Towards a nuanced view of mental distress

In the latest edition of The Psychologist I’m involved in a debate with John Cromby about whether our understanding of mental illness is mired in the past.

He thinks it is, I think it isn’t, and we kick off from there.

The article is readable online with a free registration but I’ve put the unrestricted version online as a pdf if you want to read it straight away.

Much of the debate is over the role of biological explanations in understanding mental distress which I think is widely understood by many.

Hopefully, amid the knockabout, the debate gets to clarify some of that.

Either way, I hope it raises a few useful reflections.

Link to ‘Are understandings of mental illness mired in the past?’ (free reg).
pdf of full debate.

2 thoughts on “Towards a nuanced view of mental distress”

  1. Great debate. I agree more with Cromby, particularly on the ‘biology only enables’ point. All psychology is about memory, and there are two ways in which biology relates to memory. A good way to illustrate this is to think of a suitcase. You can have a complete description of the materials and the mechanisms of the suitcase, but this understanding can say almost nothing about the contents of the suitcase. It can predict some limits on what can go in (in terms of size, weight, chemistry etc.), but within these limits, a huge set of things can go in, and this sets depends on the history/trajectory of the user. This history and trajectory are enabled (not caused) by biology, but these are not capturable using the materials/mechanisms narrative. To understand what goes in, and how these influence what goes in after, we need to develop a new biological narrative, where the environment is the central component. I read Cromby’s position, in relation to yours, as saying that this tool doesn’t exist currently. Ecological psychology and situated/distributed cognition comes close, but these haven’t entered the psychiatric toolkit yet.

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