The Current Convergence of Psychology and Neuroscience…
When a patient talks with a psychological therapist, what changes occur in the patient’s brain that relieve mental disorders? UCLA psychology professor Michelle Craske says the honest answer is that we don’t know. But, according to Craske and two colleagues, we need to find out.
Mental health disorders — such as depression, schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive–compulsive disorder and eating disorders — affect 1 in 4 people worldwide. Psychological treatments “hold the strongest evidence base for addressing many such conditions," but they need improvement, according to a study by Craske, Cambridge University professor Emily Holmes and MIT professor Ann Graybiel.
Their article was published online July 16 in the journal Nature.
For some conditions, such as bipolar disorder, psychological treatments are not effective or are in their infancy, the life scientists report, and a “culture gap” between neuroscientists and clinical scientists has hindered the progress of mental health treatments. The authors call on scientists from both disciplines to work together to advance the understanding and treatment of psychological disorders.
Psychological treatments, they say, have not benefitted much from the dramatic advances neuroscience has made in understanding emotions and behavior. The reason may be that neuroscientists and clinical scientists “meet infrequently, rarely work together, read different journals, and know relatively little of each other’s needs and discoveries,” write Craske, a faculty member in the UCLA College, and her colleagues.
The authors advocate steps for closing the culture gap: First, uncover the mechanisms of existing psychological treatments. There is, they note, a very effective behavioral technique for phobias and anxiety disorders called exposure therapy; patients learn that what they fear is not as harmful as they think, and their fears are greatly reduced by the repeated presence of the object of their fear.
Second, the paper states, neuroscience is providing “unprecedented” insights that can relieve dysfunctional behavior — practitioners can use those insights to create new and improved psychological treatments. Third, the authors urge, the next generation of clinical scientists and neuroscientists should work more closely together. They propose a new umbrella discipline they call “mental health science” to marry the benefits of both disciplines.
“There is enormous promise,” they conclude. “Psychological treatments are a lifeline to so many — and could be to so many more.”
[Illustration by Harry Campbell for The Chronicle Review]
Source: UCLA Newsroom
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I had this article queued up for awhile, and in the wake of Robin Williams’ death - and during an era where we’re amidst a significant growth curve regarding our past-to-present understanding of the brain as the result of progress through neuroscience - I simply wanted to add to the above article, in stating:
This is an extremely important issue and a clear window into our ignorance (lack of understanding) of the brain. I have an anxiety disorder and manic depression. It wasn’t until I pursued behavioral counseling that I was made aware that I had been experiencing this for an undocumented period of my life.
Note: There’s already a field which serves as an umbrella discipline and hybridization of psychology and neuroscience; it’s called cognitive neuroscience.
I’m not “over it” nor am I “cured.” Through behavioral therapy and a psychological evaluation (it’s quite fun and interesting by the way), I gained insight on moment-by-moment tendencies and triggers, which aided in the increased awareness of passive aggressive behavior, irritability, mood swings, my diet, emotional fragility regarding subject matter…all (generally) illuminated through conversation with a psychologist.
If there was one thing I had to overcome initially, it was my own skepticism regarding his professional background/experience, denial of my “control” over my own physiology, and above all, to recognize that I was only going to gain insight into my own mental health - and how to proceed with my life - if I let go of all preconceived pessimism regarding being “treated like a number” or “put in a box” and “under the microscope” so to speak.
Through behavioral therapy, I had to get comfortable with devoting time toward discussing myself. Instead of being backed into a corner, interrogated with an accompanying spotlight, I gradually begun to step away from the puzzle altogether. Upon doing so, I gradually began to identify the exterior framework, revealing the pieces necessary to put it together. I knew it would take some time and that the pieces wouldn’t simply fall together themselves. I broke down a lot in the beginning, as if I was trying to construct the puzzle in a room with a flickering light. Coming along further with the puzzle, I realized quickly that I wouldn’t be defined by my efficiency in putting it all together, just as someone with a mental illness doesn’t define themselves as “bipolar” or “schizophrenic.” The feeling of accomplishment I experienced wasn’t in constructing the puzzle, it was the recognition and respect I personally gained by devoting myself to intelligent direction.
There’s still so much we don’t understand about the brain and its complexity, but we’re on an exponential growth curve of science and technology unmatched throughout all of human history. Subsequent generations will be delivered from mental illness with far superior and efficient methods of treatment. Essentially, the complications we are dealing with now will be - in the simplest terms - switched off, disabled - through key developments in neuroscience research currently being undertaken around the world.
Note: The projects toward brain research are as exploratory and vital for neuroscience as was the Apollo program during the Space Race between the US and Soviet Union.
Due to interest and study of neuroscience/psychology throughout my life well before behavioral therapy, I’m fully confident my own scientific literacy going into therapy greatly strengthened my ability to not only rationalize myself out of anxiety attacks through logic and respect for the human brain, but also provided further intrigue into my own mental health. It’s like seeing through a telescope for the first time; I’ll never be able to look at our home star, this planet, or the night sky, the same way again. Similarly, I’ll never be able to look at another human being the same way again.
We are all unique individual human beings - amidst a world brimming with biodiversity and complexity - whereby we’re still in the midst of an evolutionary transformation being fueled by our curiosity. Our universe, ourselves…it/we emerged from the dark. Through our curiosity, we’ve illuminated much of what we know, and we’re still in the “dark period” of the cosmological time scale. However, we’ve grown comfortable here. Instead of cowering back into the mental cave of ignorance, we’ve pushed forward, asked more questions, and discovered so much more about ourselves. Yet, the biological machine that has permitted our questions to be asked still has answers to reveal about itself.
What we reveal about ourselves should not frighten us. The reason we’ve feared our own perceived idiosyncrasies and biological blemishes is due specifically to the way those around us have reacted due, in fact, to their own scientific illiteracy and frankly, ignorance of themselves.
Whatever is revealed about ourselves regarding one’s mental health should embolden us to talk about them. It’s difficult. I grapple with depression and anxiety like a psychological tug of war. But the passion I have for scientific inquiry and exploration have contributed greatly to further appreciate the complexity of our brains, the magnificent time scale its taken to permit my existence, and how much more I wish to know, if not only to appreciate the existence of life in the universe more so, but to pay it forward to the next generation and beyond.
This world is small from the outside, but from the inside, down here, we’re 7+ billion strong, and we each do not possess a human brain…it possesses us. We don’t use a computer or smart phone, we respect it’s complexity and learn to utilize it’s processing power to our advantage. We will transition from a species brought forth through evolution by natural selection, to evolution by intelligent direction. However, this effort will take all of us. As we trek through this continued dark time of uncertainty regarding the effective treatment/therapy with respect to each individuals’ mental health, realize that even on a planet with 7+ billion human beings, it’s very easy to feel hopelessly and desperately alone.
The Tumblr community was and has been one of the reasons this blog is still operational, along with effectively saving my life, in many respects. But that’s me. I write. Not everyone writes down their thoughts, or shares them with their peers. To everyone, struggling with mental illness or not:
Listen. Pay Attention. Ask more questions. There’s too many of us here for anyone to feel so alone. Finding your way through the dark is much easier with others by your side.
- Rich (sagansense)