rather than from the inside, making a full inventory of its gains and its losses, psychoanalyzing itself, discovering the intentions it never before spelled out, finding them mutually canceling and incongruous. Postmodernity is modernity coming to terms with its own impossibility; a self-monitoring modernity, one that consciously discards what it was unconsciously doing. 
Bauman’s both/and understanding of modernity fits also with my understanding and use of Foucault’s oeuvre over the years. Unlike Scull, at least as Duncan describes his thinking (see previous post), I do not see Foucault as for or against the Enlightenment. Such broad brush, ‘metanarrative’, judgements do not do justice to the complexity and contradiction contained within particular discursive communities. When you combine Foucault’s early work on madness with his later work on discursive practice, power dynamics, and cares of the self, what you get, as I read it, is much more of a process critique than a content critique. The critical edge of concern is about who gets included in knowledge making, who is excluded, why and how are these inclusions/exclusions made, who benefits from making knowledge one way verses another way, who is hurt, who cries out in pain and protest, and how much openness is there to diversity and multiplicity of knowledge practices, world views, ways of life, and various aesthetics of existence?

Longtime mad pride activist, Judi Chamberlin, beautifully captured the relevance for psychiatry of this kind of thinking when she protested the deeply problematic ways that George W. Bush was trying to reform the U.S. mental health system using primarily insider/expert perspectives. Judi Chamberlin, announcing that she was a “psychiatric survivor” and “an advocate” on consumer/survivor issues for more than thirty years”, pointed out:
A basic premise of the disability rights movement is simply this: Nothing About Us Without Us. The makeup of the Commission violates this basic principle. Just as women would not accept the legitimacy of a commission of “expert” men to define women’s needs, or ethnic and racial minorities would not accept a panel of “expert” white people to define their needs, we similarly see the Commission as basically irrelevant to our struggle to define our own needs. 
Chamberlin argued that Bush’s reform process lacked the “expertise on the consumer/survivor experience” as well as the “expertise of disability rights activists, those knowledgeable about the legal and civil rights of people diagnosed with mental illness, and experts in community integration”. As I see it, this work of inclusion and diversity around mental health and mental difference continues to this day.

My own efforts since the postpsychiatry book involve work in two separate dimensions: the personal and the political. At personal level, I’ve tried to help articulate a narrative approach to clinical care which respects and facilitates people’s efforts to story their mental difference in a diversity of ways. Much of that work was developed in Narrative psychiatry: How stories can shape clinical practice. At the cultural/political level, I’ve worked to help augment mad pride activists voices and to help imagine alternatives to mental difference beyond the usual pathologizing clinical options. Pathologizing options focus on what is bad or broken that needs to be fixed. Celebratory options emphasize what is good about mental difference rather than what is bad or broken about the difference. These celebratory approaches see the increased sensitivity and yearning at the heart of much difference as a good thing rather than a bad thing — or at least as having something quite good mixed in with the bad and/or difficult. How can sensitivity and yearning be good? Because we want our political, spiritual and aesthetic leaders to be sensitive to the possibility that we could do better and, rather than simply take their medicine or see their shrink to dampen their sensitivity and yearning, we want to hear their perspectives and the possibilities these could be feedback to creating a better world. For samples of this kind of thinking, one might look at an article I wrote ‘A deep ethics for mental difference and disability: The ‘case’ of van Gogh’, and one I participated in ‘Mad resistance/mad alternatives: Democratizing mental health care’.

To me this ongoing work is still in the basic realm of postpsychiatry as it was initially outlined in both my book and in Bracken and Thomas’ version. The demand on thinking for people in psychiatry concerned with mental health and mental difference continues to be helping modern clinical care accomplish the on-going task that Bauman articulates for modernity writ large. Whether we call it “postpsychiatry” or not is less relevant.  


Bradley Lewis is associate professor at New York University's Gallantin School of Individualized Study. He is the author of Moving beyond Prozac, DSM, and the new psychiatry (2006), Narrative psychiatry: How stories can shape clinical encounters (2011) and Depression: Integrating science, humanities, and culture (2011). See his list of papers and books.

Wednesday, May 06, 2020

Enactive psychiatry makes the biopsychosocial model explicit

I said in a previous post that I was not convinced that Sanneke de Haan was correct that Engel’s biopsychosocial (BPS) model does not do justice to subjective experience. In her book, Enactive psychiatry, she does accept that “the way in which patients evaluatively relate to their disorder and their situation in general is implicit in the psychological aspect [of the BPS model]”.

She also notes that Engel “draws on general system theory (GST) as developed by von Bertalanffy“, although as I pointed out in in my article, what Engel actually said was that GST “provided a suitable conceptual basis” for his BPS model. As I wrote,
[A]n integrated biopsychosocial approach is not specifically dependent on systems theory, as evidenced by the psychobiology of Adolf Meyer. In Meyer’s understanding of science, there is a hierarchical relation of the disciplines with the lower or simpler categories being pertinent to, but not explanatory for, higher or more complex categories. This is comparable to systems theory, but Meyer made no attempt to create an overarching theory as in general systems theory. Von Bertalanffy ...  himself recognized that there had been many systems-theoretical developments in psychiatry that could be traced to Meyer and others, similar but separate from general systems theory itself.

