Today’s edition of Nature has an excellent article on the need to apply cognitive science to understanding how psychological therapies work.
Psychological therapies are often called ‘talking treatments’ but this is often a misleading name. Talking is essential, but it’s not where most of the change happens.
Like seeing a personal trainer in the gym, communication is key, but it’s the exercise which accounts for the changes.
In the same way, psychological therapy is only as effective as the experience of putting changes into practice, but we still know relatively little about the cognitive science behind this process.
Unfortunately, there is a traditional but unhelpful divide in psychology where some don’t see any sort of emotional problem as biological in any way, and the contrasting divide in psychiatry where biology is considered the only explanation in town.
The article in Nature argues that this is pointless and counter-productive:
It is time to use science to advance the psychological, not just the pharmaceutical, treatment of those with mental-health problems. Great strides can and must be made by focusing on concerns that are common to fields from psychology, psychiatry and pharmacology to genetics and molecular biology, neurology, neuroscience, cognitive and social sciences, computer science, and mathematics. Molecular and theoretical scientists need to engage with the challenges that face the clinical scientists who develop and deliver psychological treatments, and who evaluate their outcomes. And clinicians need to get involved in experimental science. Patients, mental-health-care providers and researchers of all stripes stand to benefit.
The piece tackles many good examples of why this is the case and sets out three steps for bridging the divide.
Link to ‘Psychological treatments: A call for mental-health science’.