Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Neurobiological buzzword

Another borrowed post from a worthwhile blog. If we really knew what were are doing we would be getting
better outcomes.

The whole article can be read at:

Thoughts & reflections on psychiatry 

Psychiatric uncertainty and the neurobiological buzzword

by Steven P Reidbord MD

April 17th, 2014

A few years ago I wrote that uncertainty is inevitable in psychiatry.  We literally don’t know the pathogenesis of any psychiatric disorder.  Historically, when the etiology of abnormal behavior became known, the disease was no longer considered psychiatric.  Thus, neurosyphilis and myxedema went to internal medicine; seizures, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, and many other formerly psychiatric conditions went to neurology; brain tumors and hemorrhages went to neurosurgery; and so forth.  This leaves psychiatry with the remainder: all the behavioral conditions of unknown etiology.  Looking to the future, my fervent hope that researchers will soon discover causes and definitive cures for schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and other psychiatric disorders comes with the expectation that these conditions will then leave psychiatry for other specialties.  We will always deal with what is left.  At minimum we psychiatrists should accept this reality about our chosen field.  After all, there appears to be no alternative.  Some of us go beyond this to embrace uncertainty as intellectually attractive.  We like that the field is unsettled, in flux, alive.
Yet many of us clutch at illusory certainty.  Decades ago, psychoanalysis purportedly held the keys to unlock the mysteries of the mind.  It later lost favor when many conditions, particularly the most severe, were unaffected by this lengthy, expensive treatment.  Now the buzzword is that psychiatric disorders are “neurobiological.”  This is said in a tone that implies we know more than we do, that we understand psychiatric etiology.  It’s a bluff.
Patients are told they suffer a “chemical imbalance” in the brain, when none has ever been shown.  Rapid advances in brain imaging and genetics have yielded an avalanche of findings that may well bring us closer to understanding the causes of mental disorders.  But they haven’t done so yet — a sad fact obscured by popular and professional rhetoric.  In particular, functional brain imaging (e.g., fMRI) fascinates brain scientists and the public alike.  We can now see, in dramatic three-dimensional colorful computer graphics, how different regions of the living brain “light up,” that is, vary in metabolic activity.  Population studies reveal systematic differences in patients with specific psychiatric disorders as compared to normals.  Don’t such images prove that psychiatric disorders are neurobiological brain diseases?

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