Treatment of disorders

Essential understandings

  • Treatments are linked to etiologies - that is, we base treatments on biological, cognitive and sociocultural theories of the origins of the disorder.
  • Variables such as culture and gender can play a significant role in treatment.
  • Assessing the effectiveness of treatment is difficult and often inconclusive.
  • There are ethical considerations in the treatment of people suffering from psychological disorders.

Doctors - and in particular psychiatrists who are specialized in the field of mental disorders - need to be able to diagnose and treat mental disorders. They need to be able to distinguish between just feeling sad and clinical depression. The purpose of diagnosis is to implement a treatment. Treatments for psychological disorders are mostly linked to theories about the causes of the psychological disorders, even though our current understanding of causes of psychological disorders is still imperfect.

Until the discovery of modern medicine, psychiatrists were working within the psychoanalytic tradition started by Sigmund Freud, suggesting that psychological disorders were rooted in the mind and could be treated through 'talk therapy' conducted by a psychoanalyst. The rise of a more biomedical approach to psychological disorders has been influenced by advances in neuroscience and brain imaging technologies. 

Baldessarini (2014) argues that the view that psychological disorders are caused by biological factors is based on an assumption that is not yet proven. Psychological disorders are very complex and treating them only with drugs is a limited approach. An interactionist approach argues that a combination of biological and psychological approaches to understanding a disorder and its treatments should be considered.

Contemporary abnormal psychology adopts a number of approaches to treatment depending on the disorder. There is now a general belief that a multifaceted approach to treatment is the most efficient. This is called the biopsychosocial approach to treatment and it may include drug treatment, individual therapy (e.g. cognitive therapy), or group therapy (e.g. family therapy) as well as help to handle risk factors in the environment such as a stressful relationship. The approach that is adopted can even have an effect on how the clinician interacts with the person who has come to seek help.  Psychiatrists who use a biological approach to mental illness tend to use the term “patient” for those who seek their help.  Those that use a more psychological approach to therapy have replaced the word “patient” with “client.”.

ATL: Reflection

What difference does it make whether a psychiatrist refers to a person seeking help as a patient or a client?  Would this affect the way that you would interact with your psychiatrist?

Biomedical treatments for depression  

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