Sanneke de Haan also says that the BPS model is "vague when it comes to explicating the precise nature of the interactions” between the separate aspects of biological, psychological and social. Again, I’m not sure if this is a specific fault of Engel’s model as such, although as I’ve said multiple times previously (eg. see previous post), the BPS model is now commonly wrongly interpreted in an eclectic way in modern psychiatry. I do accept, therefore, that a more explicit integrative model would be beneficial to help us to move on from the current eclecticism.

The enactive model may well be such an approach. There may even be overlap with what David Pilgrim has been doing applying critical realism to psychology and psychiatry (see previous post and recent book). An advantage of enactivism is its specific focus on the biological, viewing the brain as an organ of a living being in its environment. As Thomas Fuchs said (see last post), "An ecological neurobiology is ... obliged to draw on the integrated approaches of dynamic systems theory, psychology, cultural studies, and philosophy."

To quote from Sanneke de Haan, "we cannot understand cognition in isolation from the bodily being that is doing the cognising, nor from the environment that it is directed at". And again, "Instead of presupposing a gap between mind and world, enactivists argue that organism and world are dynamically coupled". Actually, I think both Meyer (see another previous post) and Engel had this "biological" emphasis, but restating it specifically, I think, does create a valuable new focus for critical psychiatry.

Tuesday, May 05, 2020

Ecology of the brain

It's a while since I've strung together tweets of quotes or amended quotes I've made from a book to summarise it (see eg. previous post). I do think Ecology of the brain (2017) by Thomas Fuchs is an important book, so here goes:-

A good place to start is:-
The brain can only be adequately understood as an organ of a living being in its environment. April 23, 2020
There are limits to trying to understand human action in terms of the brain:-
The brain cannot read or write, it cannot dance or play the piano, and so on. Thus, I am rather glad not to be my brain, but to only have it. April 23, 2020
That doesn't mean that neurobiology is not important; nor that the explanation of human action is merely in terms of the psychosocial.
Neurobiology and all other sciences emerge as a specialist form of human practice originating in the lifeworld, yet without ever gaining a position outside of it. The familiar world of everyday experience in which we coexist with others remains our primary and actual reality. April 17, 2020
A personalistic perception of the human being does not mean a rejection or devaluation of the naturalistic attitude as such. May 5, 2020
The reason that we need a personalistic perception is that:-
In a world without subjective experience there are no longer signs, nor symbols or information, representations or meta-representations, meaning or sense. April 23, 2020
Reflecting, feeling, wanting, and deciding—none of these can be found at the physiological level of description because these concepts do not exist there at all. April 23, 2020
What could be explained about people if one only described monotonous, electrochemical processes on their neuronal membranes? April 23, 2020  
Furthermore:-
Neuronal processes are vehicles of meaning making and merely part of over-arching life processes that include the organism as a whole and its environment. The definition of mental disorder depends on subjective and cultural factors that fall outside the domain of natural science. May 5, 2020
And:-
Seen in isolation, the brain is merely a fragment; however, in the context of the organism and its environment it can become a mediator for relational and intentional processes. May 5, 2020
The brain is embedded in relational phenomena, yet it can only mediate them and not produce their meaning. May 5, 2020
The brain is a socially and historically shaped organ, whose functions of transformation and pattern formation enable biographical experiences to be turned into permanent dispositions and capacities. May 5, 2020
We need to have both naturalistic and personalistic attitudes:-
It is erroneous to identify brain with human subject and to look inside for what makes up the person. Human persons have brains, but they are not brains. We have no other choice but to refer to ourselves as animate, embodied beings in 2 kinds of speech of lived and physical body. May 5, 2020
The dual aspect of the human person corresponds to two basically different attitudes: namely, those we can adopt towards ourselves, and those in relation to others. We described these as personalistic or naturalistic attitudes. May 5, 2020
As I've said before (eg. see previous post) referring to Kant, the mind-brain problem is an enigma that can never be solved.
A person’s "eccentric positionality" (from Plessner) ie. the ability to adopt a reflective position in relation to himself as well as his bodily existence, means a person can never get behind his perceiving body. His self-relationship remains irreducibly ambiguous. May 5, 2020
People not only live, but they lead their life, and in this way they also form themselves. The brain is involved in these circular structures as an organ of mediation and relationships and as an organ of the human person. May 5, 2020
There needs to be new approach to mental health research, as suggested by Wellcome (see previous post).
Attempt at “localization of the mind” through research into brain activities represents no future-oriented research program. An ecological neurobiology is rather obliged to draw on the integrated approaches of dynamic systems theory, psychology, cultural studies, and philosophy. May 5, 2020
The final sentence in the book is:-
We are not the figments of our brains, but human persons in the flesh. May 5, 2020

Monday, May 04, 2020

Psychosomatic symptoms as particularising of physical dysfunction

Thomas Fuchs in his Ecology of the brain emphasises how the entire organism is a “resonance body” for experience. For example, feeling ashamed and afraid are “integral acts of life that equally involve intentional, emotional and bodily components”. Shame or fear emerge from an experience of the current situation provoking an autonomous organismic reaction.

If the physiological aspects of these reactions become withdrawn from their former integration in superordinate emotions, they can take on an independent existence as particularised physical dysfunctions. They may have originally had an expressive or activating function for coping with certain situations, but if removed from superordinate control and regulatory feedback, they can present as psychosomatic symptoms.