Saturday, January 08, 2011

Opportunities and threats for psychiatry

In an e-interview in The Psychiatrist, John G. Csernansky was asked what he saw as the most promising opportunity facing the psychiatric profession and what he saw as the greatest threat. He said the most promising opportunity was the introduction of new knowledge about neuroscience into the practice of psychiatry. The greatest threat was that the public has become impatient with the lack of progress of biomedical research and may begin to withdraw its support for it.

Psychiatry has seen itself on the verge of neuroscientific breakthrough ever since its modern origins over 150 years ago. We are no nearer being "finally on the threshold of knowing enough to develop reasonable models of the pathophysiology of neuropsychiatric diseases and how to treat them", as Csernansky believes, than we were then. It's not so much that the public has become impatient with the lack of progress but that there needs to be a conceptual shift in understanding. The reason progress hasn't been made in biomedical research is that it is "barking up the wrong tree". The sorts of neurobiological processes underlying mental disorder may be no different from the basis of our "normal" thinking, feelings and behaviour.

By the way, when Csernansky was asked what single change would substantially improve quality of care, he said simplification of how we pay for mental healthcare. This is just at the time when the UK government is reforming health care (eg. see my personal blog entry), which will lead to the introduction of a mental health tariff based on clusters of patients which people don't, at least currently, understand. Still, it will be possible to undercut the national tariff, so maybe the new clustering system will never get off the ground. Anyway, the introduction of a tariff complicates block contract arrangements which we have got used to in the NHS and there is a lack of evidence that this change will lead to an improvement in services.


Oliver said...

I agree 100%.

It's as if we're still trying to find ways to turn lead into gold, and believing that "any day" alchemists will finally make the "breakthrough" we've all been waiting/hoping for.

Carl said...

Over time, we start believing these inclinations and fears are part of who we are part of what Firman and Gila call our authentic personality but in fact they're part of an artificial survival personality we created to make sure we get our parents' approval. Another example is planning. Knowing why involves themes of individual motivation, the construction of personal meaning and identification. shower, clean your nails and your shoes.