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Psychologists care less when patients’ problems are explained in biological terms

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Here at Research Dialogue: Blogging on Brain and Behaviour,

The idea that mental illness is related to brain abnormalities or other biological factors is popular among some patients; they say it demystifies their experiences and lends legitimacy to their symptoms. However, studies show that biological explanations can increase mental health stigma, encouraging the public perception that people with mental illness are essentially different, and that their problems are permanent. Now Matthew Lebowitz and Woo-young Ahn have published new evidence that suggests biological explanations of mental illness reduce the empathy that mental health professionals feel towards patients.

Over two hundred psychologists, psychiatrists and social workers were presented with vignettes of patients with conditions such as social phobia, depression or schizophrenia. Crucially, some of these vignettes were accompanied by purely biological explanations focused on factors like genes and brain chemistry, while other vignettes were accompanied by psychosocial explanations, such as a history of bullying or bereavement. … More.

I’ve noticed that myself. Purely brain-based explanations inevitably dehumanize. The big problem is, they give us implicit permission to avoid emotional involvement. People don’t believe the whole person exists any more, so they don’t visit. Neurological illness begins to appear like a prison where the prisoner no longer exists.

We care what people think and feel. No one cares what neurons or synapses “think” or “feel.”

Yet the prisoner does exist. See:There is a country for old men,

Also: What great physicists have said about immateriality and consciousness

and The human mind

File under: Trends in medicine that bode no good. – O’Leary for News.

Hat tip: Stephanie West Allen at Brains on Purpose

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3 Replies to “Psychologists care less when patients’ problems are explained in biological terms

  1. 1
    Jim Smith says:

    Biological explanation take the blame off the patient and that part of it is good.

  2. 2
    Learned Hand says:

    Interesting! Don’t think I would have seen this otherwise–the UD news desk scores a point.

  3. 3
    Robert Byers says:

    What is biological concerning the head? What isn’t?
    Its all biological unless they mean spiritual.
    I guess its about whether the free will can affect things.
    All brain problems, I say, are simply problems with the triggering mechanism for the memory.
    this is very affected by our free will and also not.
    Rather then do dumb studies on empathy they should be doing studies on healing.
    One needs better people in these things after all.

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