Friday, August 20, 2021

Enactivism can help clarify Engel’s biopsychosocial model

As I’ve said before (see previous post), I think Engel’s biopsychosocial (BPS) model can be made more explicit by utilising enactivism. My last post argued that Engel’s BPS model needs revitalising. Enactivism may be a way to do so. As Sanneke de Haan says in a recent paper, “Just like the BPS model, an enactive approach argues for a holistic conception of psychiatric disorder”. I also agree with her that “enactivism offers a [more] coherent account of how physiological, psychological, and social processes relate” than does Engel’s model on its own. People have been able to wrongly claim that they are adopting the BPS model, when in fact they have been using it in a eclectic way that does not spell out how the biological and psychosocial connect to each other (eg. see previous post).

I’m not sure if I agree with Sanneke that “Questions about causality are questions about ontology”. As I said in my article, I think anti-reductionism is primarily explanatory rather than ontological. What’s needed is a new epistemology (see previous post). Still, enactivism’s focus on the ‘life-mind-continuity thesis’ is helpful. As I keep emphasising (eg. see previous post), organisms, unlike machines, are self-organising and self-reproducing systems. Sanneke’s enactive psychiatry sees psychiatric disorders as abnormal sense-making (see previous post). Causes are non-linear when complex organisms are understood in a dynamic way (see another previous post). How living wholes cause their parts is actually unknowable to us (see yet another previous post). Cognition is more than mere information processing, as it is embodied in the brain and the body more generally and embedded in the environment, which is social and cultural, affording various possibilities of action to the organism (see my article). For psychiatry to continue to use a biology which sees mental illness as a static entity rather than a dynamic process is outdated. Enactivism may well help psychiatry to move on to a more relational mental health practice.

(With thanks to an MIA blog post by Micah Ingle)

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